Today, almost everyone has a smartphone with video-recording capabilities. These videos can be either live-streamed or immediately posted on social media outlets and go viral. Increasingly, law enforcement officers have become the focus of such videos, as public scrutiny of their actions intensifies. Officer actions caught on camera can become front-page news in a matter of minutes, with the officer becoming the star of a viral video.
Do your officers know how to react when they have a camera pointed at them? Lack of knowledge of the rights of the public to record can easily result in negative outcomes. In response to this, the IACP, with support from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), created the Public Recording of Police (PROP) project to focus on identifying an effective response to these situations.
Critical to this response is an understanding of several key points:
- Officers should always assume they are being recorded when in public.
- Individuals have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the performance of their public duties when in public or where the individual otherwise has a legal right to be present.
- While this is a broad-based right, there are some narrowly-defined limitations. These include, but are not limited to, restrictions against individuals from trespassing on private property or entering a marked crime scene.
- Arrests of individuals who are recording police activities must be based on factors that are unrelated to the act of recording. Recording officers does not, of itself, establish legal grounds for arrest, issuance of citations, or other enforcement actions.
- Nearly all seizures and searches of recording devices require a court order or warrant in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.
- Officers should develop a response ahead of time to deflect any negative reactions by recording individuals.
For more information, visit the newly available PROP toolkit where you can access a host of resources designed to assist agencies in educating officers on the proper response to recording individuals. These resources include
- Model Policy and Concepts & Issues Paper
- Trifold brochure
- In-service training, featuring an Instructor’s Guide, Officer Study Guide, and PowerPoint presentation
- Roll-call training video
- Series of webinars focusing on frequently asked questions, the legal aspects of public recording, and the full in-service training
Agencies are encouraged to utilize these policy and training documents to foster positive community-police interactions, especially those involving video recordings. Have questions? Email the PROP team at firstname.lastname@example.org.