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Major Victory for Smart Phone Recordings of Police

Written by Gary North on July 30, 2012

It is no longer a crime in Washington, D.C. for a citizen to photograph or make a video of something that a policeman is doing publicly in the line of duty. This is now official policy of the police.

This was forced on the police by a lawsuit from a man who was arrested two years ago for doing what was fully legal but prohibited by the police. Now the department has adopted a policy which acknowledges that this is legal.

This policy will be used by the ACLU and other First Amendment rights organizations as they sue police departments across America. They will pressure cities and counties to adopt this policy in order to avoid further lawsuits.

Here are parts of the new regulations.

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The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.

A. Members are reminded that photography, including videotaping, of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities in Washington, D.C.

1. If a person is taking photographs or recording from a place where he or she has a right to be, members are reminded that this activity by itself does not constitute suspicious conduct.
2. Members shall refer to GO-HRC-802.06 (Suspicious Activity Reporting Program) for guidance concerning identification and reporting of suspicious activities.

B. In areas open to the public, members shall allow bystanders the same access for photography as is given to members of the news media [See GO-SPT-204.01 (Media)]. Members shall be aware that:

1. A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where he or she is located.


2. A bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.
3. Public settings include, e.g., parks, sidewalks, streets, and locations of public protests; but that protection extends also to an individual’s home or business, common areas of public and private facilities and buildings, and any other public or private facility at which the individual has a legal right to be present.
4. The fact that a bystander has a camera or other recording device does not, however, entitle the bystander to cross a police line, to enter an area that is closed to the public, or to enter any area designated as a crime scene.

C. As long as the photographing or recording takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with a member’s safety, members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police action (such as a Terry stop or an arrest) is not allowed; requires a permit; or requires the member’s consent.

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4 thoughts on “Major Victory for Smart Phone Recordings of Police

  1. Dane Butts says:

    Photographing police should not have been a big deal unless the police were doing somthing wrong? not always, and the other side of the coin is the law offender is rarely photographed and the action that resulted in getting a night stick up side the head is rarely shown either. Law enforncement has the right to protect themselfs from the public also, everything from being spit at to having a gun pulled on them. Law enforcement is one of the least publicly respected professions, yet it's members consistenly willing to take a bullet for each and everyone of us every day, without the thin blue line, you would'nt want to live here.

  2. "…unless such recordings interfere with police activity."
    There's a loophole in the law big enough to drive a semi through!

    Policeman at inquest: "Yes, I shot the teenager across the street recording the incident on his iPhone because his presence was distracting me and my buddies from beating the crap out of that unarmed homeless man prostrate on the ground!"

  3. Texas Chris says:

    Police are asked to enforce laws where there are no victims. Cops are used as revenue generators, are expected to write tickets and issue citations for miniscule drivel, just to get some cash in the city/county/state coffers.

    Once you turn your civil servants into highwaymen and thieves, there is no "this blue line", there is only a hoard of armed bureaucrats "eating out our substance", so to speak.

    Respect must be earned; it can never be demanded.

  4. My first take on this is that the police will pretend they don't know about these new regulations and attempt to intimidate anyone who doesn't call them on it. If they (the police) are infuriated enough, they may try to intimidate those who DO call them on it. They have the numbers, the training, the weaponry, and the backing of the state. A tough combination to confront and stare down.