It’s been two years since the video of the incident leading to George Floyd’s death went viral and set off riots and a public reckoning involving law enforcement and race. The teen who recorded the murder was not the first to pull out her phone and record a heightened or lethal encounter with law enforcement. Many have done it and posted photos, recordings and videos. However, there are specific ground rules.
Stay on public property
If the incident occurs on private property, the property owner can ask the person recording to leave their property. Those on public property like a sidewalk or park have the right to record on-duty officers openly. But, the person recording the encounter cannot interfere with the officer doing their job or conducting an investigation when they show up. Interfering includes the person recording not stepping back from the incident site.
Citizens also must follow other legal directives from the officer and could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor if the individual recording the event does not follow orders. It is also illegal to conceal your identity and intimidate, hinder, interrupt, or obstruct officers doing their duty.
Tips for properly recording an encounter with law enforcement
Failure to follow the officer’s direction can escalate the situation, which is likely something that no one wants to happen. So here are tips for recording an encounter:
- Tell them you intend to record before starting.
- Do not make quick movements while reaching for your phone.
- Obey their commands, particularly “step back.”
- Do not resist if they handcuff you; you may be released or will be able to fight the unlawful arrest in court.
Speak with an attorney
Independent journalists may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney if they intend to cover a police action or demonstration. Those who find themselves embroiled in a dispute or arrest where they recorded an officer can also call on an attorney to help them protect their rights and ensure that the officer did not overstep their authority.