When Can You Legally Film the Police?

When Can You Legally Film the Police?When situations involving law enforcement unfold, your personal recordings can often be the only way to capture the full scope of an interaction. These recordings can help ensure accountability and provide an unbiased record of events. In Tennessee, specifically in places like Franklin, the act of recording law enforcement officers is generally legal and extends throughout the entire United States.

Without a doubt, recording is a vital way for people to make sure their own perspective, particularly in matters related to criminal law, is accurately recorded. Even with the growing use of police body cameras, having your own personal recording can add a layer of transparency. However, there are still some times when you can—and cannot—film.

Your First Amendment right to record

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution plays a crucial role in protecting the act of recording police officers during their public duties. This extends to various forms of recording, including pictures, audio, and video. It also reflects the principle that you have the freedom to document the activities of public officials, like police officers, when they are in public spaces.

While the laws are generally aimed at allowing you to record police officers while on duty as public officials, Section 6-113 of Franklin’s Code of Ordinances mentions that police officers are authorized to act even while off duty, and “all such actions by off-duty police officers shall be carried out in accordance with the laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures.”

Guidelines for recording police encounters

While the First Amendment protects your freedom to record, it’s important to also recognize that specific guidelines exist to maintain a balance between individual rights and law enforcement duties. When it comes to the legal considerations surrounding recording police officers in Tennessee and across the United States, there are a few essential points to keep in mind.

Stay out of the way

Generally, individuals have the freedom to record law enforcement officers when they are in public spaces. However, the right to record should not be exercised in a way that interferes with the law enforcement officers’ duties or compromises public safety. In other words, you cannot get in the way while filming something like a police officer arresting another person. For example, Section 42-27 of Brentwood’s Code of Ordinances actually lists this quite clearly saying that it’s unlawful to interfere with an officer while they’re attempting to perform their duties. Towns throughout Tennessee will have their own ordinances, so it’s important to know what your town will or won’t allow.

Be extra careful on private property

Recording on private property introduces an additional challenge. As long as you are there with the property owner’s consent, you have the freedom to record. However, you should be mindful of the property owner’s rules and regulations regarding recording as they have the ability to create their own. It’s important to respect the wishes of the property owner and comply with all of their requests.

One-party consent for audio recording

According to Tennessee Code § 39-13-601, the state considers itself to be a “one-party consent” state. This means that as long as one person (which can be you) consents to the audio recording, it is generally legal, and you don’t need clear consent from the other parties involved. This one-party consent rule provides individuals with a valuable tool for documenting encounters with law enforcement or other interactions, as long as you are part of the conversation.

While this right to audio record is essential for personal documentation and accountability, respecting privacy remains an important consideration. When recording conversations, always be aware of the boundaries of the conversation and avoid recording private conversations that you are part of.

Your right to privacy of your recordings

Despite what you may think, officers do not have the legal authority to ask you to delete any recordings or demand access to your phone or other recording devices without a warrant. This protects your right to preserve evidence and maintain your personal privacy.

Understanding and being prepared to assert your rights in these situations is important. While most law enforcement officers are respectful of these rights, others may take advantage of your lack of knowledge—especially if you hold evidence against them. By staying informed, you can confidently navigate encounters with the police and ensure that your recordings and evidence are protected. This also helps ensure the justice system operates fairly and transparently.

When you can—and should—hit record

There are various situations where recording the police can be not only advisable but also beneficial:

  • Traffic stops. Recording during something like a routine stop or suspected DUI can help document the encounter, ensuring an accurate account of the interaction and serving as evidence in case of disputes.
  • Witnessing public police interactions. Recording can provide an impartial record of events, which can be vital in establishing accountability and transparency.
  • Protests and demonstrations. Recording police actions during protests and demonstrations can capture the overall atmosphere and any interactions between law enforcement and demonstrators. This serves as a vital tool for documenting events and preserving a record of actions taken by both sides.
  • Arrests and detentions. This can help in documenting the conduct of officers, providing evidence of any potential misconduct, and ensuring a fair process.
  • Use of force incidents. In cases where law enforcement employs force, recording can serve as a vital record to evaluate the appropriateness of actions taken and ensure accountability.

Overall, the benefits of recording in these situations are quite great. Videos as evidence can contribute to accountability by providing an unbiased record of events, which can be used to verify or challenge the actions of law enforcement. Additionally, it helps in the documentation of events, which can be valuable for investigations, legal cases, which is beneficial for all parties involved. By recording responsibly and within the guidelines of the law in Franklinville, individuals can play an active role in promoting transparency and accountability.

In times when you find yourself pulled over by the police or witness an arrest, hitting the record button on your phone (while staying within the established guidelines) can be a good idea. Recording is a powerful tool for documenting events accurately and promoting the responsible conduct of law enforcement. Should you ever face any type of criminal charges or legal concerns, remember that the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates is here to help. We understand the importance of your rights and ensuring a fair legal process. To schedule a consultation, give our office a call or fill out our contact form. We take pride in serving those in Franklin, Brentwood, Columbia, and throughout Middle Tennessee.