Is it legal to film police officers while they are on duty? 36 Answers as of June 02, 2013

Is it legal to video and audio record police when encountered by them or in the public while they are performing their duties? If so, where can you do so and be completely protected? Are they allowed to ask for ID if you are recording or just walking down the street minding your own business?

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Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
If you haven't gotten answers to these questions yet: yes, yes and no. Some police do not like their actions videoed but that does not give them the right to prevent it. Unless you are interfering with their duties in some way or are trespassing or on property where you do not have a right to be, your activities are illegal and it is unlawful for the police to do anything about it.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 6/5/2012
Levine & McHenry LLC
Levine & McHenry LLC | Matthew McHenry
In Oregon, yes, it is legal, so long as the officers are aware that they are being recorded (i.e., make it obvious, don't do it surreptitiously).
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 11/1/2011
Law Office of Edward J. Blum
Law Office of Edward J. Blum | Edward J. Blum
In California you are allowed to film/video/audiotape police officers in their official duty as long as you are in public and don't interfere with the police's duty. In the 1960's the Black Panthers would follow the police and record their interactions with the community on 8mm handheld cameras. They knew their rights and pushed them to the limits. The police can ask for identification. If they do, you can refuse to give it to them. They have to have reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime to go any further.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/1/2011
Beaulier Law Office
Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
Yes. So long as you are filming from a legally accessible area and are not interfering with the officers in the course of their duties, there is no restriction on being able to film them.
Answer Applies to: Minnesota
Replied: 11/1/2011
Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law
Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law | Jonathan S. Willett
Technically it is legal unless it is interfering with an investigation. Police are not allowed to stop a suspect unless the have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred or occurring.
Answer Applies to: Colorado
Replied: 10/31/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/2/2013
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    You can video, as long as you are not "harassing" the officers or some how interfering with their performing their duties, and you are not doing so for the sole purpose of trying to "create a problem". What is your motive for doing so? As far as asking for your ID if you are just walking down the street, the answer, based upon those facts alone, is "No the officer can't"; however, you don't say what your age is, what time of the day or night the stop was, where the stop was (high crime area), or if you are in an area where a crime has just been committed, or whether you are in an area where you should not be or have no right to be, or whether or not you have a lengthy criminal history that makes you a "person of interest". In any of these instances, "yes", an officer can stop you and ask you fro your ID.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
    Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
    It depends on many factors but generaly you can record if the police are in public and generally the police can under the common law right to inquire ask for ID an what you are doing.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    I do not believe it would be illegal to take pictures or film police while they are doing their duties, unless you interfere with them doing their duties. If you do so, you can be arrested. If you are filming the police, they have a right to secure your name, and if your film contains information that may be needed in Court, they can secure your film and possibly your equipment. Additionally, you could be subjecting yourself to come to court with a subpoena and you will be compelled to testify at the trial of the matter that you videotaped or took pictures of.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    I suppose that in general, anyone in public could be filmed. Its the purpose of the filming where there may be difficulties. There can be all sorts of problems with publishing such filming. Police officers can investigate activity that is suspicious. Stop and identify cases have a long history, and there are many rules. Your question seems quite general and not easily answered in a few short words. If you have more details, perhaps a more focused answer could be provided. I hope that this was helpful.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Certainly, you can film the police. They can ask you for your ID only if they have a legit reason, otherwise you can refuse and keep filming. Keep in mind that if you piss them off they can create problems for you, So my advice would be show them your ID and film it.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Law Office of James Bordonaro
    Law Office of James Bordonaro | James Albert Bordonaro
    You can record anybody including the police when they are in public. It is questionable if the police can stop you and ask for ID without reasonable suspicion. You certainly don't have to give them your ID or even agree to talk to them. If the indicate that they believe you are acting suspicious then they can ask for your name and ID. This could be a situation if you are in an area that is high in crime or late at night. In order to frisk you they do have to have reasonable suspicion. Best to just tell the police you don't want to talk with them and walk away.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
    Police are always permitted to ask for ID from anyone - for any reason. If you film, make sure you keep a far distance so that they cannot say that you are interferring with their official duties (which they might claim anyway.)
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Attorney & Counselor at Law
    Attorney & Counselor at Law | John Hugger
    I do not believe that filming would be illegal, however, publishing what you have filmed may be without the participants permission.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang | Tracey Sang
    I'm not sure where you're going with this, but your question has two different aspects. First, any person who is out in public assumes the risk that s/he may be filmed or photographed as long as their privacy is not invaded. If that footage is then somehow used for profit without permission then the user may, of course, be sued. The situation is the same for police officers. Second, officers are not supposed to stop someone walking down the street for no reason. However, it is very easy for them find a reason. It is especially easy if you are filming/recording as it is very possible that you are invading someone's privacy. Having stopped you, they may ask you stop recording if they feel that it is interfering their investigation (which they most certainly will.)
