Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Can you record a cop making an arrest?

with 15 comments

The police really do not want you doing this. You can listen to this story on NPR, or you can read the transcript. The introduction:

The Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King resonated, in part, because it was caught on video. Now, most modern cell phones have video cameras. Many police departments struggle to draw the line between citizens’ and journalists’ rights to film arrests, and their officers’ rights to privacy. {I suggest that when they are on the job they do not have a right to privacy. – LG]

Radley Balko, senior editor, Reason
Carlos Miller, arrested for photographing police making an arrest
James Machado, executive director, Massachusetts Police Association

The transcript begins:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Neal Conan in Washington.

Just about everybody who has a cell phone has a video camera in their pocket. And almost 20 years after the Rodney King video, friends, accomplices and passers-by scarcely hesitate to record interactions with the police.

You can find these videos on YouTube. There are blogs and websites solely devoted to these amateur recordings, and in some places, the police are trying to put a stop to it.

In Boston, a man was arrested for illegal electronic surveillance when he recorded audio of police officers making a drug arrest. In Baltimore, several people face felony charges for recording their own arrests. And, of course, the cops have video cameras, too, sometimes mounted on the dashboards of their cruisers, maybe someday soon, cap-cams on police headgear.

At best, the laws on this are fuzzy, and states are only now just trying to catch up. Later in the program, free agency in pro sports, from Curt Flood to LeBron James. But first, cops on camera.

If you have experience on either side of the camera, tell us your story. Our phone number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That’s at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin with Radley Balko, a senior editor with Reason magazine, where he writes about the criminal justice system, and he joins us from a studio in Nashville. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. RADLEY BALKO (Senior Editor, Reason): Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: So if I see something curious on the corner involving a police officer and a citizen, and I take out my cell phone and start recording, am I okay?

Mr. BALKO: It really depends on where you are, and even within that, it depends on the particular police officer that you’re recording.

In three states right now, they are actively arresting people for recording on-duty police officers: Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. In the other states, and even those states, the law isn’t settled. Basically, they’re arresting on an interpretation of wiretapping laws that…

CONAN: Yeah, I was going to say, are these new laws passed to cover this specifically or interpretations of old laws?

Mr. BALKO: Yeah, these are well, in most cases, they’re interpretations of old laws. But actually, in Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out a conviction of a guy who was arrested and was recording police officers from the back of a police cruiser.

And in response to that, the Illinois Legislature actually specifically amended the state’s wiretapping law to make it illegal to record police officers on duty without their consent. Actually, it applies to anyone without their consent. They took out an expectation of privacy provision that was in the old law.

But in other states, you know, it’s sort of wide open right now. You know, if a police officer wants to arrest you for videotaping him, he can he doesn’t need wiretapping laws. He can look at, you know, obstructing a police officer, or if he asks you to turn it off, and you don’t, for some sort of, you know, disobeying a lawful order.

So the law is really behind on the technology on this, and a lot of this stuff isn’t settled.

CONAN: The Maryland, you mentioned, is one of the places where it seems to be at least an interpretation of state law that it’s illegal. There has been a celebrated case involving a student at the University of Maryland…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2010 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

15 Responses

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  1. Comment: – Does an undercover police officer have the right to privacy to not be recorded or video’d when making an arrest or are you suggesting that only those that have on their uniform NOT have the right to privacy. I mention this as both situations are while – they are on the Job – so to speak.

    This brings up another thought that, if I was strolling down the street and a mugger let’s say accosted me and demanded my money, I would certainly feel and be grateful if an off duty police officer were to draw his weapon and come to my aid if he happened to be in the immediate area and saw that I was in need of help, perhaps he might not do so if the mugger broke out the trusted Cell phone.


    15 July 2010 at 1:05 pm

  2. Undercover police officers is a wonderful example. They are supposed to be taken for thieves/dope dealers/whatever. So if you see one, you think you are seeing a thief/dope dealer/whatever. Why should you not have the right to videotape the person (assuming it’s a public space—you do understand that, if you’re in a public space, you have already forfeited some of your privacy by that very act, and if you photo is taken, deliberately or accidentally, in the public place, do you have a right to object? And wouldn’t we praise the citizen who videotaped a their/dope dealer/whatever right in the act?

    For a uniformed cop going about his/her job, the answer is obvious: you have every right to photograph, videotape, or audiotape them in the act of going about their job—which is, recall, a duty to the public.

    So, given the Rodney King incident and numerous YouTube videos of police misbehavior, do you think this law is being passed on behalf of the public? or is it solely to protect the police so that they can continue their misconduct? Really.


