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What you should know about recording police activity

| Jan 27, 2021 | Criminal Defense

These days, between cellphone and surveillance videos inside and outside of businesses and other properties, it seems like just about every interaction between police and citizens is recorded. But what should you know before you record your interaction (or someone else’s) with police?

Public vs. private spaces

The right to record police interactions is protected both under the First Amendment and common law, at least in a public space. However, remember the following:

If you’re on someone else’s private property, the property owner can tell you to leave and/or stop recording. If you don’t, you could face arrest.

Tips for recording

Whether you’re the one being questioned or you’re a concerned bystander watching a heated encounter between police and someone else, keep these tips in mind:

  • If an officer tries to stop you from recording, remind them that you have the right to record.
  • Don’t point your phone or camera like a weapon or hold it out aggressively. Keep it close to you.
  • If you’re asked to identify yourself or step back, do so. Police have a right to ask such questions.

In some situations, it may be in your best interest to inform the police officer that you are recording the activity. However, this is not always possible in all situations, especially when the encounter in question is fast-paced or aggressive.

Can police take or search your phone?

Generally, law enforcement officers need a warrant to take your phone as well as to search through it. They don’t have the right to delete any videos or anything else from it without your consent.

If an officer directs you to stop recording and you believe you’re not hindering their activity, it’s your choice whether to comply. However, they may arrest you.

Regardless of what the response is to your recording activity, it’s in your best interest to remain calm. If you are the one being detained and questioned, you could end up facing more serious criminal charges. Politely but firmly assert your rights, including your right to an attorney if you are arrested.