LET'S BE CLEAR: It Is Absolutely Legal To Record The Police

BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, up soon for re-election, has taken to YouTube to lay out his rules for the road when recording police acting in their official capacity. You can view the somewhat bizarre video here.

While we certainly agree that no one should ever get in the way of a police officer policing, know this: the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a 2011 decision by a federal appeals court in Massachusetts that affirmed a first amendment right to record police while on duty.

Said the appeals court:

“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.””

The Supreme Court”s refusal to take up the case, legal experts will tell you, means that a majority of the justices didn”t feel strongly about what the appeals court said. To put it another way: it is legal in the United States to record police officers. Plain and simple.

While we are always amused by Ric Bradshaw”s never-ending optics-lacking public relations campaigns, we question why he is making this an issue now. It wasn”t something most in Palm Beach County were talking about until he started talking about it.

Here”s our reporter”s guide to recording the police from decades of television and newspaper reporting:

  1. Abide by reasonable direction.
  2. You are allowed as close to the action as anyone else in the public. Abide by police lines, but you can not be moved away just because you are recording.
  3. Be respectful. If you look for a problem, you”ll end up with a problem. But conversely, the police can not tell you to stop recording.
  4. The police can not confiscate your nbso online casino reviews phone or your video without a warrant. If you believe an officer is going to attempt to take your device, start uploading your video to a service like DropBox — or email it to a friend — so there is a digital copy.  The ACLU has apps — look for “mobile justice” — that will assist you in uploading to their servers.
  5. There is no expectation of privacy in a public place. To put it another way: a police officer does not have to consent to being recorded if you”re in a public location. We don”t advise barging in on an undercover operation, but anything happening on the street is fair game.
  6. Be smart. If you see something, don”t necessarily say something. Record it, document it, and then decide what to do next. Confronting a law enforcement officer because you believe he or she did something wrong is not going to end well for you. Call a police supervisor. Call an attorney. Don”t engage an officer who is dealing with a scene.

We believe most police officers are good. We also appreciate officers are often thrust into situations that can rapidly get out of control. While we all hope that law enforcement will always do the right thing, you can”t necessarily judge an officer”s career by what you record over ten seconds.  Context is key.

But that being said, you have a right to record the police. Don”t let a sheriff with a YouTube channel suggest otherwise. There have been major civil suits against police agencies with huge payouts for photographers who were denied their right to record activity in a public place.


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