Cell phone recordings have exposed police misconduct including false arrests, unconstitutional searches, and even murder. Despite this, many of us are afraid to record the police, especially considering their ability to avoid accountability. This blog helps you understand your right to record the police and the risks you may face when doing so.
Do I have a right to record the police?
Yes. You have a constitutional right to photograph or record police engaged in official duties in public. You do not have a right to record if it “obstructs” the police officer from the lawful discharge of his official duties.
What does “obstructing” the police mean?
O.C.G.A. 16-10-24 defines Obstruction, however anything you do or say may be considered obstruction by the wrong cop. For this reason, you should understand that recording a police officer may escalate violence and lead to your arrest.
Anything I do or say can be considered obstruction?!
YES. Many people have been arrested for simply saying or doing the wrong thing in front of the wrong cop.
One of our clients was arrested for refusing to exit his own home. The officer forced his way inside our client’s home, wrestled him into handcuffs, and arrested him for a single charge of obstruction. There was no video of the interaction because as the police officer’s incident report read: his body camera chord was wrapped around our client’s neck. The case was later dismissed, but our client was arrested, jailed, and forced to appear in court because of this absurd abuse of power.
Running into the wrong cop, on the wrong day, can lead to your arrest for almost anything you do or say.
Is it safe to record the police?
Your safety and the safety of those involved should be your top priority. Make it clear that you are holding a recording device and not a weapon, and keep a safe distance to avoid physically interfering with the officers (the furthest away you can be while recording the interaction, the better).
Police officers have attacked people who record them, and may even escalate their violence, so it is important that you act responsibly. Consider alternative ways to document what you are witnessing if using a recording device may put you or others in danger.
What can I do if I am unable to record the police?
- Let the officers know you are witnessing their interaction.
- Write down what you witnessed as soon as possible.
- Record yourself after the interaction.
- Share your story with your lawyer or the lawyer of the other people involved.
What if a police officer tells me I must stop recording?
Politely explain that you are exercising your constitutional right to record him or her in public. You must accept the risk that they may harass or even arrest you if you continue to exercise your right. If they seize your device, you have a right to lawfully DECLINE to unlock your cell phone. You should never voluntarily share your cell phone with the police without speaking to an attorney first.