photographing police

I searched and am surprised this topic hasn’t been discussed. or I’m surprised I haven’t found it in the archives

I’d like definitive confirmation that it is either legal or illegal to photograph police officers (without actually interfering with their work).

Has this been sorted out yet? I’m less interested in opinions and more interested in facts.

Is it possible to get such a clear answer, or is it murky?

It’s pretty much completely legal, in the US anyway, as long as you’re not interfering as you said. Google “photographing the police” for more info. This is actually a common issue for some professional photographers/reporters, as police/security personnel commonly overstep their authority on the matter. Having the letter of the law on your side won’t help you when your camera gets confiscated and you’re arrested for disorderly conduct unless you’re prepared to defend yourself in court. If the police don’t want you to do something, they’ll stop you.

Personally, I think this is an AWESOME question. From a (my) logical perspective, I should think that as long as the photographer isn’t interrupting or interfereing (sp?) in any way, there shouldn’t be any restrictions or objections. however, I would be willing to guess that there PROBABLY ARE restrictions, prohibiting the filming of “undercover” officers and / or “sting” operations. I DO recall an incident, in which someone filmed officers executing a warrant, that turned out to be invalid in some way. (Wrong address, I think.) Subsequently, the person(s) that filmed this were harassed by the authorities, a lawsuit was filed and a settlement was reached (awarded?) to the photographer(s) involved. Sorry, I don’t have a specific cite at the moment. It involved a case in the Houston area, in Harris County, Texas, sometime in the (late?) 90’s, or early 00’s (now THAT, felt/looks WEIRD, after I typed it!) . I will endeavour to find a cite, and post it later. Granted, (and just for the record), I am not an attorney, nor am I connected to any Municipal departments. (Fire, Police, etc.) (AND, thanks in advance to all of the 'Dopers out there, for any posting “Faux Pas” I may have committed!) Damn! Wheresmymind beat me to the punch! LOL

…what country are you talking about?

If the US, what State do you live in?

Preface: I shoot news video in DC for a living; I have altercations with police on a regular basis for doing my job.

The bottom line is if you are outside a police line, not actively (physically) interfering with police work, fire away. You are perfectly legal. Very few exceptions are the pictures of certain DOD bases, nuke plants, and in some jurisdictions, infrastructure.

Recently the helmet cam video of a motorcylist showing an irate off duty Maryland State Police acting like a fool was posted on Youtube. Maryland charged the motorcyclist with wiretap (illegal taping without two party consent). They were laughed out of court.

Various links of interest:

Article about Motorcyclist vs Cop

PDF about your rights as researched by a photog

News Videographer’s website forum

Caveat: police can and will make your life miseable if you don’t do what they want. If you decide to push an issue you often will lose the battle (arrest, confiscation, roughed up) but win the war (apology, settlement check, etc.)

You have to be the judge if it’s worth your time & trouble.

It depends on what country you live in. And if you live in the United States, what state you live in. And within each state probably what local jurisdiction you live in. Next qustion.

If you do it in Illinois, just make sure you don’t record any audio with it.

Really, Mr. Donahue? You mean your member officers act differently depending on whether there’s evidence of what they’re doing?

It really is a surprising (and frustrating) law. I don’t really run into the police at all, but, on long trips, I’ve daydreamed that if I got pulled over, I would run the recorder on my phone just in case. Had no clue it was a felony here in Illinois and could potentially land me in the slammer for 15 years.

It makes you wonder how he would react to juristictions that mandate police cruisers have dashboard cams nearly always on. A police officer performing his duties should never be doing anything that he would be afraid of having on video.

The Maryland case ended with a ruling that uniformed officers on duty have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

I have a coworker who had her ass handed to her by the Prince Georges Police Department in Maryland while she was working an investigative story on them.

Surprisingly, though numerous police cruisers were equipped with dash cameras and audio recording during her beating, all happened to fail to record the incident…

This was somewhat talked about on Chicago Public Radio this week. It’s OK for the police to record audio and video, but not for the civilian (at least the audio part.) I got the impression that the police here would not have a problem with mandatory dash cams.

And what reason can there be for that other than they can tamper with the evidence before it could be made public?

If a possibly uncontrolled camera causes you to change what you do, then you are either doing something wrong, or are a bad police officer

Very well said! To put it a little more simply, though…
(And this is something I’ve been told by cops and lawyers, both.)

You might be able to “beat, the rap”, but you can’t “beat, the ride”! Just sayin’…:smiley:

There was a thread on this topic, from a UK point of view;

Cracked has filming cops as one of the six ways cops can screw you.