Is It Legal for You to Take a Video of the Police?

Just about every activity in life is recorded these days, thanks to the video technology available to us all on our smartphones. People have not hesitated to pull out their phones and video police, especially if there is an arrest being made or a confrontation.

This past summer, a McKinney, Texas, police officer resigned shortly after he was videotaped by bystanders using what some categorized as excessive force in breaking up a neighborhood swimming party.

And while many courts have agreed that the First Amendment gives ordinary citizens the right to record police officers that are in public and performing their duties, there are some exceptions to that right, including:

Interfering with an officer doing his/her duty. If a recording of a police officer interferes with that officer’s ability to do his or her job, the officer can order an individual to stop recording. This could include instances where a bystander recording the officer is standing too close and interferes with the officer trying to make an arrest, or when the recording incites violent behavior from someone being arrested.

Against state law. In Texas, it is legal to record a conversation with another person as long as one of the parties consents — and that other person can be the person recording the conversation. Last year, an Austin judge ruled that all citizens have the right to record public servants in public as they are performing their jobs as long as they don’t interfere.

When the act of recording is a crime. If, in the act of recording, a citizen commits a crime — such as trespassing, disorderly conduct or stalking — that citizen can be arrested. The right to record does not give a person the right to stalk a police officer hoping to catch him or her doing something wrong.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or