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Can I film police officers?

One way that police abuses such as excessive force come to light is through videotape. However, you may be wondering if you could get in legal trouble for attempting to tape an encounter with a police officer.

The answer is that you are probably fine to tape. After all, a New York City police department spokesperson said in 2016 that their officers have been told that being taped is fine as long as the taping is not obstructive. That said, the number of complaints about police officers trying to stop video recording indicates that not all officers follow policy in this area.

Your sense of safety

Perhaps most importantly, use your judgement. That is, does the police officer confronting you seem especially aggressive, unstable and/or unreasonable? If your safety is at risk, you could be looking at months of physical suffering, mental pain, lost wages and more if the officer ends up using force on you. In such a case, you may decide that justice prevails and keep taping. However, you could try retreating to a less conspicuous place and taping from there. If nothing else, you could serve as a valuable eyewitness to whatever scene you were filming.

How to react if asked to stop taping

If you are taping in a public place some distance from the police officer, that is likely not interference. You are not getting in the way of the officer doing his or her duties.

If an officer tells you to stop recording, you should say that you have every right to record. However, some officers have begun to realize that more members of the public know it is okay to videotape. Thus, the officers try to get around policy by ordering tapers to back up or move. What you can do in such situations is to back up or move just enough that it does not affect the quality of your taping while making clear you are not trying to interfere.

Ask if you are free to go

Another tactic to ensure that the law is on your side is to inquire of the police officer, “Am I free to go?” If the answer is yes, you are likely well within your rights to continue taping.

If you feel you were unfairly made to stop taping or if a police officer destroyed your evidence, an attorney may be able to help. Help is even more imperative if you were brutalized in the process.

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