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    It is legal to use a camera or recording device in public, but if you film a police officer who is talking to you he will not be happy about it. If you interfere with his official duties he will arrest you. If he thinks you are trying to get him into trouble he will charge you with Obstruction of Governmental Administration, Disorderly Conduct, or Resisting Arrest. He may even lie and claim you fought with him, assaulted him, or resisted arrest. He will handcuff you and make sure that you sit in jail for 24-48 hours until you see a judge. He may take the camera or cell phone or try to erase the recording. You do not want to get a police officer upset or threaten his career, he has the gun, the badge, and the ability to set you up and charge you with anything he wants. A police officer has the right to stop you and ask for ID. In New York City the police have a policy called "Stop and Frisk" where they can stop anyone they suspect of committing a crime and search them. Statistics have shown that around 90% are African American or Hispanic men and 80% of them are innocent. Sometimes they find drugs or weapons, and they use it to keep records of the men they believe are gang members or criminals. It is racial profiling, but the Police Commissioner and Mayor have stated that it saves lives, solves crimes, prevents people from getting robbed, raped, or injured, and gets guns and drugs off the streets. Young men claim they are harassed and humiliated by the police who are stopping them simply because of the way they look or how they are dressed. It happens in high crime neighborhoods, public housing projects, poor neighborhoods, and in areas of gang activity or where businesses have complained of drug dealers in front of their stores. There is no simple answer, the police have to serve and protect, but must use their digression wisely and fairly. If those young men want to be treated equally they have to stop committing so many crimes and stay off the streets, especially in gangs or at night. The police do not stop and search old ladies or businessmen in suits because they are not the ones who are selling drugs, robbing people, shooting people, raping and molesting women and children, or a threat to public safety. They people they stop and search are the ones that look like criminals or gang members. If you are a Black or Hispanic male, a hippie, or a biker, you should probably just dress like a businessman and carry a briefcase. That way the police will assume you are going to work and not about to commit a crime or on your way to a gang meeting. Of course I'm kidding, but it would be better to dress well and stay off the mean streets at night if you don't want to be stopped by the police.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Greco Law Office
    Greco Law Office | Dominic Greco
    You can video them in public. They need probable cause to ask you for ID but they can say anything they want to justify the request. You have to be careful because they can charge you with obstruction very easily an make your life miserable.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Fairlie & Lippy, P.C.
    Fairlie & Lippy, P.C. | Steven Fairlie
    Yes, my opinion is that it is lawful to film them, but not with audio in PA, which can be considered a wiretap violation. You may be ok on the second aspect of that if you notify them up front that you are recording audio, but you should have a formal consultation with a lawyer about this before doing it. Police can always ask for ID but you don't have to produce it unless they have a valid reason.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    You are free to record police as long as you are not interfering with the performance of their duties. They can also ask you for identification at any time if they choose.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    It is perfectly legal to film or video cops doing their duty but make damn sure you have one or two witnesses as the cops are just as likely to smash your camera and hassle you. They can ask for ID if they believe you are committing a crime. What you are doing is not a crime BUT those kind of refusals are what make cops who are pretty high strung anyhow, go viral. So like I say, have a couple of people watch - maybe someone else also taking pictures. I am representing a guy now who was arrested for interfering with a police officer. Two black guys in civilian clothes and in an unmarked car stormed into his movie theater. They wanted to talk to his part-time employee. He asked them to identify themselves (several weeks before a black guy, pretending to be a cop, robbed a woman of $200 so he was gun shy). Anyhow they didn't show him anything and took the kid out to their unmarked car. The reason they were there is that the kid was a victim of a robbery and they wanted to show him pictures of possible suspects. So they put him in their car. My guy goes out and with his cell phone takes a picture of one cop, then the other, then the license plate. This incensed one of these idiots to such a degree that he jumped out of the car, tackled my guy and hurt him pretty badly (he had to go to the hospital) - and then charged him with interfering with the police. Welcome to America, land of the Free, home of the Brave.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/31/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    It is legal as long as it does not interfere with the officers job. Also they can ask for ID but unless they ahve a reason to stop you, you do not have to provide it.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady | Kevin O'Grady
    This varies from state to state. There is a recent court ruling that if the person filming does not impede the officer and is somewhere where he can be legally, in his own yard, walking on the street, etc, then it is improper for the police to stop or arrest the person merely for filming the officers. If you were arrested for something, but that charge is bogus because what the officers really did was arrest you to stop you taping, you may have a defense to the charge and a possible civil rights claim. You should speak to an attorney about the specifics of your case. Realize that in Hawaii, most officers typically are opposed to being taped and will exercise pressure to get you to stop.
