video recording police actions

A Citizens Guide To Recording Police Actions

Hi there Guys. With yesterdays report of a potential NSW police officer using excessive force I have received numerous emails asking about the legality of recording police actions.

One reader who has intimate knowlege of the laws, in particular the recording police actions in public, has been kind enough to send a brief summary of the laws around this topic.

Please note that this is from an Australian perspective. Your state or country’s laws may differ.

A Quick Guide To Recording Police Actions In Australia

The advent of in-phone video cameras has armed citizens with the perfect means of holding police to account for their interactions with the public. It is important however that if you choose to video record police activities there are some general things to consider:

  • You ARE allowed to record any activity occurring in a public place. The key in most legislation throughout Australia is that there isn’t a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ attaching to the parties being filmed (police or otherwise).
  • If you are filming an incident involving police and you are asked to stop recording, calmly explain to the officer that you are aware that you are allowed to record under Australian Law.
  • Remain calm (as hard as that may be). All too often citizen video of police incidents shows the camera person becoming heavily involved in arguments with the attending officers. It tends to deflect from the behaviour you are trying to record and may even give the police grounds to arrest the cameraman for ‘disorderly conduct’ if the altercation gets too heated.
  • Avoid close ups. If you get too close to an incident Police may be lawfully authorised to detain you as you are interfering in the conduct of their duty. In addition, close ups don’t give the overall context of the incident that internal investigators, oversight agencies and courts would require. Stand back a reasonable distance and record the scene in totality.
  • Avoid an ongoing ‘commentary’ as you record. If the video is played in court it will in most cases then have to be played silently. If you wish to comment on what you saw do it at the end after the incident has concluded.
  • Have your friends record the incident at the same time from a different viewpoint. What will be missed in one recording may be picked up by another.
  • Send your video through to the relevant police oversight body AND the police force complaints area. This will ensure that at the very least the oversight agency is aware of the brutality complaint and in the event that they don’t investigate the matter themselves they will in many cases review the work of the police internal investigators to ensure that it has been conducted properly.
  • Keep a copy of your recording regardless of whether or not you have uploaded the video to Facebook or YouTube. In the event that your uploaded version gets pulled down you still have retained the principal evidence.

Recent case law in the USA has given strength to the right to record government employees, which includes police, in public spaces under the first amendment rights.

If in recording of police actions it looks like it may end with your own security at risk I recommend removing yourself from the situation to help ensure your safety.

As follow up to yesterdays post, the following response from a NSW police spokesperson was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Following vision of the event being made available to police, an internal investigation will be launched to determine the full circumstances leading up to and surrounding the incident,”

I will be sure to share updates as they occur.

Yours in good health.

Dr George Forgan-Smith

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