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by Peter Moskos

April 14, 2015

Videotaping police isn't quite as legal as you thought

Honestly, my eyes glazed over a little bit reading (most) of this. But you should still read it. In much of the country, it's still kind of a legal gray area about whether or not you can record police.

I did an L.A. radio show a while back and a cop called in with a very insightful comment: older cops are still bothered by people filming them or taking their picture. Younger cops think it's pretty normal for people to be holding up their phone when something interesting in happening.

Regardless, the advice I would give to police officers is that it will undoubtedly be legal and protected in the future. So stop fighting it and get used to it.


Andy D said...

I agree with the analysis of the old vs young cops and their attitudes towards being recorded. When it comes to being recorded by bystanders, I think in general the "old" vs "young" cut off seems to be about age 30 at present.

I think simultaneously, there is an actual issue with people recording when they are actually so close that they are interfering with what is going on. In those cases there is a certain degree of tact required in telling people that a) they need to back up but b) they can still record

Moskos said...

Yes. On facebook I learned that there was some law proposed in Texas to ban recording police within 25 feet. Of course this was being mocked by many of the commenters. And though I probably don't support the politician (or even the mindset) behind the law, I did feel obliged to point out that 25 feet was quite reasonable since closer than that you would be in the way and and a distraction, as a potential threat.

Andy D said...

I disagree with any law that gives cops another reason to arrest people for recording (i.e., you were 23 feet away) but yes, 25 feet is a pretty good rule of thumb unless you are the one the cop is contacting (car stop and you are the driver, etc.) I really think people don't understand or care that walking up and shoving your phone in the cop's face while he is dealing with someone else is a dangerous distraction...and that is what a lot of these people do. Hey, I'm already on a dash cam and soon to be on a body cam...make your own recording if it means so much to you, that's fine with me. Just don't reach over my shoulder to get a close-up while I'm trying to talk down your drunk friend. You aren't helping your friend, me or the public.

Moskos said...

Maybe the law should say it's illegal to film a cop within arm's reach of a cop if you're not the one the cop is dealing with. That way you don't need a tape measure, but when some cop grabs a camera out of the guy's hand, it would prove the guilt of the guy too close, rather than the cop.

(And no, it's not allowed to approach a guy with a camera to place it within arm's reach.)

Andy D said...

I'd like to say that people (and cops) should be educated that when the cop is dealing with someone you have a right to film but need to stay away from the incident. That would assume that a) people aren't DELIBERATELY trying to interfere (and I think many are doing just that or are trying to incite a confrontation) and b) that cops don't mind being filmed.

I think recently we are seeing less of the incidents where cops try to take cameras from bystanders just because they are filming so I think maybe some cops are getting the message, though some obviously aren't.

Matt said...

No new extra laws are required. I believe every state as a relatively broad law outlawing interfering with a police investigation/action. Mine does. We just need to show that the person filming was interfering with our actions significantly. It is a high bar to reach, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing.