What To Keep In Mind When Recording Police

Before you pull out your phone to take a video of law enforcement officers at work, you should brush up of the legal ramifications of what you’re about to do and take care to protect yourself. A misstep could get you in trouble.

Gizmodo suggests several factors to keep in mind. Here are some standouts:

* Check your state law. Most states allow the recording of on-duty officers, but do your best to stay out of their way. You could face arrest or be asked to hand over your equipment.

* Don’t be secretive. If you’re hoping your evidence will stand up in court, be upfront about what you’re doing. Secret recording can land you in legal trouble.

* Don’t brandish your camera like a gun. Take a threatening pose and you’re putting yourself at risk. Be clear that you’re recording the scene and are unarmed.

7 Rules for Recording Police [Gizmodo via Boing Boing]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MutantMonkey says:

    So my pistol shaped camcorder is a no go? Damn!

  2. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    8. Wear body armor

  3. GMFish says:

    In Texas, don’t be a minority.

  4. Apeweek says:

    So you need two cameras. One to brandish openly and non-secretly (that one will get confiscated, of course), and then the real camera, secretly recording from your front pocket.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      One guy got off on a technicality for doing that, otherwise he’d be doing time for ‘wiretapping’. Illinois, Massachusetts, and one other state (I forget off the top of my head) actively charge photographers with wiretapping, especially if you catch them on audio. Can anyone name the top three most corrupt cop states?

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Just a guess, in no particular order. Florida, Illinois, New York.

      • Lucky225 says:

        It’s illinois, mass & maryland. Currently Massachusetts is the only State where it hasn’t been overturned in Court, cases in IL & MD make it pretty clear the wiretap statute is for CONFIDENTIAL communications only, an officer acting in his official capacity in the public has no expectation of privacy, unfortunately Mass statutes don’t allow ‘secret’ recording, and that’s where it gets people in trouble. IL & MD don’t have the ‘secret recording’ wording. You can still film in Mass if you openly display the camera and aren’t ‘secretly’ recording.

    • Kuri says:

      Confiscated? I suppose it’d be a lucky day if they don’t just smash it.

    • partyone says:

      Is that a camera in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

    • Lucky225 says:

      I just stream it to ustream live or QIK, that way audience can watch and record if needed, and as soon as the phone loses a signal it auto-saves to my account. That way if the cop takes the equipment, oh well.

    • dush says:

      Just have a secret mini recorder inside your big camera that is streaming back to a server.
      That way when they conviscate your big camera and think they turned it off they are still being recorded.

  5. damicatz says:

    The Constitution allows me to record a police officer.

    State laws are irrelevant.

    People need to stand up for their rights.

    • GaijenSoft says:

      Ah, the 28th amendment. The right to record police.

      • damicatz says:

        First amendment, actually.

        In the City of Boston case mentioned on Gawker, the court ruled that recording police is a first amendment right.

      • huadpe says:

        1st amendment actually. See Glik v. Cunniffe in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. http://aclum.org/sites/all/files/legal/glik_v_cunniffe/appeals_court_ruling.pdf

      • Si_driver says:

        This actually has been covered lately and it was decided in court that we do in fact have the right to record police officers in public.

        • Kuri says:

          Maybe people need to start telling police that.

        • GaijenSoft says:

          Yes, you do. But it’s not a right given in the constitution, which is what he claimed.

          • bluline says:

            The First Amendment gives us the right.

            • GaijenSoft says:

              Until the supreme court extends the right to record to the first amendment, no it does not. Only the first circuit appeals court has found it to be protected by the 1st amendment. That restricts it to only a certain area where their ruling stands as precedent. I think the government was smart in not appealing that ruling. If they had, and it went to the supreme court, and it ruled against them, it would be acceptable country-wide.

              So no, it doesn’t. Only one court has recognized the right. Until more do, you might as well say “Yes, the first amendment gives me the right to record police…. in parts of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island”

              • huadpe says:

                Actually it gives you the right to do so in ALL of of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island.

            • dilbert69 says:

              So is recording the police speech or religion?

            • spottymax says:

              Everything I’ve heard centers around the 4th amendment. As long as there is no ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ (aka being out in a public place). You can videotape and record anyone and don’t need their permission to do (secret or not). Disclaimer: Not a lawyer, your mileage will vary.

      • MathMan aka Random Talker says:

        Dude there’s only 27! ohhh…. you were making a joke. tehe!

      • Mark S says:

        What a silly comment. The Constitution enumerates what the federal government is allowed to do. Everything else is deferred to the states and the citizens.

        • damicatz says:

          Yeah, that pretty much went away with Wickard v. Filburn.

