The following article is a culmination of information generated by our research team at Primeau Forensics on how to record police officers. Our goal is to answer the question, ‘Do citizens have a right to video record police officers?’ To best answer this question, Primeau Forensics’ staff surveyed police officers, law enforcement leadership, concerned citizens, and attorneys to present their answers about video recording. What is more, concerned citizens can actually assist police officers when using proper video recording methods. Always remember, everyone’s safety is a top priority.
The specific details expressed in this post are based primarily on Michigan law. However, the information we have gathered and presented in this article is universal. If you are reading outside the United States of America, consider laws enforced in your community or jurisdiction.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHT TO VIDEO RECORD POLICE
The Department of Homeland Security has a saying; ‘If you see something say something.’ Our philosophy is, ‘If you see something, film something.’
A concerned citizen has a legal right to video record police officers and can do so in public places. However, they cannot video record in a manner in which they interfere with the event or investigation. This includes video recording too close within the officer’s tactical operating area. Again, safety is a priority.
Interference to an investigation diverts the police officers’ attention and reduces their focus. In other words, does the police officer consider that you are interfering with the investigation at that time? If an officer warns you during a video recording, adjust your approach, where you’re standing, and what you’re filming.
Be aware that an officer may have a tremendous amount on his or her mind. As a result, they may be in a heightened sense of awareness from this critical incident or a previous incident to the one you are currently video recording. Keep this in mind when you are video recording police officers.
YOUR RIGHT TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS
If you are a video recording witness, write down your name and number for the police officer and mention you saw what happened. That way they will contact you later if 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.
On the other hand, you have a right to remain anonymous and video record police officers. There are some witnesses whose employment may require that they present the recordings, statements, or anything heard to assist a police officer. These include nurses, social workers, security officers, 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 asked to give a statement, and/or appear in court.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REMAINING UNBIASED
In order to protect the integrity of all parties involved, as well as the investigation, it is crucial to remain unbiased while video recording police officers. To remain an unbiased witness, record the entire event. We find that some witnesses focus on the police officer only. Pointing the camera directly at the officer introduces bias and makes the video recording difficult to view in its entirety.
Record the entire interaction of all parties. Don’t find offense in the police officer telling you to back up or to move away. Another article that may help in understanding how best to prepare digital evidence can be found on the blog.
CONTACT FORENSIC EXPERTS
The guidelines for how to video record police officers safely are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website. Finally, contact the Primeau Forensic’s team for more information or questions on your legal right to record police officers. Learn more about techniques with which to video record police in our next blog post.