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Can I Film Police in California?

Can I Film Police!

The answer is YES in most cases. So long as law enforcement officers are engaged in performing their duties or are otherwise in a public place with no reasonable expectation of privacy, you are good to go.

Police are public employees, paid with taxpayers’ money to enforce laws. They do not have the right to privacy while on duty. Therefore you can film them without their consent as your natural right, or under civil rights law.

Even when they aren’t performing their duties, for example, if police conduct has attracted substantial public interest and is newsworthy, you can film off-duty police in California as well.

How To Film Law Enforcement Officers In California And Stay Out of Jail

It is legal for suspects and bystanders to video record a police officer while suspects are being questioned in California.

What Are Some Reasons Someone May Wish To Tape, Film, or Snap Pictures of a California Police Officer?

There are various reasons why someone might decide to record a police officer. Perhaps they believe that an officer has stopped them unjustifiably while driving or that an officer is making false allegations against them of a trumped-up violation for being black or another profiled minority.

In this case, citizen journalists may be documenting what a police officer is doing to another party that they believe breaches the law or the other person’s rights, even in some cases using excessive or unwarranted deadly force.

When Is Filming Police Officers Interfering Under Penal Code Section 148?

In most situations, filming a police officer is not against the law. However, if you want to film a police officer legally without being charged with “interfering with police,” there are several conditions that you must adhere to when you film police officers.

3 Tips To Film Police Officers Engaged In Legitimate Law Enforcement Operations

  1. If you do film, it’s a good idea to ensure that your interactions with the police are designed to deescalate the situation. At the same time, you can lawfully object to police misconduct. It’s best to do so politely, directly, and without using profanity. 
  2. Don’t taunt the police. It is best to record the police without saying anything at all.
  3. If you have information that pertains to the situation, explain just that: I have information that can help with your investigation. Police have been filmed handcuffing the victims of crime in circumstances that suggest racial profiling. In those instances, it’s best to address the police firmly, informing them, “I was a witness, and the person you are arresting is the victim.” 

Basic Rules of Lawfully Filming Law Enforcement Officers in California

Citizens of California are permitted to film police officers under specific circumstances and restrictions, as determined by the state as follows:

  • Citizens can film or videotape police officers during their official duties as long as the individual filming does not interfere with the officer’s ability to do their job.
  • Filming or recording a police officer so that the officer is aware it remains legal.
  • Although you have the right to remain silent, you could tell the police officer that you are defending your First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Those trying to film cops should maintain a calm demeanor at all times. Always ask if you’re free to go unless a law enforcement officer has reason to arrest someone on suspicion of committing a felony or has already done so. (See also, George Floyd case)
  • When police officers wish to know who is filming them, they frequently demand identification from those doing so. As a result, it’s essential to inquire if you’re being detained. Police officers in California may not demand anybody’s I.D. unless they believe the individual is about to or intends to commit a crime. However, if a police officer is conducting an inquiry, providing identification might assist in defusing the tension. While you may be confident that you have not broken the Law, there could be extenuating circumstances you are unaware of. Therefore it is always best to follow police instructions and communicate with government officials carrying out their duties in a polite, respectful manner when videotaping police officers. If the police officer warns you stay at a safe distance, do so!
  • When videotaping the police, avoid baiting or insulting them. The tape may be used as evidence in a criminal trial or a civil rights lawsuit, where the Attorney is attempting to hold the cops accountable for their actions. Avoid saying or doing anything that could harm the case inadvertently.
  • If a police officer tells someone to stop filming or demonstrates that photographing police officers is illegal, explain that filming cops are a protected right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

It is never acceptable to point a camera or smartphone at a police officer in such a way that they could be considered to be holding a weapon or firearm. Never give the cops probable cause to arrest or harm you.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true: If you’re recording the police, you’ll almost certainly be arrested. Many policemen are put off by being filmed. While this is an illegal arrest in which there was no criminal wrongdoing, it does happen. If it does, keep your cool and protect your rights under the Fifth Amendment.

File a Motion to Review the Confession by Requesting to See when you stated you exercised your right to remain silent. At your earliest opportunity, contact a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA who specializes in police misconduct law.

When Is Filming California Law Enforcement Officers Prohibited?

You are prohibited from secretly filming anyone, including police officers, in public restrooms, such as using a peephole camera, for one! (See California Penal Code Section 647) It remains a felony under this statute to film a police officer while wearing a hidden camera. Penalties include up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

There are other cases, such as when an off-duty law enforcement officer or other government officials are on their private property. In that case, private property rules dealing with the Constitutional right balancing test would apply.

