In the United States, recording police officers while on duty in public places is a right that’s protected by the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, not all police officers are aware of that fact, and many people get arrested every year for simply doing something they are allowed by law to do.
Here’s what you should know about filming or recording police officers:
- Know the law: You should record police as publicly and as out in the open as possible, and only in a way that does not interfere with the officer’s ability to do his or her job.
- Be ready to respond to questions from police: Even though it’s lawful for you to record, police officers might still harass you and ask you questions. Stay calm, and if they try to say you are breaking the law, tell them politely that you are allowed to do what you are doing.
- Keep a safe distance: Stand as far away as possible when you are filming or recording, and don’t shove the phone or camera in their faces. There are also police recording apps for your smartphone that will continue recording even if it’s locked or in sleep mode. If you believe you are at a reasonable distance and the officer continues to push you farther away, you might consider politely reminding him or her that you have a right to be here and you are not interfering with his or her work.
- Make sure your phone is password protected: This will help if police officers try to delete your footage at the scene, but remember that police officers are prohibited from deleting your personal photos or video if they were taken lawfully.
- Be respectful: Law enforcement is a unique and taxing profession, and people who are filming or recording while they work are usually doing so during tense situations. Keep that in mind as you film or record the police. They are people, too, and you should do everything you can to make them aware that you are not a threat to an already stressful situation.
- Police officers cannot demand to look at your footage: Police officers do not have the right to look at your footage or photographs if they were taken in a lawful manner. If an officer asks to see your video or photos, politely explain that you do not have to supply them without a warrant.
- Remember public vs. private: The above rules only apply on public property. If you are at a private business or on someone’s private property, it is up to the owner to decide whether you can film the police.