Can You Record a Police Officer?

Nov 18, 16 by Jorian Goes

Can You Record a Police Officer?

Can you legally record a police officer? One thing is for sure: police interactions are becoming much more transparent.

Smartphones are changing the way we live. They allow us to learn anything and connect with anyone with just a few swipes and taps. These pocket-sized computers are also changing the worlds of journalism and criminal justice. In the past few years there has been a rise of citizens recording police officers, sometimes saving the day and sometimes appearing to abuse their power.

But not all police officers take kindly to people filming them in the midst of their jobs. You might be told to “stop recording” a police interaction, and may even be threatened by arrest. But what does the law actually say? And what can you - as a citizen - do to maintain accountability? Here’s a CNN article which provides valuable information on your rights during a traffic stop, stemming from the recent Sandra Bland incident.

Know The Laws Of Your State

It is totally legal to record a police officer on duty in 38 states - as long as you don’t physically get in their way. But there are 12 states where the lines are somewhat blurred. California is actually one of them, and they all have laws requiring the consent of “all parties” in order to record audio. But 10 of these states have decided this law does not apply to police officers on duty. As public servants, they’re not typically given this right of privacy and consent. Massachusetts and Illinois are the only two that do not seem to grant this freedom so easily. Here is a great article called Know Your Rights During A Traffic Stop.

But there is often a first time for everything. In what the Washington Post called a “bizarre ruling,” the federal court did not see the recording of an on-duty officer as an extension of the First Amendment. This was the first time it happened in a federal court, and the case originated in Pennsylvania. For the most part though, courts across the country agree that you do have the right to record on-duty police as long as you don’t interfere with their work.

Be Open About Your Recording

Don’t record in secret. Be very transparent and honest about the fact that you are recording. When in doubt, don’t be deceitful. A court ruling found one driver guilty of secretly recording a police officer during a traffic stop. Although this did take place in 1999, and courts are more likely to see recording as part of your First Amendment right. Even so, it’s always best to be honest. You never want to appear as the person “tricking” someone else.

Respond Respectively To Questions And Comments

Most people don’t like to be recorded. This is especially true for an officer who is dealing with a potentially hostile situation. So don’t be surprised if they insist that you stop recording. You may hear things like, “What are you doing?” “Please stop recording me. It’s against the law.” Or “Stand back.” Regardless of the request, stay calm and polite. Speak softly and slowly, and let them know that you are aware of the law in your state. If they insist that you go away, make sure that you are not physically interfering with their work, and you may try letting them know that you have a right to be there. Whatever the request, speak kindly and describe your knowledge of the law as best you can. Again - just make sure you aren’t in the way of police work.

Stay Informed And Up-To-Date About Your Rights

More and more, the courts are ruling in favor of citizens having the right to record police officers on duty. Transparency and accountability are becoming more common. Hopefully, the officers who abuse their authority will be rooted out and the men and women who truly desire to serve and protect will be the only ones remaining on the force. This happens by everyday citizens practicing their First Amendment rights. Continue to keep up-to-date as laws change regarding Your Rights During A Traffic Stop. Ticket Snipers will continue our dedication to educate the drivers of California and to help with traffic tickets when necessary.