    15 July 2010 at 1:54 pm

  3. Let me go further. I believe that OF COURSE citizens should feel (and be) free to videotape police—who are, after all, PUBLIC SERVANTS. Already I think the entire rational world believes that all police (and indeed ALL) interrogations should be videotaped—and the tapes preserved, not destroyed, CIA (it’s such a subtle distinction). Moreover, I should be free to videotape the county clerk’s office, a tax assessor, and city council meetings: indeed, ALL THE PUBLIC BUSINESS. Moreover, I will go further still: city council meetings should by law be carried in simulcast on public-access TV.

    Why the sudden shyness by the police? Is it because such videotaping so frequently catches them in violation of the law, and they believe that their oat states that they are to uphold the law except when it’s one of us</em?


    15 July 2010 at 2:54 pm

  4. Actually I believe that Police brutality has been going on for thousands and thousands of years ever since Man decided to designate another to control the crowd or in a Prison type setting.

    If you asked me if a law, allowing the video or voice recording of an arrest was going to help control police manhandling and violence I would laugh as the police will just start taking it ‘around to the back’ if you know what I mean.

    I have witnessed a number of Police vs citizen situations where things got a little out of hand. One event in particular was on board a plane, where there was a nut mouthing off to an Afro-American stewardess and when the plane landed the officers came on board and took him to the boarding area. As I got to that area (I was in 1st class) the officers had surrounded the man and he just wouldn’t back off his disrespecting and aggressive attitude, so they took him down very forcibly, yes with punches, knee kicks all on top of him, the whole works.

    I kept walking (slowly) after i had stopped to witness the event and could not help wondering what would a person be thinking to try and get the one up on a group of police officers with guns and mace and justifiable cause.

    I think you made a very good point above and I believe that your probably right now that I think about it. One point that lingered about it though, I wondered how many videos on YouTube there are of Police carrying out their duties as they should and being good chaps and all…Like would someone put on a Video with a cop helping a person in desperate need ? I am sure there are a few videos like that.

    Regarding your second post, well, it’s a thin blue line. (the movies great) Geez LG….No one’s perfect, just look at all the priests getting busted and they are supposed to be even morally better than cops are. They all get exonerated left and right.

    Lucky we don’t have the Popes as police chiefs.


    15 July 2010 at 4:06 pm

  5. I don’t find much of interest in “span of history arguments,” so I tend to sort of skim past that. My own position is opposed to police taking advantage of their special position as guardians of the law. And I do believe that videotaping interrogations (and traffic stops and the like) helps to prevent misbehavior by the police—as one would expect. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

    Priestly abuse is also a problem, but a separate problem.


    15 July 2010 at 4:22 pm

  6. evidence to the contrary …? Geez, hmm…. How about the

    ” Sir, would you mind just stepping over here please, that’s it just a little more to the left..” or there’s always the mysterious “Well it was working just fine a minute ago ..” or if you want to be real blatant about it you could always go for the sure thing the “on off” button or in Nixon’s case just rerecord with out all the stretching Rosemary had to do.

    I guess what I should of done at the airport was gone over and asked the officers exactly what the man had done other than exercised his right to free speech by shouting at the stewardess. If there were illegalities in his actions and why were they questioning him, Should they not have started to read him his rights etc.

    I know, I know…you want evidence …I will go search it out and get back to you….

    And to the priests, one would think that the priests would realize that the the Lord has the the great Video link in the sky and see’s and hears all so their is no escaping it but still their urge is apparently insurmountable.

    I guess my point was that their will always be bad apples and good apples. kind of like “Good and Evil” in this world. I personally doubt whether video cameras and all the surveillance systems in the world would rid us of bad cops unless we went to robotics, of course.

    cheers !


    15 July 2010 at 5:48 pm

  7. Well, it’s rather weak but since I do agree with you and the vast majority of the information on the first couple of pages of Google bury any hope of finding “evidence” (studies with references) to the contrary then i just gave up.

    But, I did find an interesting NYT article that I thought you might like to read. I am sure you will be all over this but it does sort of suggest that the simple “on off switch will always work in the heat of the moment.

    Read the article (it’s brief and very recent) please and it will demonstrate that video taping is great I guess as long as you can’t erase, turn off, burn, otherwise destroy or omit the offensive police action.

    In the case above it was good enough for the judge to believe that the cameras and tapes were turned off as their was no evidence presented to the courts proving the defendants charge, nor were the police suggesting the defendant was lying.

    So Yes in a way, I am presenting evidence that police will act as the situation dictates regardless of whether there is a video and recordings on because all they have to do is hit the off switch or like I suggested earlier, go to the back of the car or outside the video angle.

    The article raises a very interesting point. All that the USA govt has tried to extract information by torture to save one life, apparently the Germans managed to do just on the sheer terror threat of torture that would be torture in itself …the Huns are good and still at it…!


