When is it legal to film police officers?
While shooting at a police officer is a criminal offense, shooting video of an officer isn’t always legally sound either.
The increasing availability of smartphones and other devices with video-capturing capabilities can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to filming police actions.
Videos displaying police conduct are beginning to pop up more frequently around the country. On July 20, a video of the UCF-area Deidra Reid arrest went viral in the community after the 15-second clip was released on the Internet.
Reid’s lawyer, Natalie Jackson, contends that filming police officers in public is in accordance with Florida law.
“You have a right to record as long as you do not interfere with an investigation. Every student has a right to pull out their camera and record,” said Jackson, in a previous interview with the Central Florida Future.
Many police officers wear body cameras that record any interaction with the public, which often gives a more elongated perspective on the event.
“I think the real key with the body cameras and the reason we’ve gone to them is so you get the entire incident and not an edited version. So often we see a 10-second version of something that was 10 or 15 minutes long, and then taken out of context it creates problems,” said UCF Police Chief Richard Beary. “So the beauty of the body cameras is when we release the data, we release the entire video. You get the entire incident, not somebody’s edited version that is slanted.”
However, videotaping officers comes with its own set of laws that many in this tech-soaked society do not think about.
An important factor to keep in mind is location. For recordings, Florida is a two-party consent state, meaning all parties must give consent to any private wire, electronic or oral recording.
The laws for video adhere to similar principles. Filming police becomes illegal when someone begins to record while in a private building, house or location. When the police are out in public and have no expectation of privacy, the public has a right to record police action.
“There are some new statutes in Florida that allow us the ability when we’re conducting investigations to videotape. That is one of the interesting things that when people start videotaping other people at a private residence, they don’t realize that they’re technically violating the law when they release that,” Beary said. “So that’s a whole new area of law I think that is going to be explored in the future.”
A person who is filming should also be wary of any interference with the arrest. Bystanders who begin to film across the street are in a safer position than a person who is getting up close to the officer or suspect.
According to Florida Statute 843.02, the court could end up charging anyone who interferes with an officer’s duty as obstruction of justice, which could lead to fines.
“Usually the biggest challenge that we have seen is not the filming, but some people want to get in up your face and get involved with the incident as they’re filming. That’s where it becomes problematic,” Beary said.
Noelle Campbell is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Noellecampz or email her at NoelleC@CentralFloridaFuture.com.