Police officers are people like any other American, and they are entitled to the same rights. If a police officer is not on duty, you may not film or video record them under specific circumstances. It’s also forbidden to audio record someone secretly, privately, unless they consent or under extremely limited legal exceptions in California’s penal code.

To summarize, you may not impede a police officer while he or she is performing his or her official responsibilities. A film crew attempting to obstruct a police officer and a suspect might have broken the law, for example.

Taking pictures and videos of things that are plainly visible from public places is a constitutional right. This includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials performing their duties are all examples of legitimate photos and video. Unfortunately, law enforcement personnel frequently demand individuals stop taking photographs or filming in public areas, sometimes harassing, detaining, or even arresting them.

So long as you are in a public place and the officer has no reasonable expectation of privacy, hidden cams are ok. Even a drone would be permissible, generally speaking. The problem with the video and audio recordings is whether or not the officer or a jury believes no expectation of being filmed existed.

If not, California is a “two-party” consent state, which means it’s prohibited to record a conversation as a Constitutional right without the permission of all parties unless an exception applies.

Yes, You Can Film A Police Officer!

On Your Side, the Law Is in Sight – The Law states that you may film police lawfully if you follow proper procedure. As a result, you have the right to film any interaction with a police officer in California as long as you follow the legal requirements stated above.

However, some cops are unaware of the rules, and they will still arrest someone for filming them. If you’re arrested for videotaping a police officer, keep your cool and say that you’re exercising your First Amendment rights and right to remain silent. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll spend a night or two in jail while things are resolved.

Although the right to film or record the police has been recognized by most courts, there remains the problem of qualified immunity, which protects government employees from liability unless they have violated established constitutional rights.

It would help if you also remembered police have no duty to protect private citizens, so don’t expect the other officers to help you as the rogue cop snatches your cell phone recording devices and smashes them to pieces.

But You Can’t Film Police If You Are resisting, Obstructing Or Delaying a Police Officer in Their Official Duties

If you resist arrest in any manner, you may be charged with resisting arrest under California Penal Code Section 148(A) P.C.

The battery on a Peace Officer (California Penal Code Section 243(b) P.C.) or Evading an Officer (California Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC) is a crime that might be committed against any police officer, regardless of the circumstances. It is critical to understand that any violence or force against a police officer may result in a charge.

If you’re arrested, remember that you have the right to remain silent. Even if you’re being detained, try not to be rude or violent.

Contact Ehline Law Firm to Start a Civil Rights Lawsuit Against the Police for Retaliation

If you were arrested without cause and filmed a police officer in violation of your First Amendment rights of another’s, you might have a viable case under 42 USC 1983 for the deprivation of your civil liberties. (Examples include filming a sexual assault by a bad cop on a public street.)

You don’t have to stop taking photographs of government officials in plain view. But you could be charged with a false crime by corrupt government officials in public spaces, despite the Law. Bad cops arrest innocent people all the time. We hold corrupt government officials accountable who try and falsely claim you tried to eavesdrop or wiretap them, for example.

According to the Fourth Amendment in general, it’s also conceivable to argue that the right to film using cell phones has been violated unconstitutionally or unjustly. So it’s not just loss of free speech at play here when seeking answers to this commonly asked question.

The following criteria will be used to assess the strength of your argument:

1—the facts and circumstances of your situation, as well as where the arrest took place.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Experienced California Civil Rights Lawyers Today!

Were you charged with a crime related to filming a police officer or arrested for resisting arrest due to your involvement in such activities? Were you injured or harmed in any other way due to individual police misconduct or excessive force.

Have a general or specific question about pending charges for filming police? You should contact an expert police misconduct lawyer at Ehline Law Firm right away to defend your Constitutional rights.

The attorneys at Ehline Law provide free consultations and will be happy to answer any questions about your situation. For more information on what steps you should take next or book a free consultation, contact the attorneys at Ehline Law at (213) 596-9642 to guarantee your legal rights are preserved.

Ehline Law Firm - Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC
Attorney at Law
Michael P. Ehline Esq.
Downtown Los Angeles Corporate Offices

Downtown Los Angeles Office
633 West 5th Street #2890
Los Angeles, CA 90071
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Los Angeles, CA 90071
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