Is It Legal to Video Record Police?
Under the First Amendment, you have the right to record or photograph the police while they are operating in public. However, how this is implemented does vary between states. To help you understand your specific rights, here is everything you need to know.
Know the Law Where You Live
Currently, 38 states allow citizens to record the police so long as your recording doesn't interfere with their activities. 12 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida, Montana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Washington) require that all parties consent before recording. However, all but two of these states -- Illinois and Massachusetts -- have an expectation of privacy provision as an exception, meaning that this all-party consent rule doesn't apply to police that are on duty.
Because of this, in most states you will not be breaking any laws by recording on-duty police officers, and if an officer tries to force you to stop recording, you may want to speak with a criminal defense attorney to file a complaint in defense of your rights. In some instances, officers may argue that you are obstructing their work or violating other laws, in order to force you to stop. However, so long as you have recorded evidence that you are doing nothing but recording them, a criminal defense attorney can prove that the officers were in the wrong.
Know When to Walk Away
If you are recording an officer and they approach you, your first question should always be, “Am I free to go?” If they say that you are, you should go. However, if the officer asks you to do something, it's advised that you don't put yourself in danger and instead partner with a criminal defense attorney to fight for your rights in court. Calling out an officer's bad behavior, even when you have it on video, can put you in danger or escalate the situation beyond what is safe for you.
If You Are Arrested
While almost always unlawful, if an officer threatens to arrest you, whether for recording or under the pretense of something else, remain calm and remember that your video evidence can be used to clear you of wrongdoing. If you have the right to remain silent, do so and speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Remain cordial, do not resist, and remember that the officer's bad behavior will speak for itself especially when contrasted by your calm demeanor.
If you are wondering whether or not you are lawfully able to record the police, it's important to understand the law in your state. While most do permit it, make sure to look up the specifics where you live and remember that in most cases you are protected under the First Amendment.