          FDR stacked the court with his personal friends (all but one of the justices was an FDR appointee); and they basically ruled that the federal government can do whatever the hell it wants so that FDR could keep his New Deal.

          The federal government is now able to use the most absurd of logic to claim jurisdictional predicate (e.g Carjacking is a federal crime even if it only takes place in a single state because it was “assembled” in interstate commerce.)

        • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

          Right. And if your state bans it, then you’re out of luck. So, check your state’s laws. Like the article says.

    • oldwiz65 says:

      If you want to stand up for your rights, you have to expect and be willing to be thrown down, beaten, and then arrested and your equipment confiscated. You will probably be able to get it back after you file a long and expensive lawsuit, assuming you can find a good attorney. Be warned you’re likely to get an arrest record though. I wouldn’t take the chance – at my age I’m hardly in shape to survive a vicious beating by several cops armed with nightsticks, plus additional beatings in the jail.

      If you are smart, don’t even think about recording the police in Illinois, especially Chicago – you will definitely be arrested, probably on multiple felony charges, and it will cost you a heck of a lot of money to get cleared, if you even can. Better yet, avoid Illinois, period.

      Avoid Boston too – cops there are ignoring both the law and the City rulings that say it’s legal to record the on-duty police. If you are a racial minority, you can easily get beaten and arrested even if your phone doesn’t have a camera. I make it a habit to avoid all cops in Boston.

      • Powerlurker says:

        You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.

      • Yomiko says:

        Minorities are better off than Mooninites in Boston. Those guys get blown up by the bomb squad.

      • damicatz says:

        I took it upon myself to learn as much about the law as possible. I bought the whole litany of books that law students normally read and studied them. I think everybody owes it to themselves to do this. In particular, learn about how a section 1983 action works. Learn about the difference between absolute and qualified immunity and how to disqualify a police officer from qualified immunity. Study the federal rules of civil procedure (there are lots of little technicalities that the government lawyers will attempt to get your complaint dismissed on). Learn the rules of your local US district court.

        The last thing you want to do is back down because that validates their actions. Do not let the local gestapo intimidate you. Police in this country have become completely out of control. The police exist to serve we the citizens, we do not exist to serve the police.

        The abuse that police departments and local law enforcement routinely engage in needs to be documented and publicized. The police have gotten to the point where they are basically an armed unaccountable military force; you now have sheriffs purchasing APCs with mounted belt-fed 50 caliber machine guns (http://jalopnik.com/5044539/rambo-p-coltrane-south-carolina-sheriff-invests-in-apc-armed-with-50+cal-machine-gun).

        • maxamus2 says:

          No,police have not become “out of control”. Yes, every now and then ONE cop does bad and it spread through the media like wildfire, but the 99.9% that do right get zero press.

          Think back to the 50s when cops went around with billy clubs and beat up people, no cameras, no prosecution. Today cops behave as they know they are being recorded.

          And FYI, opposed to what the media tries to sell you, violent crime rates have gone down for decades now, you are much safer today than you were 10, 20, 30 years ago.


        • Jawaka says:

          Yeah.. local cops should only be armed with stun guns and billy clubs when they’re going up against heavily armed drug dealers.

          • damicatz says:

            In other words, the police are trying to steal someone’s property. That’s called theft.

            The “War on Drugs” has been nothing but an outrageous infringement on civil liberties.

            It has failed to decrease drug usage.
            It has failed to put a dent in drug cartels.
            It has failed in every conceivable manner.
            It has escalated drug-related violence.
            It has escalated drug-related crime.

            If there is one thing that should have been learned from prohibition, it’s that you can’t ban possession of anything. It simply DOES NOT WORK. Anyone that wants drugs is going to be able to get them. The difference is that, by making drugs illegal, the government has effectively created a lucrative black market rife with crime. And because there is not free market competition, prices are high which means that people have to steal to get their fix.

            Prohibition is what brought the mafia into power. Al Capone made BILLIONS (inflation adjusted) off of prohibition. Prohibition in the 20s was a complete joke; even the police officers were openly defying the alcohol laws. Al Capone was AGAINST the repeal of prohibition because the opening up of the markets and the excess supply threatened to drive down alcohol prices and put him out of business. Ending the prohibition on drugs would put the drug cartels out of business in an instant. Drug addition is a medical problem, not a criminal one.

            How many more innocent people must be murdered by both the police and the drug cartels they enable before this nonsense stops?

            • partofme says:

              You can argue that some methods don’t work… but you can’t equate it with theft or claim it’s an infringement on civil liberties. That’s just ig’nant.

