Most people today carry a smartphone almost everywhere, which raises this question: Are you allowed to take video of police officers on duty?

Are there specific rules about recording or taking pictures of the police? What if you are shooting video and a police officer tells you to stop – or tries to seize your phone or camera?

What are your rights? If you live in New York, keep reading, because the actions of police officers impact everyone.

Increasingly, the New York Police Department’s activity is recorded by amateurs and citizen-journalists.

Also, increasingly, the courts are affirming that the recording by citizens of on-duty police officers is constitutionally protected.

In 2012, the City of Boston agreed to pay Simon Glik $170,000 after the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Glik had a “constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.”

2012 was also the year that the Department of Justice issued an unprecedented statement on the right of citizens to record the police.

That statement came after the City of Baltimore paid $250,000 to Christopher Sharp.

Baltimore police officers wrongfully detained Sharp in 2010 and deleted all the videos on his cellphone after he recorded them arresting a friend.

Police demanded his cellphone as evidence and erased everything, including family videos of Sharp with his son.


The Boston Police Department now explicitly instructs its officers not to arrest citizens who are openly recording them in public.

The Baltimore Police Department has established a similar policy. And New York City’s police officers also now understand that they may be recorded on film or video at any time.

In fact, they’ve been ordered to protect the right of citizens to take video.

Video played a substantial role in shaping public reaction to the death of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after an officer placed him in a chokehold, which is forbidden by the NYPD.

A month after Eric Garner’s death, New York City’s cops were reminded that they can’t stop someone from filming them while they’re on duty.

The reminder came in a memo that said, “Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions.

Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment.”

However, that memo also reminded police officers that journalists and videographers may not “interfere with police operations.”


That’s the important thing for amateurs and citizen-journalists to remember.

Particularly if you are filming or taking video of the police at close range, you must not even inadvertently interfere with a police officer in the performance of his or her duties.

Still, if you are an amateur journalist, or if you simply see an injustice in progress and you try to record it, you must be prepared to protect yourself and your rights.

You should also be prepared to deal with hostile police officers, because you never know if you’ll be dealing with Officer Friendly or Officer Meanie.

Some police officers, especially if they haven’t had proper training, may feel that their authority is being challenged by the mere presence of a photographer or a videographer. And some police officers simply do not know the law.

If you are recording one or more police officers, and the police ask you what you’re doing, be as diplomatic as possible.

Avoid saying anything that sounds accusatory, such as “I’m making sure that you’re doing your job right,” or “The public needs to see this.”

Instead, be as friendly and as cooperative as possible and say something like, “You can see that I’m not interfering, Officer. I’m simply exercising my First Amendment rights.”


Amateurs should not let themselves be intimidated. The police may ask for identification, and they may ask, “Who do you work for?”

Don’t let the police bluff you into thinking that the First Amendment applies only to newspapers and TV networks.

If you are taking video because you’re a film or journalism student or you have a YouTube channel, say so.

You have the right to take video of the police for any reason – so long as you’re not interfering – but don’t lie to them.

Even though you have the right to film or take video of the police, you might still be harassed, your phone or camera might be confiscated, and you could even be arrested on some vague charge like disorderly conduct or obstruction of justice.

If that happens to you in New York City, Westchester County or anywhere else in the state of New York, contact an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney immediately.


If you are recording the police and an officer tells you, “Please stop recording me, it’s against the law,” you’ll have to size up the situation and determine how much the video is worth to you.

It is not a crime to record the police, but that may not stop an officer from lying to you or arresting you.

If you’re willing to be arrested in such a circumstance, that’s fine and even admirable, but there’s nothing wrong with backing down – even if you’re right and the officer is wrong.

Hollywood celebrities may love the camera, but most of us are uncomfortable having complete strangers take our photographs without even asking.

Police officers are no different.

If you are going to take video of the police, even though it’s your right, you should still understand that you’ll probably be making the officers uncomfortable, and while your presence may be tolerated, you most likely will not be welcomed or helped by the police.

If you are legally filming or taking video of the police, and you are arrested on some charge like disorderly conduct or obstruction of justice, an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney can represent you in court and fight for justice on your behalf.

In these kinds of cases, it’s even possible that charges could be dropped after your attorney has an opportunity to speak with the judge.

You have the right to record the police in New York, and the law is on your side.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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