Washington DC Police Chief Allows Citizens To Record and Photograph Police with Smartphones and Other Devices


If you frequent our site, you’ll know that a few weeks back I featured an app by the ACLU that will allow you to discreetly video/audio record your run-ins with police officers. As many of our readers brought up, this isn’t always “legal” in every state. Well, I can tell you where it is legal: Washington, D-freakin’-C.

According to an announcement from Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier cops in the DC area are just going to have to live with regular folks like you and me snapping photos and recording video of them in public. A 6-page General Order provided members of the Metropolitan Police Department with a code of conduct that must be adhered to when dealing with civilians during official business, or when “acting in an official capacity in any public space.”

The General Order says police cannot interfere with citizens recording in a public or private places, can no longer seize a smartphone or camera and/or delete the recorded media, and will have to obtain a search warrant before even accessing information stored inside the device. That’s to say as long as the recording isn’t of an actual crime, in which case a device can be taken as “evidence.” Here’s a little snippet from that General Order:

As long as the photographing or recording takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with a member’s safety, members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police action (such as a Terry stop or an arrest) is not allowed; requires a permit; or requires the member’s consent. Additionally, members shall not:

  • Order that person to cease such activity;
  • Demand that person’s identification;
  • Demand that the person state a reason why he or she is taking photographs or recording;
  • Detain that person;
  • Intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices; or
  • In any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording members’ enforcement activities.

The fact that Lanier is recognizing the general public’s First Amendment right to record video, photograph or record audio of her staff, says a whole lot for her and her integrity. I guess it all comes to down to accountability. Can’t say I’ve ever understood why regular citizens wouldn’t be allowed to record interactions with local police. Apparently, this is a trend that’s starting to catch on across the US and a welcomed one at that.

Thanks, Slsf617!

[DCist | Via Cnet]

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. inb4 people start talking about how police are corrupt and they need to go down, etc.

    1. not all of them. MOST of the younger ones though, yes.

  2. Now we can catch the popos when they beat Chris Chavez

    1. It’s cuz of my hair. Nobody trusts a guy with big hair.. o____o

      1. Hey at least if they taze you you-know-where they’ll receive just punishment.

      2. At least you don’t have 2 first names. We all know you can’t trust a guy with 2 first names.

  3. All of this seems reasonable to me. As long as the individual recording is not interfering or endangering anyone, it seems reasonable that it should be legal for them to capture footage of police in public.

  4. Thank you for the shoutout sir

    1. Good find. I would have missed it otherwise :)

  5. I thought it was legal everywhere. Everything a cop does while on the job is in the public domain and therefore the public have a right to record it.

    1. You would think that, this being America and all. But the police in this country have a tendency to make their own rules.

      1. This times 100

  6. ‘ as long as the recording isn’t of an actual crime, in which case a device can be taken as “evidence.” ‘

    So if the police were actually committing a crime (i.e. police brutality) while being recorded, they can still seize the recording/device.

    1. google drive… instant upload. lock screen hand to cop. by the time he locks the phone it will be saved in your cloud or alternately you could youtube instant upload it.

    2. If you see a Police commit a crime and you need to record it, do it in hiding when the Police does not see you doing it.

  7. Bad cops Bad cops whatcha guna
    Whatcha guna do when citizens are recording you

  8. I think this is a good step. Anytime a new “thing” comes out there is always that fuzzy grey area on how to handle it. Before now cell phone pictures and videos were nothing more than fuzzy Atari games But with the one x for example, you have true hd video and stereo sound and it is hard to dispute hd so them taking a progressive forward thinking step is huge in my mind.
    Instead of the standard we don’t understand it take it it away approach.

  9. Finally! Now we just need California on board. Here, I’ve seen cops pull an SD card out a phone and take it.

    EDIT: Bravo Chris, this was definitely worthy news for this site.

  10. Interesting article, but the headline misses the point. The police chief does not “allow” photographing or recording police — the Constitution and laws, as interpreted by courts, do that. That the police chief directs her officers to follow the law is both reassuring and — that it is seen as necessary — a bit disappointing.

    1. Kinda changed it up to make more sense at a quick glance. Look at the URL. The title originally read: “police chief recognizes citizens’ rights to record police”

      1. Even better would be ‘Washington DC Police Chief Affirms Rights of Citizens To Record and Photograph Police with Smartphones and Other Devices’

  11. This goes back to government accountability. I don’t need a police chief to tell me I can record him.

  12. Now if DC would start respecting the 2nd Amendment…

  13. HTC One X is so beautiful.

  14. Oh good, so if a cop was doing Police brutality or committing a crime themselves I can record it without another cop putting a gun to my head and tell me “delete the f(bleeping) video or I f(bleeping) kill you”. To be honest, I would love this idea to be on international scale, with repressive regime like Syria, China, and Iran smartphones are weapon to combat injustice and corruption. Also smartphones are the leading weapon in the Arab Spring and hopefully one that can overthrow a repressive regime.

  15. Oh god people get a life…you should be more concerned of the everyday criminals out there and 99 % of you are to scared to help out someone getting beat or robbed. Cause you are cowards hiding behind a camera. Stop hating on the police.

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