              Furthermore, to use the alcohol example, you might be able to stop the murder associated with rum running, but you have to accept more widespread vehicular homicide, suicides/homicides contributed to by alcohol, medical problems from addiction, etc. To act like the world would be all peaches and gravy if you just legalized everything is absurd. Some things would be better. Some things would be worse.

              Indisputable facts: The states can ban (most) products. Congress can ban a product from the interstate market. Civil liberties only come into it when you reach into your ass and pull out penumbras from the Gettysburg Address (which the courts have been understandably loathe to do)… or when there’s actually a constitutional amendment saying you can have the product.

              I generally try to have a reasonable discussion about this, but judging by your post, that is probably impossible. However, if you are willing to accept these indisputable premises, I will pose a reasonable question about how we could create a sensible policy. Would you make all drugs, including narcotics of any strength, antibiotics, date rape drugs, and low-production drugs which are prone to market shortages available over the counter?

              • spamtasticus says:

                I have one question for you: If after decades and trillions and trillions of dollars spend and lives decimated they can’t even keep maximum security prisoners from using drugs if they want to, why the hell are we still going down this same path?

                • partofme says:

                  This is dangerously close to a strawman. I have never claimed that we need to continue with everything exactly the same. I simply want to point out that too many people jump to a false dichotomy between exactly the same and the complete opposite. Once they’ve convinced themselves of this dichotomy, they create rhetorical absurdities like the above civil liberties argument to support their desire for the complete opposite. In contrast, I believe there are things we can do better… without making too much nonsense out of the whole thing.

                  In that vein, I start by assuming your absurd complete opposite situation… show that there are features you won’t like and that won’t make sense… and then you begin to realize that there is probably a middle ground for such a complicated problem.

                  Thus, I reiterate, would you make all drugs, including narcotics of any strength, antibiotics, date rape drugs, and low-production drugs which are prone to market shortages available over the counter?

    • bluline says:

      If they can record me (and they can and do), then I can record them.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

      Does it also allow me to record you through your window?

      • Lucky225 says:

        An officer acting in his official capacity in the public, where others can SEE AND HEAR him and relay what they saw and heard just as a video or audio recording device can, has no expectation of privacy.

      • damicatz says:

        If that window is on a vehicle that was paid for by a taxpayer then yes.

        Police have NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY on the job. They are PUBLIC SERVANTS who answer TO THE PUBLIC.

  6. axhandler1 says:

    Be aware, even if you are recording legally, expect a strong negative reaction from the officers who are being recorded. This may extend to them arresting you for “interfering” and/or pointing their gun at you or physically intimidating you to get you to stop.

  7. Schildkrote says:

    Kind of ridiculous that this should even be a question. I pay their salary with my taxes, I’m allowed to film them in public whenever I want, if they try to take my footage or camera away or arrest me they’re disciplined. If they have a problem with it it’s probably because they’re doing things they shouldn’t be.

    It’s that simple.

  8. Velvet Jones says:

    How dare you question authority, meager citizen. Bow down and lick the boots of the authority figure. Freedom is slavery!

  9. exconsumer says:

    Summed up: The police are 1. expert gaslighters and don’t respect laws limiting their authority. They’ll likely use whatever words they believe will intimidate, confuse, or bully you into putting away your camera regardless of how true or relevant those words are. They’ll use any excuse to arrest you, and may arrest you even if they do not observe or suspect that you’ve broken any law.

  10. CharlesFarley says:

    Illinois police officers will cuff and stuff you and the bench will throw the book at you if you record police in the line of duty.

    • dolemite says:

      Seems like there needs to be some law changes in Il.

      • CharlesFarley says:

        On top of that IL is a two-party recording state. The legislators and other county and city officials want to ensure that what you have is inadmissible in court.

        • Yomiko says:

          Most states are two party states.

          • AustinTXProgrammer says:

            This is referring to recording and wiretap laws. 12 states are all party (frequently referred to as 2 party) and the other 38 states plus DC are 1 party. That means only one party of a conversation needs to consent to record it. On the other hand if you record the audio of a private conversation between 2 other people, and you aren’t part of the conversation it doesn’t really matter.

        • Velvet Jones says:

          Not true. Courts have repeatedly ruled that two party wiretap laws only apply to private conversations, and that a cop performing their duty in public has no expectation of privacy. The state cannot have it both ways. They can’t put cameras on every street corner can claim that you have no privacy, then turn around and argue that a copy arresting someone on that same street corner is protected by wire tap laws. The only time this becomes tricky is the incident occurs on private property. In Massachusetts the courts did rule against the use of a nanny cam to record a raid in a private home.