    15 July 2010 at 6:18 pm

  8. Yes. Anecdotes prove absolutely nothing. Nor do the YouTube videos of police misbehavior prove anything beyond some police misbehave, which I believe we knew. (And no popular YouTube videos of police walking their beat calmly, or just sitting in their car? Can you figure out why? I can.)

    The question to be resolved is this: If routine police activities are videotaped (e.g., interrogations, traffic stops, serious raids), as they often seem to be, and in addition citizens are informed and encouraged to videotape any public servants in their duties, then would police misbehavior continue unchanged? or become more common? or become more rare?

    I have a guess as to the answer, but I’ve seen no studies. But the CIA were sure eager to destroy their videotapes of their interrogations, weren’t they?


    15 July 2010 at 6:19 pm

  9. Oh, you made such a good start. No, what you offer is not evidence in the least, and I’m surprised you don’t know it.


    15 July 2010 at 6:20 pm

  10. I forgot the rather weak evidenciary link:

    To bad we can’t get away with these tactics in the USA ….(just kidding) KSM I guess buckled just as easily….maybe they told him they were bringing in a female Gilzai specialist from the mountains of Afghanistan.


    15 July 2010 at 6:23 pm

  11. I already agreed that Video’s will by and large make a cop think twice before he goes off the handle…. but I also mentioned that like priests they really could care less if they get caught…unlike the church a cop that gets caught will usually be excommunicated of the civil payroll so that is a good thing but what about the guys in the academy ?

    Yes there will be fewer joining the force that cannot control themselves so I agree that video taping etc…is probably a good thing. It still will not get rid of all the misbehavior but it will surely help…

    Yes, the destroying of tapes is the “off” switch I keep referring to. The tape was not for the archives…it was a training tape I am sure to use in training agents and of course to show at their golden parachute parties …


    15 July 2010 at 6:31 pm

  12. Most (all?) of the cameras used to videotape significant and important events include date and time, and it’s easy to put security on that so that the date/time cannot be faked. (In fact, that is probably necessary for the tapes to be used as evidence.)

    So if the videotape is turned off, that fact will be noted—and the person who would turn it off will know that it will be noted. You can build quite secure “paper trails” of one sort or another that makes breaking the rules quite difficult and a lot of trouble. In the absence of evidence, I would say that the additional effort will naturally enough result in reduced occurrences.

    I notice that you value highly the idea that things cannot change, things will always be pretty much as they are now, nothing really ever changes, etc. Just an observation.


    15 July 2010 at 7:17 pm

  13. Of course I agree that they have time, date, log in log out, vigilance, sign this and sign that, spread sheets etc. I mean most of American structure is structured on the ISO 9002 and cGMP standards and operating procedures all revolving around the time clock and the “clip board” etc.

    Of course there is also the other side to the coin. people signing in for an other, looking the other way, fudging the logs, adding or subtracting a few zeros and in this digital age well it’s that much easier as you can just hack into systems and either make things appear or disappear.

    Oh, change is a constant, I just have to look at the the sky or a traffic on a highway or my clock for that matter. But really, I know you are talking about society or humankind, has it evolved ? sure it has, has it become a more morally defined society ? are humans becoming more humane ? There certainly are signs that gives one hope.

    I see my homeland, my country if you will falling off that high moral pedestal. I see it from the outside looking in. It’s sad to watch. The American dream is lessening and I see another less permissive and more autocratic society on the rise. One that sees our society as less of a race than ours. They are out to dominate and they are doing a fine job so far.

    Not with the weapons of armed conflict but with financial weapons that are far more effective. These weapons that will for sure will be our downfall as the mass consumerism of ours has not abating. As we continue to feed ourselves this society continues to get more powerful.

    This society I speak of has no qualms about their police going out and beating people or even killing them on the streets in broad daylight, if they complain they just get sent to rehab in this case a brutal jail, no rights, no laws, no videos, no public outcry.


    15 July 2010 at 8:23 pm

  14. It is not illegal to videotape a cop in public performing public service or public duty. What patrol officers do is in public, not in private. If they have a problem with it, it’s probably because they are violating someone’s rights, a person they have stopped or detained, or if the cops is breaking the law. Then they’d have a problem with a with someone ideotaping them, and invent some kind of reason to say it was illegal for you to videotape them.


    26 March 2012 at 10:39 am

  15. Some states (Illinois among them, I believe) have passed laws that make it illegal to record (video or audio) police officers carrying out their duties. (I suppose exceptions must be made for TV newscasts, but I’m really not au courant in this area.)


    26 March 2012 at 11:38 am

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