Is it illegal to film a police officer?

Updated on April 10th, 2024 at 06:37 pm

The right to film a police officer is often highly questioned.  In an age where almost everyone has cell phones in their pockets, knowing your constitutional rights is important.  So, is it illegal to film a police officer?

In Maryland and DC, police officers are public figures and as such, don’t enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy when on active duty. This means you can take video and audio recordings of police officers when they are carrying out official duties.

It’s also within your constitutional rights to take videos and pictures of other things visible from a public space, including transportation facilities and federal buildings.

In What Instances is Recording Permitted?

You can record an officer when they are interrogating or arresting someone or when they pull a driver over. A police officer cannot ask to see what you recorded or photographed without a warrant and cannot demand that you delete any footage.

Any damage to your phone or taping equipment is impermissible by law.

Recording Officers and the First Amendment

Several Baltimore officers were sued in 2014, making the city’s police department spend a lot of money on settlements.

In one case, a man sued the city for police misconduct because the police deleted recordings that he’d made of them when on duty. Following this case, Baltimore police made it legal for citizens to record on-duty police activity.

Federal courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of citizens’ First Amendment right to record police encounters. However, the federal court can allow the seizure of your cell phone if the law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion you’ve recorded a crime involving another person.

Recording Audio in Maryland

A common misconception with recording in Maryland stems from Maryland’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act. The act states that it is unlawful to tape record any private conversation without the permission of all the parties involved. This would mean that if you wanted to record a conversation with two other people, you would need consent from both people to record and publish the video/audio.

According to Maryland Code, any conversation with an investigating police officer is not made “in private conversation” and is therefore permissible to record.

Recording Audio in DC

DC does not have the same restrictions because It’s a one-party consent state, which means the person recording can serve as the consenting party. The other party involved does not need to consent to continue recording or photographing.

In both DC and Maryland, the main reason for a member of law enforcement to prevent citizens from filming or photographing their actions in public is if their action interferes with official duties of law enforcement.

Avoid Interference with Officers

It is generally safer to record from a distance and stay out of the scene when filming a police officer’s actions.

There have been many incidents in recent years where police officers do not want to be filmed and will threaten bystanders to cease recording. In these cases, it is important to act politely and remain calm, knowing that you are protected by the law, and to continue taking video recordings as long as you are not interfering in their actions.

One easy way to avoid interference is if you are pulled over at a traffic stop and have an iPhone. Apple has a convenient shortcut to record yourself. If you say, “Hey Siri, I’m being pulled over,” your iPhone will automatically dim its screen and open the front-facing camera to start recording. You can then access it later to stop recording when the interaction is over.

With increased cases of police brutality across the nation, such technology applications and shortcuts give drivers some form of power against police abusing power.

Schedule a Free Case Review Today

It is important to have an experienced attorney represent you if you are detained for filming or recording police officers in public spaces. Our attorneys are experienced in cases such as those involving civilian recordings of active-duty police officers.

The attorneys at Bruckheim & Patel can help you negotiate a fair settlement for the case, go to trial, or guide you on how to join class-action suits. We’ll explain the options available depending on your case for the best results.  For a free consultation, contact our criminal defense attorneys in DC and Maryland.

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