Imagine that you are walking down the sidewalk and you see what appears to be a police officer in a heated exchange with a civilian. You are concerned by the news stories that you’ve seen about police officers who exceed their authority – sometimes with tragic consequences.
Is it legal in the state of Florida to record law enforcement officers on duty? Are there laws about recording the police? What if you are taking video and a cop tells you to stop? What if that officer attempts to confiscate your phone or camera? Can a Port St. Lucie criminal defense law firm help?
If you want to post the video on YouTube, does “freedom of the press” extend to you in this situation? Or could you be arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer in the performance of his or her duties?
IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS IT LEGAL TO RECORD THE POLICE?
In other words, is it legal or illegal to record the police in this state? And if the answer is “it depends,” then what does it depend on?
If you live in Florida, keep reading, because what police officers do affects everyone. You are about to learn when it’s legal to record the police, when it isn’t, and what you need to know before you start recording.
When you make an audio or video recording, under Florida law, you must have the consent of all parties who are being recorded. The exception to the rule is that where the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy – for example, on a public street – then consent is not required.
WHAT HAVE THE COURTS RULED ABOUT RECORDING THE POLICE?
The courts in Florida have ruled that on-duty police officers who are engaged in police work in the view of the general public do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
And in 2012, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there is a “constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.”
That makes it legal in the state of Florida to record on-duty police officers who are in the view of the general public. It does not mean that you will not have any problems or that you won’t end up confronting an agitated or angry police officer.
WHAT IF YOU’RE CHARGED WITH SOME MINOR OFFENSE?
Although it is legal to record the police in Florida, you’ll need to use common sense and adhere to some basic rules. You will also need to accept the possibility that you might be arrested, even though, if you’ve adhered to the rules, you probably can’t be convicted of any criminal charges.
When you record the police, they may harass you, confiscate your recording device, or even arrest you on a charge like obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. However, you can’t be charged with recording the police, because it is not against the law.
If you are charged with obstruction or disorderly conduct while recording the police, the charge will likely be dropped. It’s unlikely that a prosecutor could prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The police simply wanted you out of their way, so they had to charge you with something.
IF YOU RECORD THE POLICE, WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY?
Police officers may feel like being recorded is an imposition and a challenge. Here are some tips for handling the police if you decide to record officers performing their duties. For example, what if a police officer approaches you asking, “What do you think you’re doing?”
1. Do not say, “I’m making sure that you’re doing your job right,” or, “It’s a free country, I know my rights.” Do not say anything that sounds sarcastic, defensive, hostile, or aggressive.
2. Instead, be calm and friendly. Assure the officer that you are keeping a proper distance and that you are not attempting to interfere in any way.
WHAT OTHER RULES SHOULD YOU FOLLOW IF YOU RECORD THE POLICE?
Every situation, and every police officer, is going go be unique. If you are going to record the police, you must work to establish a rapport with them and to avoid anything that might spark a dispute or a confrontation. When you record the police:
1. Keep a safe distance.
2. Do not make any sudden moves.
3. Do not “shove” a microphone or camera at anyone.
4. Be aware of your surroundings.
5. Be respectful to the police officers.
The police do a dangerous job. If you are recording them, try to cooperate, and try to assure them that you are not interfering. Do whatever it takes to put the officers at ease – short of shutting down your recording.
HOW ARE THE POLICE DEALING WITH CIVILIANS WHO RECORD THEM?
Around the nation, police departments are increasingly recognizing that civilians may legally record officers at work. In Boston, the police are explicitly instructed not to arrest civilians who are recording them.
The Baltimore Police have established the same policy. In New York City, police officers have been told to protect the right of civilians to record the police at work.
If you record the police in Florida, you may be harassed, your camera or phone may be seized, and you may even be arrested on some vague, trivial charge. If that happens to you anywhere in central or south Florida, contact an experienced Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney immediately.
HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP YOU?
Most people simply are not comfortable having strangers take photographs of them. Law enforcement officers are like everyone else. Even though it’s your right, recording the police will probably make them uncomfortable. You might be tolerated, but do not expect to be welcomed.
If you are charged with something like disorderly conduct or obstructing an officer, and if you were legally recording the police when you were arrested, let an experienced Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney advocate for justice on your behalf.
When the police arrest someone for recording them, if that person was not obstructing or interfering with the police in any way, there is every reason to believe that the charge will be dropped after the defendant’s attorney has a chance to speak with the prosecutor and the judge.
In Florida, if you want to record the police, the law is on your side. If you end up charged with a crime, you have the right to a defense lawyer’s help. You have the right to record police officers, but it’s a right that you must exercise wisely.