U.S. Dept. of Justice affirms the right to record police, offers guidelines for police policies

This post was submitted by Law Offices of Howard Friedman. -Pete

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provided detailed guidelines on how a police department should ensure that police officers respect civilians’ First Amendment right to record them. The DOJ wrote a public letter to the court in a lawsuit involving Baltimore police officers who seized a man’s phone and deleted its contents after he recorded officers using force to arrest his friend (Christopher Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, et al.).

The DOJ’s letter affirmed that recording police officers is a fundamental First Amendment right. The letter relies heavily upon the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Glik v. Cunniffe, a case brought by the Law Offices of Howard Friedman and the ACLU of Massachusetts. In that case, Boston police officers falsely arrested a man for illegal “wiretapping” because he used his cellphone to record an arrest on the Boston Common. The federal court of appeals issued a landmark decision affirming the right to record the police.

After Simon Glik filed his lawsuit, the City of Boston developed a training video for the police department based on the facts of that case. Although the video instructs police officers not to arrest people who openly record them, attorneys knowledgeable about police misconduct fear that officers will continue to arrest people who record police by using “cover charges” such as disturbing the peace and interfering with police officers “Cover charges” are bogus criminal charges that police officers bring in order to cover up their own misconduct. The DOJ’s letter cites examples of this happening in Baltimore even after the police department issued an order telling officers not to arrest people for filming them. In one case cited in the letter, Baltimore police officers threatened a man with an arrest for “loitering” because he was standing on the sidewalk recording the police.

Unfortunately, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis hinted that officers here may use such tactics. He stated to a WBUR reporter, “‘[The Glik case] changes our training, it changes the way we advise officers to deal with a situation… It still doesn’t give someone the right to interfere with a lawful arrest that’s occurring.’” Davis told WBUR that “police could still arrest and charge someone with obstruction if their recording of the police action gets in the way.” (Brady-Myerov, Monica. “Boston Settles Suit Over Recording Of Police Officers.” March 27, 2012. http://www.wbur.org/2012/03/27/recording-officers-settlement. Accessed May 18, 2012.)

The DOJ’s letter to the court in Sharp condemns giving officers unlimited discretion to arrest people who are recording their actions by using cover charges. The letter says police department policies “should define what it means for an individual to interfere with police activity and, when possible, provide specific examples in order to effectively guide officer conduct and prevent infringement on activities protected by the First Amendment.” Additionally, “[o]fficers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices.” This guidance is crucial to protect people who are recording police brutality or other police abuse.

The police departments of Boston and Baltimore should set an example to departments across the country by adopting the DOJ’s guidelines in their training and policies.

For more, check out DOJ seeks to tighten Baltimore policy on recording police from The Baltimore-Sun.



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  • Hey

    I really don’t expect or believe the Boston and Baltimore Police will comply and instead circumvent the DOJ guidelines by using made up (lying)“cover charges”.

  • Carlos

    Boston and Baltimore only ? Cops HATE to be filmed regardless the state, the city, the county, etc.

    The do not like citizens filming them, period.

    What comes around goes around.
    Now, here applies what they usually tell people when “interrogating”:

    “If you ain’t doing nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear”…right ?

    So, if they are not “breaking” the law with their actions, then they should not fear being filmed.


  • The tale of two bystanders. One bystander is standing about 20ft away and watching quietly the activity of the leos. The other bystander is standing next to the 1st bystander watching quietly but holding up a camera. The laws of disorderly conduct, loitering and obstruction/resisting apply to both of these bystanders equally. Breaking those laws are not affected by having the camera or not having the camera. The leos seem to think that these charges can be applied selectively to the camera holder. Not so says the court or the prosecutors. Bystanders to crime scenes have been with us since, well, since we’ve had crime. Leos in history don’t just pull bystanders out of the crowd and arrest them for standing there quietly watching. What difference does it make that they are holding a camera?

  • Most states appeals courts either have heard, or are scheduled to hear police recording cases in the near future.

    The DOJ has sided with the public along with every single appeals court that has ruled on these cases.

    This will eventually end up before the US Supreme Court and it will be found a protected right under the first amendment.

    And yes, our idiot cops will continue to illegally arrest people for recording them. Only then it will fall under an incorporated right. Subject to a federal civil cause of action…

    We might actually see some criminal cops going to jail then…

    In the words of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

    “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”…

    The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.”

  • Centurion

    Police will start to see that the public is higher then them. Lucky enough we have someone getting the balls to serve these bastards a subpena. Its worth the filing fee to U.S. District Court to protect your rights and the rights of others. The courts and appeals process is there bound by the amendments , Its worth it to shut these violator cops of treason up. Police are scared shitless to be known, there freaked out about accountability, their balls invert about actually having integrity.

  • It would seem the cops are freaking out about people recording them and for good reason.

    More and more cases of brutality are turning up in the news media. Which would have otherwise never made it past the on-scene supervisors and officers covering it up, were it not for the video.

    Thats what cops are scared of and why they are fighting it hard. They are terrified their criminal actions will end up on Youtube then on the 6 o’clock news, then in a courtroom.

  • Centurion

    The NYPD secret corruption division teaches on sight supervisors to hide stuff and they even have a propaganda division. Hundreds of Police Dept. all over the country are learning and training for these polocies. Cops are trained to lie and cover up shit.

  • t.

    Centurion: I’m sure you can provide proof concerning your last text? Post it maybe? Provide a link concerning this “teaching”? Doubt it.

    As I have always said, film film film. Just don’t interfer or become a participant. Stand back,film and post it all unedited. Let people decide on their own. But post it all. Not just your edited versions or the one you think are bad. Show it when they police are doing it right to. Lots more of those tan the bad ones.

  • Carlos

    @ “T” :

    Do you spontaneously turn in the “few bad ones” whenever you witness them abusing innocent people or breaking the law in any way ?

  • John

    The court ruling is an indication. Now the next step is to start groups that go out and record police in public, setting guidlines for our group’s conduct and demeanor. Trying at all times to avoid communication or joindering with the police. Let’s say I got a group in town x and in the group there’s 10 guys who volunteer. So we listen to a police scanner to find the scene;s and we go there and record from a distance and if the person in question recognizes who we are they may give us permission to stand by there side. Once we gain a reputation, citizen’s will see that we are protector’s.
    So we would go out to the scenes and record everything. And we would do our homework as well, once were finished the recording we can asses the information and gather more such as police badge number’s, names, discloser of info, video’s etc. WHAT DO YOU THINK? ANY IDEAS?

  • The_Lakewood_4_are_burning_in_Hell

    Why would I want to post anything other than cops looking like shit? All video that doesn’t specifically make them look like utter shit will be deleted. In what bizzaro alternate dimension would I want to post anything positive about Team Blue? I fucking hate Team Blue with the fire of a thousand suns. They can never undo the bullshit they pulled. Whatever I can do to make their lives miserable is a good and righteous cause.

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  • in the same way, the peace of a ‘peace officer’ can not be breached;
    ie; a peace officer is bound by duty to answer any and all questions the public may have, and therfore his peace is not breached simply by speaking to him about that which he is supposed to have first hand knowledge thereof. he is a servant of the people in general public while not specifically addressing an investigation.

    as an officer of law, specific law requires certain jurisdiction.
    an officer is a town/city/state employee, and therfore an AGENT of the government he has a duty to uphold all law which the jurisdiction has an interest in.

    as an employee indirectly of the public, an officer has no right to privacy from said public, as his duty and jurisdiction is limited to that which is public unless an invitation request has been made.

    the same as an officer’s peace can not be breached, neither can his rights to public privacy, which extends the same to ALL ‘elected’ public officials.

  • i just saw whgat carlos said to @ T, and what i have to specify for clarity to everyone is this cold hard fact. people are people yes absolutely, but an officer of the law by sworn oath who violates ANY ‘law’ so prescribed, is GUILTY of having comitted a fraud.

    not just getting a job, and getting caught smoking (doing something meaninglessly wrong ie” a gardener that smokes weed perhaps), but FRAUD IN A CONTRACT towhich they are subscribed to under OATH and BOND.

    what is that in a criminal act under admiralty law? same as sleeping at your guard duty post.

    think about it.

  • simon

    Manchester New Hampshire is still arresting people under an archaic state wire tapping law

    though police record in public and private..

    and there is no expectation of privacy when in public places.

    one man there is up on charges for this with a 75 year penalty.

    This is blatantly illegal for them to do this… watch you tube…keene.org

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