Friday Crime Vids – Is it Legal to Film the Police?

Posted: May 31, 2013 in Law, Policing, Technology & Crime
Tags: , , , , ,

Video cameras are more prevalent than ever, and even a cursory search of youtube or similar sites quickly shows that anything and everything is being recorded these days (especially cats, with over 11.6 million results on youtube alone).

Another favorite seems to be filming police behavior in public, with sometimes controversial results.

For example, a California man recently died during a police incident, part of which was captured on a cell phone.  While the video is grainy, it seems to show several people striking someone repeatedly.  The woman who captured the footage had her camera confiscated by detectives, reportedly before a warrant was obtained for the seizure. When the camera was later returned, one video that had previously been on the phone had allegedly been deleted.

The FBI has now gotten involved in the case, and the investigation is ongoing.

Raw footage of alleged beating of David Sal Silva

All of this brings us to the question of whether or not individuals are allowed to record police activity in public. While it appears that the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution allow it, the issue is fraught with problems.  Some police departments train their officers not to seize video footage without authorization, for example, while others have no clear policy at all.

There’s a risk to filming police activity, even if you’re acting within your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

While this isn’t legal advice (nothing on is), one website offers the following “rules” when recording police activity:

  • Rule #1: Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
  • Rule #2 Don’t Secretly Record Police
  • Rule #3: Respond to What Cops Say
  • Rule #4: Don’t Share Your Video with Police
  • Rule #5: Prepare to be Arrested
  • Rule #6: Master Your Technology
  • Rule #7: Don’t Point Your Camera Like a Gun

Rules number 1 and 7 would seem to be particularly important, but all of them might be helpful if you find yourself in a situation that you believe warrants filming police behavior. If you have questions, though, seek legal advice from an attorney who knows the laws in your jurisdiction (I just can’t stress that enough).

And finally, before we conclude that all police officers are somehow bad people who need to be constantly videotaped in order to prevent bad behavior, take a look at this video of a Portland police officer who stops to take care of a family of ducks, even though the bad guy gets away as a result.

An officer with a heart

Have a safe weekend!

  1. chloe says:

    It’s are right by the 1 and 4 amendment that we are allowed to survey the cops and anyone or anything eles. If business are allowed to survey us on camera in stores and on the streets don’t we have a right to that as well as anyone eles?


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