What are the laws on videotaping and recording on-duty police officers?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Oct 10, 2012

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Most states have enacted measures to deter illegal practices by authorities such as racial profiling. Some of these measures make it legal to install in-car recording devices that are only activated when the patrol unit’s overhead lights activate.

Some law enforcement agencies themselves are proactive and continuously recording officers while on duty. Under either measure, you may submit an open records request to obtain or view a copy of the in-car recording device during set hours or if a certain event were to occur.

If you would like to use a handheld recording device such as a portable video camera or cell phone instead of installing a recording device in your vehicle, double check your state laws regarding audio recordings. Depending on your state’s rules, you may be limited to a video recording. However, in states such as Texas, an individual may record a conversation with another party as long as one side consents. It is perfectly legal for the consenting and recording individual to be the same person.

Regardless of whether you would like to produce a visual or audio recording, the most important thing to remember is to avoid interfering with the duties of a police officer. This means, you should record from a safe distance. Thanks to self-recording policies of most law enforcement agencies, recording an officer’s actions is not a new concept. However, their recording devices are designed to assist, and not interfere, with their function. If you decide to get a closer look at the event you are recording, you could inadvertently prevent the officer from completing his arrest or pursuit. Interfering with the duties of a law enforcement official may result in being charged with interference of public duties or hindering apprehension of a criminal.

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