Paging Rodney King: The Right To Videotape Police

The right to videotape cops in action has become a national issue. Close to home in Bridgeport we’re seeing more citizens recording police in the conduct of duty as a self-defense mechanism against abuse. Most cops get it right, but some cops have freaked out with a citizen camera on them, swiping and then wiping information clean. (The cops in the Rodney King case didn’t know they were being filmed.) The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department issued a ruling recently that citizens have a First Amendment right to film police in public places. What say you? Good public policy or police interference? Background from The New York Times:

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department took an important stand last week, declaring that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape the actions of police officers in public places and that seizure or destruction of such recordings violates constitutional rights.

The Justice Department made the statement in a federal lawsuit brought against the Baltimore Police Department by Christopher Sharp, who used his cellphone to take video of the police arresting and beating a friend at Pimlico on the day of the 2010 Preakness. The officers took Mr. Sharp’s cellphone while he was recording and wiped the phone clean of all videos before returning it to him.

The Courts of Appeals for the First and Seventh Circuits have wisely found that the Constitution protects the right to videotape police officers while they perform official duties. The video taken by another witness of the beating at Pimlico shows that the right to record is crucial to holding police accountable for their actions.

Mr. Sharp sued for damages to his personal property and for injunctive relief in the form of a clear policy on videotaping consistent with the Constitution and also training for the police. The judge hearing the case arranged a settlement conference for May 30, though the case is far from being settled.

Last November, the Police Department issued an order paying lip service to the right of citizens to make “video recording of police activity.” But the day after that order became public, as The Baltimore Sun reported, police officers were caught on video threatening to arrest for loitering a man who was recording them as they surrounded and held someone on the ground.

It is essential that the Justice Department and federal courts make clear that police departments will be held liable for violating this constitutionally protected right.



  1. Hey! Let’s video the cops with the red light cameras so we’ll know when they screw up. That’s the ticket, and save the taxpayers some money.

  2. I mentioned here I spent hours calling every number listed for the different departments in the Bridgeport Police Dept in an attempt to get one of their K9’s to visit our school. I wasn’t successful and ended up getting a state police K9.

    I talked (actually chastised) a cop who was a parent at the event and he apologized and said they are working under extremely difficult conditions while coping with serious cutbacks under this administration. That’s scary.

  3. *** As long as there’s no “real” interference from the person recording the video and the officers are following dept. protocol, there should be no problem with having the right to videotape the police, firefighters or EMTs. It could prove to be helpful for both sides in some cases, no? *** Wheels of Justice ***


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