Ask A Cop: Photographing In Public
Have a question for the Fredericksburg Police Department? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: I was taking photographs of a recent police incident on a public sidewalk and I wasn't near the yellow tape, but I was yelled at to stop and move away. I thought it was perfectly legal and a constitutional right to do take pics from a public sidewalk. I was in no way interfering with what the police were doing. The young officer spotted me and just decided to get angry with me.
Answer: The officer may have told you to move depending on what type of situation was being handled at that moment. The Fredericksburg Police Department has a directive which addresses this topic:
218.03 – Filming of Officers by Citizens – Many people today carry video cameras in their pockets, on iPhones, Blackberrys, and even their MP3 players.
Courts around the country have ruled that a law enforcement officer has no reasonable expectation of privacy in encounters with citizens in public places. The law enforcement officer, when in public places, should not expect their actions to be shielded from public observation.
Citizens have the right to record law enforcement activities, except when:
- The safety of the officer(s) suspect(s) or public are jeopardized or,
- the citizen photographer interferes with police in the performance of their duties or,
- The citizen photographer is the subject of police action and holds the device in a manner that places officer(s) in reasonable fear that the camera or recording device will be used as a weapon
Examples of situations where filming an officer’s actions could place them in danger are:
- Hostage situations, undercover operations, barricaded subject, high risk search warrant execution.
When recorded media is believed valuable to an investigation, and is being sought from an uninvolved citizen who voluntarily surrenders it when asked, the officer shall:
- Provide the incident number to the citizen, receipt, and,
- The name of the requesting officer.
When recorded media is believed valuable to an investigation and the uninvolved citizen does not wish to surrender it, and there is enough probable cause to seize the media by obtaining a court order/search warrant, the officer shall:
- Seize the media to ensure that it is not destroyed or altered, and
- Advise the citizen that a court order or search warrant is being sought, and
- Provide the citizen with the incident number, receipt, name of recovering officer and,
- Notify the Watch Commander (thru channels) of the seizure.