        • Geekybiker says:

          Thank god the courts finally overruled that wiretap law in IL that completely prevent anyone from recording cops in IL.

    • msbask says:

      Is that really true?

      Is the media not allowed to film the officers on-duty at something like the Occupy protests? How about any other crowd control / riot situation?

  11. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    * Don’t brandish your camera like a gun. Take a threatening pose and you’re putting yourself at risk. Be clear that you’re recording the scene and are unarmed.

    That should be: Be clear that what you’re pointing is a camera and not a weapon.

    Just because you’re recording the scene doesn’t mean you’re unarmed, and if you’re armed you should not tell the police you are not.

  12. dolemite says:

    There should be no laws that forbid citizens from monitoring their law enforcement agents or government for that matter.

    • mike says:

      But we don’t live in Shouldland.

      Ah Shouldland. Where clean-cut kids ride their bikes down Shouldland Boulevard. And the Shouldland High School Football team gets their optimistic asses kicked by their cross-town rivals, Reality Check Tech.

  13. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Everyone has camera phones now (well, pretty much everyone).

    If something was happening in front of a group of people, I’d feel more comfortable recording (especially if others are doing so).

    If I was the only witness, I’d be too nervous.

  14. shufflemoomin says:

    Be careful when recording the police in the line of duty in a public place? What happened to that “land of the free” thing that Americans are so proud to spout?

    • Kuri says:

      It lasted up until the government decided they can wiretap without a warrant and any citizen is guilty until proven innocent.

      • Mike says:

        Sadly it seems like trampling all over our personal freedom is the only truly bipartisan issue there is these days.

        • axhandler1 says:

          Less of an “issue” and more of a “policy” in my opinion. Otherwise I completely agree with you. It’s sad, scary, and disheartening.

        • dolemite says:

          I’ve noticed that too. “Well, we can’t agree on a 2% tax cut, but we can agree on domestic drone surveillance, locking up people without right to trial, assassinating american citizens, reading their emails and tapping their phones without warrant.”

  15. GoldVRod says:

    Thanks to cloud technology, confiscating an iphone (and presumably other phones too) can mean jack shit. Police should be aware of that before stealing your property with the intention of wiping it.

    Governments should be afraid of the people. Not the other way around.

    • j2.718ff says:

      Videos you record on an iphone are stored remotely? Without having to click some buttons after you’re done recording? (I don’t own an iphone, so I’m genuinely curious.)

      • Not Given says:

        You can upload the video as you record, it isn’t automatic.

      • axhandler1 says:

        Even on my Android. As soon as I take a picture or video, it automatically uploads to my G+ account. The setting is called Instant Upload.

      • Anna Kossua says:

        I don’t know about iPhone specifically, and this isn’t about video — but there was a recent case where a thief stole someone’s smartphone. He took a picture of himself, and the phone was set to upload immediately to the owner’s Facebook page. He was caught soon after.

  16. Lyn Torden says:

    I have a tiny cutout in the pockets of a few of my shirts right where my phone’s camera is. These are shorts with patterns in them, making the harder to see the cutout is there.

  17. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    #8 Don’t expect justice. Cops are a privileged class of citizens whose word is taken as gospel. I’ve been following “Photography is not a Crime” for enough years to understand the court system is tilted (nearly vertically) towards the cops. The cops know this, and abuse their powers. Nearly every word a cop says is a lie, they can’t help it. I have also been a reader of http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/ which is in the midst of changing hands right now. It’s amazing what cops can get away with. Remember the BART execution, that cop is still on the job even with 5 separate video recordings of the incident.

    • VeiledThreats says:

      He’s not still on the job. He served some time and was released on parole, he is NOT still a cop. Fact check.

      • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

        Ooops, you’re right. My cousin (who lives there) said the cop was reinstated with back-pay… turns out she was talking about MarySol Domenici. Anthony Pirone also applied for reinstatement.

  18. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    “You know the courts might not work anymore, but as long as everyone is videotaping everyone else justice will be done!” –Marge Simpson

    Also, look into joining the US version of the Pirate Party. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it’s legit. The German Pirate Party even has 19 seats in Parliament. Arrrr Freedom! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party

  19. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    Pirate Party is a label adopted by political parties in different countries. Pirate Parties support civil rights, direct democracy and participation, reform of copyright and patent law, free sharing of knowledge (Open Content), data privacy, transparency, freedom of information, free education, universal healthcare and a clear separation between church and state

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      So wait, the most honest political party in the system is run by… pirates?

