When You Can and When You Shouldn’t Video the Police

First off, when dealing with the police in the U.S., common sense and caution are required. Secondly, I believe most cops are decent people, but given recent events, this post is topical.

If you want to video the police, that’s your legal right, but just be aware that challenging a cop’s authority in the heat of the moment sometimes may not be the most prudent way to go.

But as explained in the above video, it’s part of your constitutional right to be able to video or photograph the police in America.

Just be aware that some cops may not respect that right, or are ignorant of the fact that it’s legal for citizens in all 50 U.S. states to be able to film them.

The advent of smartphones and the ability to upload video online has been a great tool in exposing cases of police criminality, most recently seen with footage coming to light of Michael Thomas Slager, a North Charleston police officer shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott in the back.

cop shoots

In this case, the video proved to be the difference between finding who was the guilty and who was the innocent party.

If you’re videoing the police, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Firstly, are you filming the police in a public space? If so, then there are no problems. If you are doing the recording on private property, it is the property owner who sets the rules. If they ask you to stop filming and you don’t comply, then you can be arrested for trespassing.

Also, do the police know you are filming them? If they don’t, well, what you are doing could be illegal. In 11 states, including California, Florida, and Washington, both parties—that being the recorder and the recorded—need to be aware that at least their voices are being recorded as part of the 2-party consent law.

Legal experts advise people to hold their mobile device or camera out in front of them to make it clear that a recording is occurring.

Now, another issue that is a bit hazy. The police can arrest you if your videoing them is interfering with their duties. On what actually constitutes inferring with police duties often is open to the interpretation of the police.

Tough job

But I respect cops, those ones who do the right thing by themselves and their community that they’re sworn to protect and serve. They’ve got a tough job. As for those who abuse their position, they should be held fully accountable.


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