New Policy Outlines Public’s Rights to Record Police Activity

New Policy Outlines Public’s Rights to Record Police Activity

With the development and prevalence of increasingly portable technologies, people of all ages are capturing more and more moments on video, including law enforcement activity. On June 1, the police department issued a new departmental policy pertaining to anyone who might record police activity, whether it be something they see as a passerby or a direct interaction with an officer - according to FCPD Public Affairs Bureau.

The policy was proactively created and implemented to ensure the protection of everyone’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Additionally, it was developed using the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, guidance letter in Christopher Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, et. al. and the Statement of Interest in Mannie Garcia v. Montgomery County, Maryland, et. al.

The FCPD General Order, 603.1, includes procedural guidance to officers who encounter individuals recording them while they are in performance of their public duty. You can review General Order 603.1 in its entirety here; however, to summarize a few key points:

  • Anyone has the right to “observe, photograph, or record police activity in an area accessible to, or within view of the general public.”

  • Officers shall not inform or instruct anyone that recording police activity, if within their legal right, is prohibited nor shall officers otherwise obstruct the ongoing recording.

  • The filming of such activity may not interfere with officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties, jeopardize their or others’ safety, violate the law or incite others to violate the law.

  • If officers feel the recording is interfering with the performance of their public duties or poses a safety hazard for the person recording or anyone at the scene, an officer may request or redirect that person to a safer location, while still respecting their right to film in the public domain.

  • Should a person who is recording be found in violation of a criminal law (e.g., obstructing an investigation, disregarding an established crime scene perimeter), they may be subject to criminal charges.

  • If a person who is filming police activity also capture evidence of a crime being committed, an officer is likely to request from the person filming that they voluntarily provide them a copy of it or allow the officer to temporarily take custody of the phone for evidentiary purposes. It is with rare exception that an officer may seize a recording device without consent from its owner; the policy provides specific instruction to officers.

It is FCPD’s goal to provide Fairfax County residents and visitors with the highest level of police service and professionalism. You can also view an episode of our local government channel 16 cable show, On the Beat, for a brief video summary of the new policy (see the second segment, which starts at minute 05:00): On the Beat, episode #24