The police are fully aware that the public have the right to record them on duty. However this doesn’t stop many of them from using threats, intimidation and even physical violence until innocent members of the public shut off their cameras.
What should you do if you wish to record the police but they become hostile and threatening?
Here is my comprehensive guide to recording the police.
DO I NEED THE POLICE’S PERMISSION TO RECORD OR PHOTOGRAPH THEM?
No. In fact, you don’t require ANY member of the public’s permission to record or film then in a public place. If this were the case, then Paparazzi wouldn’t exist.
There is no law that says you cannot record someone in public without their permission (or a permit). The same rules apply to everyone including security guards, traffic wardens, bailiffs, the emergency services etc. If you are in public (or in your home) you have a right to record whomever you choose.
DO I NEED TO GIVE THE POLICE A REASON WHY I AM FILMING THEM?
If a police officer approaches you and asks why you are filming, you are not obliged to answer. You do not have to tell them who you are or what you are doing. However, most officers will take this an automatic affront to their authority and possibly use it as a reason to abuse you further.
If you are asked by the police why you are filming you can give any number of reasonable replies, such as:
“I’m just exercising my right to record in public.”
“It’s for my own personal records”
“It’s for everybody’s protection”
Either way, it pays to be discreet and non-intrusive when recording anyone who might protest.
CAN THE POLICE DEMAND TO SEE THE CONTENTS OF MY DEVICE AND DELETE ANY OF THE INFORMATION?
No! They would need a warrant under RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) to access the contents of your device – and they would have to arrest you and seize the device to obtain one.
If an officer asks to see what you have recorded tell them that they have no authority and if they wish to examine the device they should obtain the necessary warrant. Any officer attempting to delete recordings or photographs from a device is committing a criminal offence, as this constitutes the destruction of evidence.
THE POLICE SAY IF I DON’T STOP FILMING THEY CAN SEIZE MY CAMERA FOR EVIDENTIAL PURPOSES, IS THIS TRUE?
Although the police can seize items that contain useful evidence under section 17 of PACE, there has to be a justifiable reason for doing so. A police officer cannot seize your camera under this power simply because you refuse to stop filming. Refusing to abide by an unlawful command that is made by a police officer is not a criminal offence. Therefore any attempt to seize your camera as a result would be malicious and the officer could be liable for a charge of misconduct.
WHAT IF THE POLICE PUT THEIR HANDS ON ME OR MY CAMERA TO MAKE ME STOP?
Any member of the police service or public that physically grabs at you or your camera in an attempt to stop you filming could be liable for assault.
If a police officer forces you to stop recording against your will, and you are not under arrest, then take a note of the officers collar number and make an official complaint of misconduct to their relevant Professional Standards Department.
Unfortunately, too many people in authority believe they have an automatic right of entitlement over the public. Paramedics, PCSOs, security guards and other state employees can become extremely aggressive and hostile when a member of the public records them. Although they are in the wrong for doing so it still pays to be discreet, reasonable and cautious when recording people who may suddenly become a physical risk to you.
AM I INFRINGING ANYONE’S RIGHTS BY RECORDING THEM?
The British Police should expect to be placed under scrutiny. However police officers – and members of the public – commonly make outlandish claims of breached rights when they protest to being recorded. Do they object to the millions of CCTV cameras that scrutinise us daily, without our permission or knowledge? No. And yet there is no difference between you filming out on the street and local authorities recording us with CCTV; except for the fact you won’t have to apply to the authorities for a copy of a video you have recorded yourself.
If you hear an officer complaining that you are “infringing their human rights”, “acting suspicious” or “harassing them”, don’t let it intimidate you into switching off your camera. A police officer claiming he is being harassed whilst performing his duties is like a dustman complaining of a bad smell.
THE POLICE TELL ME IF I DON’T STOP FILMING THEY CAN ARREST ME FOR A PUBLIC ORDER OFFENCE, IS THIS TRUE?
The Public Order Act is the most abused piece of legislation in the UK when it comes to the police forcing people to comply with unlawful commands. Unfortunately too many officers think that ‘talking back’ is an arrestable offence, by way of breach of the peace or anti social behaviour laws.
Any police officer that uses threat of arrest as a means to intimidate, punish or force you to comply with them is acting unlawfully. As long as you are not behaving in a manner that a reasonable person would deem as anti-social or a public nuisance then the police have no cause to arrest you for filming in a public place against their will.
WHAT IF THEY THREATEN ME WITH ARREST FOR OBSTRUCTION, INTIMIDATION OR HARASSMENT?
Again, as long as you are not obstructing an officer from performing his duties, blocking a public right of way, following people against their will or just generally causing a disturbance, then the police have no grounds to move you on.
A common tactic used by police is to claim that ‘members of the public’ have been complaining and feeling intimidated. If the police make such a claim you should ask them for the incident number that was logged when members of the public called in. The police are required to give it to you when asked. If they do not, you can be certain no report has been made. Make a note of their collar numbers and complain about them, or at the very least insist that you will make a complaint if they do not leave you alone.
IS THERE ANY OFFICIAL POLICY ON THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO RECORD THE POLICE?
Yes. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued an ‘all forces’ memo which lays out guidelines to officers on the rights of members of the public to record them. Should you find yourself in a situation where the police argue against your right, then use this letter as your trump card.
Remember, the general rule with the police is that they expect people to be ignorant of the law and to automatically switch off their cameras when told to.
RESISTING AN UNLAWFUL DEMAND ISN’T JUST YOUR RIGHT, IT IS YOUR DUTY!.