Nowadays, people are quick to take a video on their phone and share it online when something goes wrong. Given the numerous claims of unlawful police behavior, recording interactions with law enforcement seems like a natural response. While the First Amendment gives you the right to record police officers in public spaces, there are still limitations.
The First Amendment protects your right to record
In essence, the First Amendment grants you the right to free speech, including the right to record video and audio in public. However, this right is subject to certain restrictions, especially when concerning police officers.
Generally, you should be able to record a police officer while they’re on duty in public spaces, provided that you are not disrupting their work or risking public safety. Public spaces are locations where nobody expects privacy, such as parks, streets and sidewalks. If the police officer pulled you over on a public road or highway, recording should likely be acceptable.
However, be careful when reaching for your phone, as the officer may think you are trying to pull out a weapon.
Be cautious of breaking wiretapping laws
Recording audio without consent is generally viewed negatively, often leading to legal issues. However, North Carolina law permits individuals to record conversations as long as one person consents. If you are part of the conversation, that could suffice as consent for recording.
What if the police take your phone or delete the video?
Citizens sometimes forget that they have rights during a traffic stop or arrest, such as refusing to consent to a search. A police officer cannot take your phone or go through its contents without a warrant, probable cause or consent.
If the officer took your phone, maintain your composure, assert your rights and know when to walk away. Leaving the situation may be safer rather than risking angering the officer. Respectfully ask the police officer if you can leave and consider getting it later. A lawyer could advise you on how to get your phone back. In situations like this, however, it is best to act quickly.
With a tap of your finger, you have the power to document events as they happen. A video or audio recording can even become crucial evidence of potential violations. Still, it is wise to maintain respect and comply when interacting with a police officer. Knowing your rights and using them responsibly can help keep you safe.