Video recordings have helped to clear the names of the thousands of innocent people who have been falsely accused of crimes. While most people understand the value of recording police encounters, they aren’t aware of how they can do so without breaking the law. You have the right to protect yourself by filming your interactions with law enforcement and knowing the law can help you to feel confident when pulling out the camera.
Here’s what you should keep in mind if you ever come across on-duty officers.
You have the right to record, but there are some exceptions.
Since December 2014, anyone in Illinois can record on-duty law enforcement officers in public places without their consent. Recording interactions with cops both as a party to the interactions and as a bystander can be a good idea for several reasons. A cop may say that a person refused to cooperate when, in fact, the video shows the person obeying the officer’s commands. Video footage could also capture police misconduct such as the use of excessive force or the failure to read a person their rights. Catching these things on camera can help to fight wrongful charges in court.
However, there are some cases in which it is illegal to film the police.
You cannot secretly record police encounters.
Under the surreptitious exception to the eavesdropping law, it is illegal to secretly record an officer. That means, under no circumstances, can you conceal your device to catch a cop off guard.
Do you have to tell the cop that you’re recording? It depends. To avoid violating the surreptitious exception, you may choose to inform the cop that you are recording. They may request that you turn the device off, but don’t let that intimidate you. You do not need their consent to record and you can deny their request that you film.
You cannot film where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
There are some instances in which cops cannot be filmed if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public areas. Cops can’t expect that conversations they will have on a sidewalk or in a mall will remain private. If, however, you attempt to record a private conversation between two officers behind closed doors, you may be in violation of the law.
As with any law, there are other factors in play that determine if your footage was legally obtained. Cops are authorized to take reasonable action if they believe it is necessary to maintain public safety and order, secure a scene or keep an investigation confidential.
It is the right of the American people to hold public officials accountable and protect your rights. When the camera turns on, behaviors may change, but hitting record is the first step to increase transparency among the police force. Don’t let the police bully you into backing down from your rights. Remember – it is not illegal to invoke your rights and you can record while still being cooperative.