Understanding what state law has to say about recording the police

Understanding what state law has to say about recording the police

The next time you interact with a police officer, you may notice that he or she is wearing more than just the usual assortment of law enforcement tools from a radio and notepad to handcuffs and handgun. In particular, you may notice that they are wearing what looks like a small camera.

This isn’t your eyes deceiving you. As it turns out, more and more police departments around Florida and across the nation are now equipping officers with so-called body cameras. Indeed, many departments have strict rules mandating that officers must activate their body cameras any time they interact with the public and abide by carefully delineated storage procedures.

The reasons why more police departments are implementing body cameras are to help fight crime and, of course, increase transparency. Regarding the former, complete video surveillance can capture evidence of a crime in progress, while regarding the latter, it can help prove or refute allegations of police misconduct.

All of this naturally begs the question as to whether this movement toward increased transparency is a two-way street. In other words, how free are civilians to record the police using their smartphones, cameras or other devices they happen to have in their possession?

The matter really boils down to the issue of location. In general, Florida is a two-party state when it comes to recordings — video, electronic or private wire — such that it’s illegal to film police (or anyone else for that matter) in private locations absent their permission.

However, when it comes to making these recordings in public, where there is no expectation of privacy, the law dictates that people are free to do as they please.

It is worth noting that legal experts do indicate that people who make the decision to record the police while out in public should be careful not to interfere in any capacity or get too close, as they could find themselves facing charges for obstruction of justice or worse.

It will be interesting to see what transpires from a legal perspective as we venture further into this relatively uncharted area.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Understanding what state law has to say about recording the police