Civilians can record police encounters, but when is it interference?

A bill in Texas would make it illegal to record police within 25 feet. That would give a clear definition of what interference is.

For eyewitnesses of police activity, the law is crystal clear, according to Mark Graber, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Maryland: “You can film police on duty as long as you’re not interfering with their activities.”

“Interfering” is the key word when discussing the legality of recording encounters with the police.

“Precisely what constitutes ‘interfering with police duties’ is not entirely clear,” Graber says. “This strikes me as an issue that within five years is likely to be a Supreme Court decision.”

In the meantime, he says, the gray area includes determining how far away eyewitnesses should stand with their cameras so as to not get in the way of police.

“It gets murky when, in fact, people recording are so close to the police officer that they’re distracting the police officer, or the police officer can’t tell is that a camera or a weapon,” says Graber. “Those are where things matter.” (NPR)

Today’s Question: Civilians can record police encounters, but when is it interference?

  • Little Texas

    It feels odd to write, but I think Texas is on the right track here. Define the space. Make it clear, let people record.

    • elkriverscott

      Micro sd cameras and recording wristwatches solve the problem.

  • Roguethkr

    But what happens, for example, if the person filming is 25+ feet away, doesn’t move, and the police close that distance, not in pursuit of the criminal, but just to question the person filming?

  • Ulysses Tennyson

    So a cop can better distinguish a cellphone from a gun at 25 feet than 10? I don’t think so. And incidentally, how much sound can be recorded from 25 feet? Should a victim of police brutality place his device 25 feet away and then walk back for another smack on the head? The same rules that are currently in place defining “interference” should continue to apply. The rise of citizen recording technology is revolutionizing public perception of police behavior, particularly with respect to behavior that violates the rights of African-Americans, and that revolution cannot be stopped. America is still a deeply racist society and the actions of its police are a scandal before the world. The march toward full citizenship for all minorities that was deflected by the comfortable fiction that equality was achieved in the 60s (a fiction supported by an unacknowledged siege mentality and the maintenance of the racial status quo by force) has once more resumed. The current regime of law enforcement in America is broken. It needs to be reformed. The cameras are rolling. The cameras are evolving to the point of undetectability. And the whole world is watching.

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    • elkriverscott

      My black brothers and sisters don’t fear whitey at night. Nor the store owners or bus stop patrons or mothers and fathers. Hang on to your institutional racists claim. Then you will be in need of someone to help you through this horrible life you must lead here in the United States where darkness and evil seethe from the police. Also get a grip. Facts are racist so I won’t bother you with them. I love the camera idea, let’s see how people act in the real world, not in front of a judge. This is a two way street, you might not want the alarming results.

  • KTN

    Since the police have no expectation of privacy while on duty, this law most likely will not pass muster (maybe at the state level, but the Court has spoken in that regard at the federal level)

  • The Ghosts of my Grandnfathers

    This sounds like a law written for and by the police. Recording them while on duty is about the only tool the public has to only possibly hold police officers accountable for their actions bad or good. We as United States still have freedom of speech, and when you do capture video evidence of a public official participating in wrongdoing we become mandated to intervene and record.

    • Ulysses Tennyson

      Ordinary people find the domain the of free speech increasingly colonized and co-opted by corporate and government usurpations. The town marketplace is under constant electronic surveillance and patrolled by uniformed agents of the powers of capital, conformity and complacency armed with tasers and clubs to enforce their market-driven notions of acceptable expression and backed by a militarized police structure. Meanwhile the insectivized public in their indispensable new exoskeletons are waved, spewing poison, into a spiral of ever increasing opportunities for consumption, pleasure, and denial. Insensitized to their complicity in paving over the prairies, ponds and woods and replacing them with their new steel-and-glass playgrounds, they chat, they laugh, they show off their new clothes and like the living dead before a mirror they somehow never reflect. Hurrying by, picking up their pace now, leaning in to the glowing mirrors in their hands that illuminate their faces like fluorescent lights in a morgue, plugging their ears to hear something more pleasant and amusing than what that shabby person is trying to say to them or those the grim-faced officers of the mores. (“Probably doesn’t even have a credit card.”) And even the Supreme Court knows that long after the people themselves have been silenced money still talks.

  • John Dilligaf

    Recent events across the nation have shown that recording the police activity is a good idea. I’ve always been a strong supporter of law enforcement, but the recent videos I’ve seen from North Charleston, SC, Tulsa, OK, and Apple Valley, CA make it clear that there needs to be a more neutral witness than other officers, and video is a great witness.