Is it Legal to Record the Police?
Posted on Jun 24, 2015 7:00am UTC
Recent media reports of violent confrontations involving the police in various parts of the country have featured video recordings of the events made by bystanders using the cameras on the cellphones. Entire YouTube channels are now devoted to audio and video recordings of police taken by citizens who believe it is their right to document public servants engaged in the performance of their duties.
Sometimes, however, those who record the police end up in heated confrontations with law enforcement officers and public officials over their right to do so. It is common for many of the videos post on the Internet to end with the arrest of the individual who made the recording. Knowing the laws in Texas pertaining to the making of video or audio recordings, and how to handle being confronted by police officers in those situations may help you to avoid trouble.
One-Party Consent in Houston for Audio Recordings
Some people, including police officers and public officials, may not be happy when you point a camera or camera-equipped cellphone at them and begin recording their activities. A common response is, “Stop recording me. I did not give you permission to record me.”
Laws about making audio and video recordings of police officers who are on-duty differ from state to state. Texas does not prohibit making video recordings of police officers. Audio recordings can be made as long as at least one party to the conversation consents. The party making the recording can be the consenting party, as well.
The one-party consent rule in Texas means that if you are not a party to the conversation that you are recording, you must obtain permission to make an audio recording of it from at least one of the participants. Failing to do this could be a violation of the law.
Recording in Public
Courts in Houston and elsewhere have upheld your right to record police activities when you are doing so from a public space. For example, if you are on a public sidewalk, you may film police, public officials, public buildings and other things that are visible to you and in plain view.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that you have the right to photograph or record the outside of courthouses and other federal buildings as long as you are doing so while standing on public property. If, however, you enter any of those buildings, you must abide by security regulations that are posted.
The rules about recording police change when you are on private property. You must have the permission of the property owner to be there. If you are asked to leave private property, failing to do so could get you arrested on a criminal trespass charge.
How to Conduct Yourself When Recording Police
The right to film police in Houston or other Texas cities comes with some limitations. You may not put yourself in a position that will interfere with police activities. Other basic rules for recording police include:
- Announce your intentions: If practical to do so, let the police know that you are filming them and the reason. A simple, “I’m exercising my First Amendment rights under the Constitution to document public officials doing their jobs,” is sufficient.
- Obey police: If police ask you to move back or stand in a different location that does not interfere with them, do not engage in a debate over the request. Interfering with police during the performance of their official duties is a violation of the law that could get you arrested.
- Do not interfere with the police: Recording and documenting the police is one thing, but interjecting yourself into the activities by shouting or otherwise interfering may result in your arrest.
- Know the law: Not every police officer knows the law granting you the right to record him or her in public. Do not argue with police officers or refuse to obey their commands, but if you can do it without being confrontational, politely inform the officer that you are exercising your rights under state law and the Constitution.
- Be polite and professional: If you are asked to move by the police without a clear direction as to where they want you to go, you may politely ask them to be more specific, or you may point to a location and ask them to confirm that it is okay.
What Can Police Do To Stop Me From Recording?
Police do not have right to seize your camera. The United States Supreme Court ruled that police, even after a person has been arrested, may not view the contents of a cellphone without first obtaining a search warrant.
If police threaten to arrest you unless you stop recording, do not offer any physical resistance. Instead, contact a Houston criminal defense attorney who can challenge the police actions in court.
If you’ve been accused of a crime in Houston or the surrounding areas, contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner. We will fight hard to protect your rights and preserve your freedom.