CHICAGO (CN) – A reality television show about female police officers may have violated a suspect’s privacy by airing comments about her taste for luxury brands, such as Coach handbags and Jaguar cars, and showing her personal information as it appeared in the squad car’s database.
“Female Forces” follows female police officers in the city of Naperville, Ill., as they perform their duties. A Day With Inc. produces the program for the Biography Channel, an A&E station.
In February 2008, Eran Best was driving in Naperville when police officer Timothy Boogerd ran her license plate and saw that the car’s registration had been suspended. He pulled her over and smelled alcohol on her breath.
Since Naperville police procedures require the presence of two officers during a sobriety test, he called for backup. Police officer Stacy Berard came to assist him, accompanied by a “Female Forces” camera crew.
With the documentarians rolling tape, Boogerd and Berard administered two field sobriety tests, one of which required Best to recite the alphabet. She passed both tests.
Boogerd and Berard then informed Best that she was driving on a suspended driver’s license and placed her under arrest.
In the “Female Forces” episode of that stop, Best is shown getting handcuffed and placed in the squad car. It also shows the dashboard computer inside Berard’s car, which displays Best’s name “as well as Best’s date of birth, height, weight, and driver’s license number, a phone number, and a brief description of previous arrests and traffic stops.”
Another scene shows the officer searching Best’s car and commenting about her expensive tastes, especially her penchant for Coach purses, bags and shoes.
Berard tells the camera, “Do I feel sorry for [Best]? No. Pretty little blond girl, 25 years old, driving a Jaguar – yeah, that’s Naperville.”
In a federal lawsuit against Berard, Boogerd, the city of Naperville, the production company and A&E Television Networks, Best claimed violations of her constitutional right to privacy and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The defendants each moved for summary judgment.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly let only the individual officers off the hook.
Since Best’s personal information is publicly available, except for her height and weight, she does failed to allege a privacy violation, Kennelly found.
“Best understandably may not want to disclose her height and weight to strangers,” Kennelly said. But the right to privacy has been reserved for information “far more personal, such that their disclosure would lead to greater potential for embarrassment or abuse.”
The deliberate nature of the “Female Forces” episode, however, may constitute the Driver’s Protection Act, the court found.
“Boogerd and Berard cannot reasonably be held to have knowingly disclosed the information for airing during the episode because there is no evidence that they were involved with the production of the episode to be broadcast,” Kennelly wrote.
But “the other defendants, who had the opportunity to review versions of the episode before it was aired, knew that it contained a depiction of Best’s personal information,” he added.