With the prevalence of body cameras and dashboard cameras in police vehicles, many people wonder if police officers have to disclose when they are recording an interaction. The short answer is that it depends on the laws and policies of each state or jurisdiction.
Do police have to disclose they are recording you?
There is no federal law that requires police officers to disclose when they are recording. The requirements vary by state and local jurisdiction. Some states require two-party consent for recording, while others only require one-party consent. In two-party consent states, the officer would typically need to inform the citizen they are recording. In one-party consent states, the officer may record without disclosing it.
Even in two-party consent states, police officers are often exempt from disclosure requirements while performing official duties in public. The exemptions recognize the public role of law enforcement and the need for officers to gather evidence. However, some two-party consent states still encourage or require disclosure or notification when feasible.
Examples of state laws on police recording disclosure
Here are some examples of state laws and policies on disclosure of police recording:
- California – Officers are exempt from two-party consent but encouraged to disclose when feasible.
- Florida – Officers are exempt and not required to disclose.
- Illinois – Officers must give notice they are recording if feasible.
- Maryland – Officers are generally required to disclose when asked if recording.
- Massachusetts – Officers are exempt but encouraged to disclose when possible.
- Montana – Officers are required to disclose they are recording prior to interaction.
- Pennsylvania – Officers are encouraged but not required to disclose.
- Washington – Officers are required to disclose when feasible.
Some states, like Montana, have strict disclosure requirements, while others, like Florida, do not require officers to mention their recordings at all. Many states strike a middle ground with encouragement to disclose when possible.
What about recording phone calls?
When it comes to recording phone calls, the situation changes. Federal wiretapping laws require at least one party consent for recording calls. Some states require all-party consent. For police officers conducting investigations by phone, they may be required to disclose they are recording the call prior to continuing the conversation.
Can police lie about recording?
While requirements vary regarding disclosure, it is not ethical or legal for police officers to lie if asked directly if they are recording. Officers should not deny recording if asked directly, even if not required to volunteer the information. Lying could compromise a criminal investigation or any evidence collected. If an officer refuses to answer the question, the citizen may interpret that as confirmation that recording is happening.
What happens if police fail to disclose a recording?
If a police officer fails to disclose a recording when required to do so, any evidence collected during that recording could be inadmissible in court. A judge may suppress the evidence and recordings due to the violation of consent. However, if the recording was legal in a one-party consent state and disclosure was not required, then the evidence may still be admissible.
Recordings as evidence
Audio and video recordings made by police officers can serve as important evidence in criminal and civil cases. They provide an unbiased record of interactions that courts can rely on. However, citizens should be aware of their state laws regarding consent for recordings and whether police are obligated to disclose them.
Body camera policies
Many police departments have adopted body camera programs for officers. The policies typically include guidelines on when cameras should be activated, privacy protections, data retention rules, and supervision requirements. Some policies also instruct officers when disclosing recordings is advisable or required.
While officer compliance with body camera policies is important, keep in mind the policies are administrative rules and may be more restrictive than what is legally required under consent laws. An officer violating a body cam policy by failing to disclose does not necessarily make the recording inadmissible.
When citizens can record police
Citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers performing public duties. This allows transparency and accountability. Recording public police activity, whether by cell phone video, photography, or other means, is generally legal as long as the citizen does not interfere with lawful police operations.
Police often record demonstrations and protests. Citizens have the same rights to photograph and record the police at public protests as long as they maintain a reasonable distance and comply with orders to disperse when declared an unlawful assembly.
Private property considerations
Privately owned property impacts expectations of privacy. Police may need a warrant to place surveillance cameras on private property. And citizens may not have the right to photograph police activity on private property if the owner objects.
Recording conversations inside a private home may require consent, even when filming the police. The reasonable expectation of privacy inside the home usually means police cannot secretly record without a warrant. Citizens wishing to film police entering their home would typically need officer consent.
Car recordings and traffic stops
Because traffic stops occur in public, citizens generally have the right to record officers conducting stops and asking drivers to exit vehicles. Recording police during traffic stops provides documentation from all perspectives in the event of disputes or allegations of misconduct.
Since dashboard and body cameras only face forward, citizen recordings can capture the entire scene. Police policies may prohibit officers from confiscating or deleting such recordings without consent. But refusal to comply with ‘lawful orders’ could still result in arrest.
Can police order citizens to stop recording?
Police officers sometimes order citizens to stop recording them, even in public spaces. The citizen’s right to record police activity is usually protected by the First Amendment as long as they are not interfering. Simply recording from a reasonable distance is not interference.
However, other circumstances like traffic stops, crime scenes and active police situations involve other considerations like safety and evidence integrity. Police may have reasonable grounds to order citizens to stop recording that would likely hold up in court if challenged later.
Recording as intimidation
Pointing a camera in someone’s face could constitute intimidation or harassment in some situations. This could apply to aggressively recording an officer or suspect at close distances. Safety, privacy, and orderly operations are also considerations. Anyone attempting to interfere with police work or violate laws while recording could face charges.
Staying safe while recording police
If citizens wish to exercise their right to record police safely while minimizing altercations, the ACLU recommends complying with officer orders and waiting to sort out disputes later. Trying to stand your ground or get close-up shots could escalate tensions. Police could view it as interfering or safety threat. Follow orders first and then file complaints or lawsuits afterwards if needed.
Violations of citizen recording rights
If officers violate your Constitutional right to record police activity, you may have grounds for a civil rights lawsuit. An illegal arrest, destroying your camera, or improperly ordering you to stop recording could enable a case against the police department. But you may need to show your recording was done lawfully, without interference. Consult an attorney to discuss options.
Police requirements to disclose recordings vary by state and situation. While citizens have a right to record police in public, safety and lawful orders can affect both police and citizen recording rights. Understanding your state laws, avoiding interference, and getting legal help if needed can protect your recording rights.
|Police Disclosure Requirement
|Encouraged but not required
|Required if feasible
|Required if asked
|Encouraged but not required
|Required before interaction
|Encouraged but not required
|Required if feasible
This table summarizes police requirements in different states for disclosing recordings to citizens.
- Police disclosure of recordings varies based on state laws
- Citizens have a right to record police in public
- Safety and lawful orders can affect recording rights
- Getting legal help is recommended if rights are violated
Understanding your rights, while cooperating during police interactions, can help avoid issues. There are still open questions on recording rights that continue to develop legally. Police policies are also evolving on the issue. Knowing the basics helps citizens and police navigate this landscape responsibly.