August 15, 2014 by David K. Sutton
Yes, It Is Legal To Photograph And Record Police Actions
Because the police in Ferguson, Missouri have obstructed the free flow of information, asking and then forcing people to stop recording events, I felt it was necessary to make it clear that photography or videography are not criminal activities. Yeah, that should be obvious, but in 2014 America, unfortunately it is not.
It is perfectly legal to record video or take photos of anyone when in a public space, and that includes law enforcement. The police may ask you to stop taking photos or capturing video, but they have to legal authority to make you stop. If this happens to you, only you can decide whether you continue capturing the scene, but be certain that you know your rights. It has been upheld by the courts that your First Amendment constitutional rights guarantee your legal right to photograph or record pretty much anything in a public space as long as you are not directly interfering with law enforcement. So as long as you are not getting in the way of the police, you may continue to film the event, even if a police officer asks you not to.
But I must stress again, this is a judgment call on your part. Because if you do not obey, you could be arrested. It might be a false arrest, but you will still have to go through the ordeal nonetheless. So again, know your rights, but also be aware that if the police are going to arrest you, there isn’t much you can do about it in the moment.
Having said all of this, you do have to question the motive of a police officer asking someone not to record an event if the person doing the recording is not directly interfering. For an officer to ask this of someone holding a camera, in my mind, puts into question the actions of this officer. What is he doing, or what does he plan to do that he doesn’t want it recorded? And that’s why it’s our duty as citizens to know our rights. When you feel safe doing so, and when you think something is wrong, capture the events, even if it includes the police.