    Answer Applies to: Hawaii
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    They are in public, you can film anything in public. They will certainly harass you, so be prepared for them wrongfully arresting you. Kind of like hitting a bee hive with a stick.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    Yes, you can record them. The police need a reason, not a hunch or a whim, to ask for ID.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre | Jonathan T. Sarre
    It is illegal under Oregon law to record a person's activities or conversations without their consent or at least informing them of the fact. So you can't secretly record a conversation or interaction with a police officer. Also while I police officer can approach you on the street and ask you for ID, there is no requirement that you give them your ID.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    It is a crime in the State of Washington to make an audio recording of another person without his or her consent. That offense can subject the offender to jail time. If one were outside, filming the police and making an audio recording, it would be proper for the police to detain the person and possible arrest him or her. It is not illegal to take video as long as there is no sound recording or to record both if the other party is informed. However, there is also common sense that comes into play. The police could charge you with obstructing justice. They also may conclude that you are conducting surveillance. They may interpret that as collecting intelligence on the officer for criminal purposes. Therefore, it would be wise to film something else or keep you camera hidden and out of place and under no circumstances should you record sound without first making the person recorded aware of what you are doing.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    I know of nothing illegal to film an event occuring in a public location as long as the filming is done in the open. Police can ask for identification if they have reason to stop you. To randomly walk up to someone for no reason and ask for identification would be stretch on their authority.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Leone, Throwe, Teller, & Nagle
    Leone, Throwe, Teller, & Nagle | Adam J. Teller
    In Connecticut, there is no specific prohibition against recording the police in public. However, there are laws which prohibit interfering with the police in performance of their duties. There are also statutes which prohibit unlawfully recording a conversation under certain circumstances, and voyeurism in violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy. There have been instances where police officers may have tried to apply such statutes to citizen videotaping or recording. It is not possible to give an answer which covers all possible situations. The law is not totally settled in this area and the context is important. For example, It is unlikely that a legitimate reporter or news crew would be arrested while filming the police in public, but that might not be true for an ordinary citizen filming a confrontation between the police and his friends. Generally, recording an event that happens in public, and is of public interest, in a way that does not obstruct or distract the police from their duties and does not incite any violent or criminal act, would not subject a person to arrest. You probably can record your own encounter with the police if you stay within those limits. However, the police are allowed to ask a person for ID, and refusal to identify oneself to a police officer could result in arrest for interfering with the officer's duties (for example, if the officer is investigating an incident and is trying to identify you as a potential witness or participant). Also, if you do record an event that might constitute a criminal act either by the police or a person they are dealing with, or an event that could show that the suspect did not commit a crime, you are creating evidence of that crime or defense which could then be subject to seizure or subpoena.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin | Daniel K Martin
    It is legal to film anyone in public provided that you are not interfering with an investigation. I have actually filmed officers on a number of occasions and they always tell me to stop. I usually explain in a very professional manner that I am a lawyer and I know that I have the right to record things that happen in public. An officer can ask you to stop recording and he or she does not have to be nice about it however you should be careful if you chose to continue recording because it could get nasty and if the officers are not doing anything bad then it would probably be in your best interest to stop recording.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    You seem to be looking for a problem with the police. The officer's badge number is on his badge. Do not ask for his badge number because it will be taken as a put down. You can make a video from a respectful distance, so long as you are not in a prohibited area while making the video. Be careful.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    If you are in a public place, street other than a court which has restrictions about photography, film away. Cop may ask for ID, but that does not mean that he is entitled to it or what you have filmed. Cop can detain you for questioning if you are a material witness, you may refuse to talk to him. This would necessarily reduce the amount of time he can detain you . You also do not have to go to the police/cop station for any interview.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    No it is not illegal to record them per se, but most of the time if they don't like it they will come up with something to stop you (ie. obstruction, resisting arrest...etc.). And unless you are on probation, they cannot ask you for ID unless they have probable cause (ie. breaking a law). But again cops will "create" things out of thin air.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    You can film and they cannot ask for ID.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC | Rankin Johnson IV
    Yes, it's legal, probably, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't be sorry for doing it. It's probably protected by the First Amendment. It is possible that it would become illegal if the police, or anyone else being recorded, made a phone/radio call to someone else (because the person on the other end wouldn't know about the recording and might be in a place with different laws), and it's possible that you have to give notice to everyone involved, and it's possible that the police will arrest you and break your phone regardless of whether it is legal, and it's remotely possible that some court would decide that you aren't actually allowed to record the police.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 10/28/2011
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