How To Record A Police Officer Safety & Legally PT 1

The department of homeland security has a saying “if you see something say something.” Our philosophy is, “if you see something, film something.”

The following information is a culmination of law enforcement feedback, concerned citizens, and legal counsel experience. The purpose of this post is to encourage concerned citizens to consider the proper methods when video recording police officers safely and legally. Before we begin, we want to talk about the two main objectives, safety and legality. Your safety, your family’s safety, and anyone you are with on location is top priority.

What are the legal boundaries for video recording a police officer? In general, the concerned citizen would not be legally obligated to hand over their camera or cell phone. However, there are ways to assist the police department and the community so unnecessary tension is not created between the law enforcement on scene and the concerned citizens.


Can you legally record a police officer?


The specific details expressed in this post are based primarily on Michigan law.

In a public place where there is no expectation of privacy, a concerned citizen is allowed to record video or take pictures. A concerned citizen cannot video record in a manner in which they are considered interfering with the event or investigation. This includes video recording or entering too close within the officer’s tactical operating area. Again, safety is priority. Interference to an investigation diverts the police officers attention or reduces his or her focus. The grey area then becomes “does the police officer consider that you are interfering with the investigation at that time” in their opinion. At this point, you might want to adjust your approach, where you’re standing, and what you’re filming.


Working with a police officer and not against them


Be aware that an officer may have a tremendous amount on his or her mind and may still be in a heightened sense of emotion or coming down from a critical incident previous to the one you are currently video recording.

Even if you didn’t record, if you were a witness, write down your name and number or give a business card to the police officer and mention you saw what happened and to contact you if they feel you can assist with the investigation. If the police officer is unavailable or too busy at the time, you can supply this information to their shift supervisor. No matter what, the will be the one that wants that information.

You have a right to remain anonymous as a concerned citizen you can request that from the police department, or you may go through a third party, such as Primeau Forensics, and ask for assistance. Certain people are obligated to present the recordings, statements, or anything heard as possible evidence of a case. Some of these people are: nurses, social workers, security, paramedics, and first responders. Whether you record an event, or are an eye witness to one, you could be subpoenaed and ordered to go to court. IF you are a witness, you may be legally obligated to give a statement, and/or appear in court.


In order to protect the integrity of the parties involved as well as the investigation, it is crucial to remain unbiased.


If it is one person recording, record the whole event. Don’t be biased recording one party or the other. Pointing the camera directly at the officer introduces bias and makes it difficult to determine who is at fault. Record the entire interaction of both parties. Don’t be offended if the police officer asks or tells you to back up or to get away. It will almost always be for your safety and to eliminate the officers consideration that you could be an additional threat.


Effectiveness of the recoding as video evidence.


We also want to address the effectiveness of your video recording and how it pertains to the investigation down the road. The primary purpose for reviewing video evidence in the court is to determine how the events occurred naturally. Second, the evidence illustrates the overall picture as accurately as possible. In too many situations, a concerned citizen will record an interaction without knowing many of the facts of the incident, or who was involved. This distorts the public perspective and may cause harm to the investigation.


The guidelines provided in this video are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website.

To learn more about our expert security consultant, Theo Chalogianis, please feel free to contact Chalogianis Consulting LLC at


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