      My brain is all full of fuck now 9_6

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      Hooray for free education! Free free free! No one pays! (I guess only independently rich professors will be teaching since they won’t be getting paid.)

      Also, direct democracy? Maybe you’ve never heard of the Constitution, but you should try reading it. The US is a representative republic.

  20. steam says:

    Do something else.

  21. SteveInConverse says:

    Record all you want, but if you don’t have or know the context of what is going on, you may want to refrain from yelling and ranting and sticking it on Youtube until you know whats going on. Better yet, mind your own business maybe?

    • samonela says:

      Mind your own business?

      What if you are recording your own traffic stop?

      • newfenoix says:

        I can tell you from my time as a street cop that most of the time recordings help the cop, not the “victim.”

    • firedancerbk says:

      THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! My mom who is a retired NYPD Sgt. would agree wholeheartedly. People love to get involved yet know nothing about what is going on or why.

  22. Difdi says:

    The thing about being asked to hand over your equipment is that that is all they really can do legally. Ask.

    A camera may be taken into custody in the event of an arrest of the photographer, but making up a bogus charge is a crime, and it’s legally considered a valid act of self defense, according to the Supreme Court (John Bad Elk vs The United States) to resist a false arrest.

    If a camera is seized incidentally to an arrest for something other than a photography-related crime, the camera must be preserved intact, just like the contents of the arrested person’s wallet. To even look at images that were taken prior to the arrest, police need a warrant. Likewise, deleting a saved image also requires a court order.

    Only if the arrest was directly related to the use of the camera, can the camera be seized and the contents viewed without a warrant. Such crimes include child pornography, upskirting, peeping tom photography, etc. Refusal to disperse, disorderly conduct or other contempt of cop type offenses are not related to photography.

    If the police do seize and view a camera without a warrant or the owner’s permission, it’s an illegal search, and not admissible in court (nor is anything provably connected to the illegal search, such as the police “finding” something they would not know existed without the illegal search).

    Deleting images without a court order is either destruction of private property or destruction of evidence. There is no third possibility, and both are crimes.

    • atomix says:

      It may be legal to resist a false arrest, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be good for your immediate well-being.

      • oldwiz65 says:

        It doesn’t matter if the arrest is false or not; simply resisting will get you a heck of a beating on the street, plus another one in the interrogation room, plus more in the jail itself.

  23. trumpethead says:

    Hello? Do you not remember the Occupy protests? Citizens recording police activities were beaten, recording equipment was destroyed, civil rights were ignored. Even journalists with VALID credentials displayed on their person were beaten, expensive equipment was destroyed and they were arrested in clear violation of the law. You can quote all of the laws and rights you want but there is not much to keep that police officer standing in you face from violating your rights. Of course you can sue after the fact. That is if you survive the incident. It should NEVER be against the law to videotape police.

  24. sir_eccles says:

    But if the police officer is not doing anything wrong, what have they got to hide?

  25. VashTS says:

    Someone has the check the police, or keep them in check. Last thing I want is a guy like Al Sharpton involved and make wild accusations. More camera’s on police would make me feel happy instead of camera’s in my face.

  26. newfenoix says:

    There is such a thing as “interfering with a governmental operation.” As a cop, I have nothing to hide and don’t mind being recorded, BUT the rights of the subject being arrested may be violated by the recording because they have not consented to being recorded by an outside source. So you may think that is was cute to record your neighbor’s arrest but you may wind up in court by doing so. Not because you were arrested, but because you were sued by the other party. My advice is to be sure of what is going on before you attempt recording any police procedure.

  27. mcgyver210 says:

    Funny how the so called Good Guys will & do record citizens without their consent & also will use it against you. Now on the other side they don’t want to be recorded in the same way with your recording being used against them.

    Why? Because they know how to control & manipulate their recordings but it is much more difficult to do the same with your recording that catches them in the wrong or worse.

    Many times when they bother to ask for consent for their actions they will say something like, If you have nothing to hide why not consent. So with that said Mr LEO If you have nothing to hide why worry about me recording you?

    The other issue is more & more LEOs now days are being caught on the wrong side of the law by recordings which they can’t turn around & say under oath it happened different since everyone knows in court if it is a citizens word against a LEOs, The LEOs word is given more weight as being the truth LOL.

    Not all LEOs are BAD but I do agree with a previous post, A LEO that covers up another LEOs bad is not only an accomplice but in reality worse IMO than the obvious Bad LEO.

    I never just assume a LEO or any Government Agency is GOOD just because they are supposed to be. Which is a-shamed because when I was a kid I really looked up to all LEOs as someone that I could trust.

  28. Rhinoguy says: