2014 seems to be the year of videos that go viral on social media regarding police arresting people and in some cases, literally killing them in the process. These incidents are becoming more frequent, especially in neighborhoods where the population feels somewhat victimized by the police department. As they say, daylight is sometimes the best disinfectant.
In some instances, cops are either violating their own policies or actually breaking the law. The recent case out of New York where the man accused of a petty crime was put in a choke hold and killed, has been deemed a homicide by the District Attorney.
So, is there anything wrong with filming an active arrest? Is it legal? Can I get arrested too?
The short answer is, yes, you may film an active arrest as a bystander from a reasonable distance so long as you are not interfering or obstructing the actual arrest. The police are not sanctioned to interfere with recordings by bystanders. There were two states which enacted laws against the public filming of arrests – Massachusetts and Illinois – and a team of lawyers fought and challenged these laws. Thanks to these attorneys, the State Supreme Court of both Massachusetts and Illinois declared each statute unconstitutional as a violation of the bystander’s first amendment right of freedom of speech.
The arresting agency has no expectation of privacy if the perpetrator is arrested in public, and even if the officer requests you to stop, it is your right to continue the video recording. Bystanders do not need to be consulted for an open, public arrest. The key is to stay out of the way.
Most policing agencies employ hard-working, ethical and honest cops. Bad cops need to be routed out and nobody agrees with this more than the good cops who follow the letter of the law. To a large extent these videos are a public service and exposing these overzealous bullies are protecting citizens from future outrageous conduct.
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