So You Want To Record The Cops — Here’s What You Need To Know

Video footage of police interactions has exposed some troubling behavior. So You Want To Record The Cops — Here’s What You Need To Know Shutterstock

News that is entertaining to read

Subscribe for free to get more stories like this directly to your inbox

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a troubling number of cases in which police appeared to abuse their power in ways that cost individuals their freedom … and in some cases, their lives. And we wouldn’t have much of this evidence if not for the fact that people with smartphones recorded the incidents.

But is it actually legal to record police as they perform their duties? As it turns out, that’s a thorny issue.

Arizona clarification

Last year, lawmakers in Arizona sought to pass a law that would prohibit individuals from recording video within eight feet of a police officer. Although there were some exceptions, a violation of this ordinance could have landed folks behind bars for up to 30 days.

The law received widespread scrutiny, though, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit claiming that it was unconstitutional.

A subsequent court order agreed, indicating that the First Amendment provides “a clearly established right to record law enforcement officers engaged in the exercise of their official duties in public places.”

Important limitations

While the Arizona case provided some legal protections for people who want to record cops, it’s important to know that your rights aren’t unlimited.

Here are some times during which taking video of cops could land you in hot water:

  • When your presence interferes with the officers’ ability to do their jobs
  • When you violate the privacy of someone else
  • When being in a particular place creates a safety hazard
  • When you are on private property

Just because you are acting in accordance with the law doesn’t mean officers will always be OK with you recording them. But if you know your rights and comply with reasonable requests from the cops, capturing evidence of police encounters could end up benefiting suspects and officers alike.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee August 18th, 2023
Share this story: