How Does Your State Feel About Filming Police?

by dave on March 13, 2013

It’s an ongoing issue—where people film police, the police get mad, and said citizen ends up harassed or worse, under arrest. But in the vast majority of states filming the police is protected if you do it right. Knowing where your state stands on the issue can help you make informed decisions when it comes to hitting record.

Another arrestAccording to this illustration, 38 states allow for the recording of police officers. But, you can’t get in their face and expect them to smile. If you interfere with their work, you will be subject to arrest. Getting in their way, shouting, and trying to get a better angle are all sure-fire ways of convincing the cops that you mean to interfere. In other words, don’t do it.

Similarly, know that this protection doesn’t mean the police will like it or even silently accept it. This even happens to news media, such as in this video:

The fact that you are recording them will likely get on their nerves and they will tell you. Recording the police could open you up for harassment. The cops could also walk a thin line by detaining you or confiscating your camera. They may even try to arrest you under disorderly conduct laws. Remember though: you have rights.
Within the past year, courts in two states have had to remind their cops that the wiretapping laws there don’t apply to citizens recording police in public areas. In Massachusetts and Illinois, wiretapping laws were used to arrest citizens but the courts ruled in favor of police accountability and the charges didn’t stand.In 12 of the states that don’t broadly allow for recording of officers, you must have the consent of all involved to record. These states include: California, Florida, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington, Michigan, and Massachusetts. The chances of getting a police officer to consent to a recording, as you might well imagine, are pretty slim. Fortunately, if the recording is going on in a public place, the requirements are different. There, most of these states agree that the police have no expectation of privacy and recording can be done without permission.

While it’s taking a few years for police to get the idea, you could still be arrested for filming, particularly in those 12 states mentioned above. Know that any charges for publicly filming police in these states could be beaten in court

Citizens should be able to hold police accountable for the things they do in public while behind the badge. After all, we pay their salaries and it’s us (the citizens) who they are supposed to be protecting.

If you are arrested for an incident involving the recording of police, we may be able to put you in touch with someone who can help.



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