Do Citizens Have a Right to Film Police Officers? [POLICYbrief]
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Do Citizens Have a Right to Film Police Officers? [POLICYbrief]


Recording police officers really came to the
forefront in the early ’90s with the Rodney King incident. And I think since then you’ve seen, uh, a
lot more, uh, public discussion on, on the rights of people to film law enforcement. It’s about transparency. It’s about understanding what our, uh, public
officials are doing. Especially public officials who carry with
them the ability to use force, including deadly force, to execute and enforce the law. The right of a person to film law enforcement
has become less controversial as it has become more understood. And I think the ubiquity of video cameras
in society today, where literally everything is filmed and thrown onto Facebook Live, has
sort of illuminated this reality. There’s been five or six different circuit
courts of appeal decisions affecting more than 60% of the US population that have affirmed
the right of individuals to film law enforcement in public while law enforcement officers are
engaged in their official capacity as police officers. Most officers today understand that the public
has a right to film police officers when they are engaged in their official capacity as
an officer and they’re in public. If you’re lawfully recording the police officer
in a public place and he or she tells you to stop recording, again, you’re under no
legal obligation to stop. The big source of contention seems to come
is when people take that right and they infringe upon the officer’s ability to, uh, safely execute
their job. It’s important to understand when a police
officer tells you to, to move back or to get across the street, it’s not necessarily because
they’re trying to stop you from recording them, It’s because you’re compromising their officer
safety or you’re inhibiting their ability to perform their duty. When you cross that line, then while the act
of filming may not in and of itself be illegal, you’re engaging in other illegal, uh, activity
which could lead to your arrest. It’s hard to provide concrete guidelines to
the public because everything’s contextual. Every situation is different. So then it’s always best to heed to the, uh,
to the warnings of the officer. I think the goal of cameras, body-worn cameras,
dash cams, or what have you, is not just to protect the citizenry, but it’s also to protect
law enforcement. Law enforcement officers who adopt body-worn
cameras soon realize that those cameras are a lot more helpful to them than they are a
hindrance. It’s a good thing that law enforcement understands
that that transparency exists. It’s good for the officers, it’s good for
the public.

22 Comments

  • Mikko Haavisto

    Citizens also have the right to say any rude thing they want to police officers. That doesn't mean they should.
    If being a police officer means that you'd be filmed all the time, most of the good police officers wouldn't want to be a police officer.

  • Online Spice Tests

    He speaks really well. I've been beaten by cops (and I was innocent of any wrong doing). This guy seems like he has sense and would not have allowed by abuse as a child. He should be promoted to one of the top law enforcement positions in the land. Bring us all together instead of the hate, brutality, ignorance, violence. Thanks.

  • John DeMartin

    This narrator sounds so reasonable I was almost duped. He's only parroting the company line, implying with his disingenuous argument that police don't want to be filmed ONLY when it interferes with their official work. That's b.s. and this narrator knows (or should know) it. Police NEVER want to be filmed. The smart ones, let's say, understand the 1st Amendment and comply but . . . hell . . . they don't want to have to wear THEIR OWN body cams (and many, as we know, "forget" to turn them on though required to by department policy/state law). How many of them, then, truly respect the right of Citizen Joe to "wear his own body cam" and film the cops performing their duties. Very small % I have no doubt!

  • John DeMartin

    And the mouthpiece continues . . . "body cams are designed to help law enforcement too". Does he really believe this b.s.? IF it were so and seen as such no police union would ever fight a body cam policy, no cop would ever "forget" to turn her/his body cam on, etc. I don't buy it.

  • Le F

    I saw a program on TV where a guy was exercising is 1st amendment right to film in a public building. At first I was in support of the staunch he was taking but he began saying things that disturbed me. He had been constantly told the area he was filming in was consider sensitive or private and that he should move to another part of room which isn't private. That information had no effect on this guy, his position was company policy does trump law. The building he was filming in side was the DMV. The problem I see is people had their personal and private information in the open filling out these forms so while he can zoom in and out of these people private information whereas can send that footage to his YouTube channel where the whole world can see people's private info. His response to taking this action was this "If They Don't Want Me To Film It Don't Have It Where I Can See It!"

    I hate to put down what about to say because other legal agencies get what you say and begin using it or over using it to stop as many people from doing what they have a right to do. It is my feeling the Fourth Amendment counters this guy's first amendment**

    "Fourth Amendment, (the people have a right “to be secure) in their persons, houses, (papers) and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This right limits the power of the police to seize and search people, their property, and their homes"

    I recognize the search as filming while watching for private information. When one thinks like this guy I can't tell the difference between what others are doing and what this person is doing.

  • Willie Spoonemore

    yes but all I see are people seeking out criminal activity to film police and most all infringe at one time or other in all scenes . Can they be legally arrested cause isn't that obstructing ??

  • snarky77005

    Officer safety is rarely the real issue. It's usually a smoke-screen the cop is using because some cops are criminals and they don't want to get caught breaking the law on tape.

  • Zerosen89

    there are time when some law enforcement go on a powertrip and will by force try to take someone's camera, like in Nevada with explore with us where the officer was violating their civil rights.

  • Chase Woodward

    I believe in how far is too far….if you notice a cop getting into a fight record, if they are doing a traffic stop debatable…not all cops are criminals, it’s a small portion that makes the larger portion look bad.

  • Ian Bradford

    Correct me if I'm wrong, please.
    As I understand the law the only time you may not video (or photograph) the police in public is when the police first, admit whilst on camera, that he or she is a CUNT. That is correct is it not?

  • Ian Bradford

    What if the police admit to being a wanker but say nothing about whether they may be a cunt? Can we still film a wanker?

  • Mr. Smith

    Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
    The nasty intent within that sentence alone is pretty self explanatory.
    The state and the police that serve it, are not the friends of citizen, or society.
    Cops are progressively acting like the gestapo because the politicians we repeatedly vote for empower them to do, so.
    We have lost country and constitution at the hands of these political sucks.
    The real criminals, are the ones running this country and they have manipulated our laws to protect and serve only themselves.

  • Jarmar Fuerte

    If cops don’t want people fuming is beacuse they want to hide things there are corrupted cops don’t get us wrong it’s right to film to get the true .

  • Doran Krotan

    At what point does "officer safety" or "inhibiting their ability to do their job" becomes excessive or pushing their own agenda rather than the law?

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