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The Right and Wrong Ways to Film the Police

As a citizen of the United States, you have a constitutional right to take photographs and record video of anything that is plainly visible from a public space. This includes federal buildings, transportation buildings, and, perhaps most importantly, police and government officials.

Unfortunately, too many law enforcement officers wish this weren’t the case and try to stop people from recording them in public spaces. Sometimes officers go so far as harassing, detaining, or even arresting people using their cameras or phones to record them in public.

At Thiessen Law Firm, we believe firmly that it is important for individuals to know their rights. While police wear body armor to protect themselves from the public, the public needs to be able to protect themselves from police.

When You Can Record

During a traffic stop, your rights are intact so long as you are still in an outdoor, public space. In fact, it is in your best interest and benefit to record your interaction with the officer. Documenting the actions of law enforcement helps both you and your lawyer by providing you with a completely objective record of the stop. Taking video of your interaction preserves the truth and holds the police accountable for their actions.

Stay Cool

How police react to being recorded usually depends on the individuals involved and how common it is in the area. The more common it is, the more likely their reaction will be neutral or positive. Many officers try to order people to stop recording or put their devices away. Stay cool and calm. This helps to defuse the situation rather than aggravate it, which decreases the chances of your stop going off the rails.

If an officer confronts you for recording their interaction with another person, you can simply respond with open-ended questions, such as, “What am I suspected of?” or “Am I being detained, or am I free to continue documenting?” Doing so is a great tool for disarming an officer. In particular, “Am I being detained?” gives the officer a choice between knowingly violating your rights or not interfering with your right to record.

Quick Tips to Remember

If you’re stopped or wish to record public police activity to preserve the facts, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • On private property, the owner determines your right to record. If you disobey, they can order you off the property or have you arrested for trespassing.
  • Police do not have the right to to prevent you from recording in public. On top of that, they definitely do not have the right to seize your device or delete images or video.
  • Know your device. Be familiar with its functions and how to access them quickly.
  • Stay calm and polite. Never resist an officer physically. You do not want a charge for “assault” or “resisting arrest.”

The key takeaways here are that you have the right to film the police in a public space, and they do not have the right to stop you or delete your documentation. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, you don’t want to get lost in the legal system. Mark Thiessen and his team at Thiessen Law Firm are among the most aggressive criminal attorneys in Houston. We will fight tirelessly to protect your rights. Whether you’re facing charges of DWI, possession, theft, or any other criminal charge, contact us today for a free consultation.

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