Chief’s Counsel: The Tale of Videotape-Recording Police Officers

Police officers encounter many challenges during a patrol shift, and bystanders recording police activity with their ever-accessible smartphone cameras is one of those challenges. There are times when recording the police could raise an officer safety issue, especially at night when camera lights can hinder the officer’s vision, or when legitimate police business could be compromised because of the recording. Bystander recordings can cut two ways for police, both exposing police misconduct, as well as exonerating false police misconduct claims. Does a person recording law enforcement activity in the United States have any constitutional protections? What happens when the police detain or arrest a person who is recording police activity? Law enforcement executives must understand how officers can legally and safely handle a bystander who is recording police activity.