Is it Legal to Film Police?

This past year has seen many populations at odds with police precincts – And in some cases, with police as a concept. As a result, many people are taking to the streets whenever an arrest occurs. If you desire to film police in hopes of creating footage of the excessive use of force or to hold officers accountable, you might want to know your rights beforehand. People have many reasons for doing so – Maybe you’ve done it yourself. But, if an officer tells you to stop filming and you believe you have the right to do so, what will happen? It is important that you understand the nuances of these situations, as they can and often do lead to arrest.

If you were arrested for filming police, wouldn’t that be an unlawful arrest?

For example, in a now-famous incident in 2009, a criminal case was heard in South Florida. Tasha Ford, a mother in Boynton Beach, was arrested for filming police as they detained her teenage son outside of a movie theater. He was accused of entering the theater without a ticket, his mother was called, and for purposes of record-keeping and preventing dishonesty, Ford began to film the police. Instead, she was arrested on an obstruction charge. An additional wiretapping charge was brought to the State Attorney’s Office, but the state declined to prosecute. After her release, Ford opted to sue the officers in a false arrest claim, stating that it was her constitutional right to record the officers. Her reasoning involved both the presence of public space and her son.

The officers, meanwhile, said that they withdrew their consent to being filmed without permission. As their consent was not given, lawyers for the defense were able to argue that the filming was interfering with police work and that their lack of consent meant Ford invaded their privacy while also harming the investigation of her son.

Rulings on Taking a Police Film: Over A Decade Later

The litigation of this case continued until just this past Spring, and it will likely be studied for far longer. Finally, the case was taken to a Florida court of appeals, where the case was again heard. A 2-1 ruling concluded that police were within their rights to arrest her regardless of whether they overstepped their bounds by arresting her for filming them. The court considered the event in favor of the officers, as they were justified in arresting her for obstruction. Though the dissenting judge argued that the person who filmed George Floyd’s death would have committed a crime in Florida, the decision still fell in favor of the officers.

Conclusion

By arguing that arresting officers had no expectation of privacy, the ruling is contentious. It may yet be appealed again, but the ruling reaffirms that police recordings are subject to the officers’ right to privacy. According to this law, filming them may result in your arrest. If it is indeed illegal to film police, then anyone who has a video of excessive use of force has broken the law, and going forward, that may be invoked again. Because of this ruling, if you exercise your First Amendment rights and film police officers during an arrest, you yourself may be arrested for obstruction. After all this, you want to hear more in-depth information about the laws on filming police, contact us at Valrico Law Group.