Is It Okay to Record the Police?

police recording

Most of us have seen people’s recordings of police interactions that have raised questions about police conduct.  This raises issues of the right to record the police in the performance of their public duties.

Yes, You Can Record the Police in Public

Citizens have a right to film the police doing their job.  In 2011, the First Circuit held in Glik v. Cunniffe that “the First Amendment protects the filming of government officials in public spaces,” instructing that “the same restraint demanded of law enforcement officers in the face of provocative and challenging speech must be expected when they are merely the subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their work in public spaces.”  In 2014, the Court reiterated that message in Gericke v. Begin after a motorist was arrested for recording the police during a 2010 traffic stop.

The Right to Record Police During Traffic Stops Has Blurry Limitations

While the Court ruled in favor of the motorist in Gericke, the Court also cautioned that because “traffic stops may be especially fraught with danger to police officers…more invasive police action than would be permitted in other settings” may be allowed under certain circumstances.  An obvious example is the case of an armed motorist, but the outer boundaries of facts which would justify police action that limits speech during a traffic stop is unclear.  The extent of the guidance we have is the Gericke Court’s warning that “reasonable orders to maintain safety and control, which have incidental effects on an individual’s exercise of the First Amendment right to record, may be permissible.”

If you decide to record the police, keep two things in mind.  First, the police must be engaged in their ordinary duties to the public as police.  Second, recording the police must not be disruptive to performance of their duties nor subject them to danger.

Some Departments Have Not Heeded the Court’s Warnings

Despite the Court’s clear message, police officers in New Hampshire have still arrested citizens for doing what the First Amendment allows.  In 2015, Alfredo Valentin was arrested for what the police called criminal wiretapping because he used his cell phone to record two Manchester police officers performing their police duties on the public street outside his home, even though he didn’t interfere with their duties.  Mr. Valentin’s case ultimately resolved with a $275,000 settlement.

If you believe your rights have been violated, you should consult Jared Bedrick, an experienced lawyer at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. at 1-800-240-1988 or fill out our online contact form for a case evaluation.


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