Can I legally record a police encounter?
I get the question alot, and believe it or not in some jurisdictions my answer used to be different. But now, generally speaking, it is legal to record a police encounter in every state in the United States, unless it would interfere with an investigation (hard to prove) or create some kind of safety hazard, and in some cases possibly when you are on private property.
Most courts agree that the First Amendment to the Constitution gives you the right to record – with pictures, audio, and video – police officers who are on duty (or off duty) while in public. Although the First Amendment doesn’t specifically say we have a “right to record the police”, it does give us the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It also provides the right to “gather or document” information about our government (which includes Law Enforcement).
I also agree that you “should” be able to record police. And you “should” do so when you can do so safely. Even when they have bodycams, it is always preferred to have your own personal recording of these encounters when possible. But, we have all seen videos where the police officer insists that you stop recording them, or stop taking pictures while in a public place. But these videos are “learning material” in my opinion, and provide for good training on the topic.
You may encounter an officer who threatens to arrest you for videoing him or her, and if you do then you have a decision to make. Do you insist on having your first amendment right to continue, or face the threat of arrest for doing what you hae the right to do.
Well, I cannot answer that for you. That is a decision that “you” must make. But I will tell you that if a police officer asked me to discontinue recording him or her when I knew I had the right to do so, I would politely refuse. I would stand my ground and politely tell him or her that I had the First Amendment right to continue, but I would respect his boundaries if there is a scene of a crime or traffic stop. That said, every situation is differnt and there may be issues that directly effect my response to this question.
I would just tell you to be polite and respectful of the officer’s safety, and if the officer makes the mistake of arresting you for simply recording him, seek an attorney immediately and say nothing to the police while on the scene. Nothing good comes from you arguing with officers on the scene of an incident like this (except maybe a few thousand Youtube views). But we don’t want to risk our safety for that.
Good luck, and stay well. And, as always, be sure to contact Nashville’s Premier Criminal Defense Attorney David Ridings for more information, or for a free consultation regarding this, or any other legal matter.