Ask Grant: What Happens if the Police Demand I Stop Filming Them Arresting Someone?

Remember this segment is meant to help and educate you if you ever have a similar type of question but is not meant to be legal advice. If you have any additional questions or desire more information contact or call us at 505.235.6777. This weeks question is on filming police in action.

Q: What happens if the Police demand I stop filming them arresting someone?

ask-grant-film-policeAnyone who spends time on social media today or watches television has probably noticed that there are an increasing number of amateur videos being posted of law enforcement activity. People of all ages, and for various reasons, have decided to arm themselves with their smartphones and document for the masses the things that they see taking place in front of them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always met with a welcoming attitude from those who are sworn to uphold and protect the law. In fact, some police have become very firm in their demands that those filming cease immediately. If you are filming law enforcement activity and are asked to stop by the police, this is what you need to do.

Filming the Police

First and foremost, they shouldn’t ask this of you at all. If everyone involved is in a public place and you are not interfering in what is happening, then a police officer has no legal recourse to ask you to stop recording. An officer never has the right to come over to you and either turn off your camera or, worse, confiscate it. This has been known to happen, however.
Earlier this year, a U.S. Marshall was videotaped (there’s irony for you) confiscating and destroying a woman’s camera while she tried to film him. This has been happening with increasing frequency as officers either don’t understand the rights of the people that are filming them or simply don’t care and are unwilling to cede the power that this act seems to imply. In fact, some people have even been wrongly arrested for filming police activity in public.

Know Your Rights

special photo toned photo f/x focus pont on camcorderAbove all else, it’s important that you understand your rights. As stated before, when you are in public places, you have the right to capture any image whether it be photo or video. If you are on private property, it is the property owner who sets the rules about taking video. If you disobey those rules, they can ask you to leave the property or even have you arrested for trespassing should you fail to do so.

A police officer may not order you to stop taking video or pictures, nor can they ask you to delete anything from your camera or phone. An officer also may not confiscate or demand to view photographs or video without a warrant. If an officer requests any of these things, politely ask them what specific law you are breaking. Whether they are able to cite a law or not (there isn’t one), let them know that you are allowed to disobey unlawful orders issued by police agents and are only required to comply with lawful demands.

Taking photographs and videos in public are still protected by the First Amendment. If you get into a tense situation, be sure to know your rights. If you feel that your rights have been violated, it may be time to contact your attorney immediately.

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