Filming the Police — Right or Wrong?

March 27, 2012

Police officers work in a very scrutinized world. A camera mounted on the front windshield of their police vehicles films every move they make. However, with camera phones becoming accessible, it now seems that citizen journalists are watching police, too.

In 1961, Illinois passed a state Eavesdropping Law, which banned citizens from filming police officers conducting official business, without the consent of the officer. People who violated this law were subject to being charged with a Class 1 felony.

However, according to the Huffington Post, different sectors of the legal system differed on what the law was supposed to mean. This meant that there was inconsistency in the law, who was charged with the crime and the punishment they faced when charged.

Recently, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, proposed a bill – which was just recently passed – that would make the filming of police officers in public places legal. Surprisingly, the Chicago Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, supported the bill. His reasoning? It was just as bad for the citizens as it would be for the police.

The biggest issue with the ban on filming officers in a public place is that it violated people’s first amendment right.

Last year, in Boston, a court ruled that a man arrested for filming the police while making a drug arrest was not guilty of breaking a state law that bans audio recordings without the consent of both parties. The reason? Because past court rulings, coupled with the first amendment, make it a legal action.

An excerpt from the court ruling read, “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.’”

After the Illinois law on Eavesdropping was overturned, there are currently no states who ban the filming of police officers while conducting their duties in a public place.