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Police Cameras: Things to Know Before Filming Texas Police in Action

The power of the people to film or photograph police doing bad things — and then sharing those videos or photographs online in social media like Twitter or YouTube — is undeniable. From the use of smartphones, just last week we saw the police officer shooting a man in the back over in South Carolina. The South Carolina officer is now under arrest for murder.

Brave Thing to Film Cops Gone Bad

It’s a brave thing for people to do — and those who are capturing the police using excessive force risk arrest or worse if they are seen using their phones to record what’s happening.   See our earlier post, “Texas Police Don’t Like Being Photographed or Videotaped: Citizens Arrested for Filming Law Enforcement – Why? It’s Not Like Their Cameras Aren’t Watching Us.”

The brave man who filmed that South Carolina shooting voiced the worries of many people during interviews after he had uploaded his film. Feidin Santana has revealed not only that a police officer at the scene told him to stop filming, but to stay where he was (he left, in fear for his life).

 5 Things to Know Before Filming Police With Your Phone

If you are here in Texas and you see a disturbing event involving law enforcement that you want to capture with your phone or tablet or camera, then here are a few things for you to consider:

1. The police officers may know more about the situation than you do. Don’t get in their way or in the middle of things, you could get hurt — or you might contribute to someone else being harmed. It’s this argument for the safety of bystanders, witnesses, as well as the suspect and the officers themselves that the police use to argue against people filming them. Sometimes they have a point, so be careful — stay safe.

2. Your phone (tablet, camera) is your personal property. Police officers have been known to confiscate cameras or phones. This is an illegal taking of your property unless they have a warrant. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the police cannot check out the contents of any cell phone even after they’ve arrested someone and found the phone on their person, until they get a search warrant from a judge for the phone’s contents.

3. Check where you are. If you are on public property, then you have a legal right to photograph anything in plain view. If you are on private property, things change. The property owner has legal rights over the use of his or her land, and you can be arrested for trespassing if you disregard the property owner’s conditions for being on his turf.

4. What you film is your property, too. Digital images on your phone or tablet are part of your personal property. Police officers cannot legally take your phone and delete what’s stored on it. That’s arguably evidence tampering.

5. The police have a duty to protect and serve. If you are near to a crime in progress, then they may have a right to ask you to move, to change locations, to go with them to a place of safety, etc. They do not have a right to tell you not to film, but they may have a right to ask you to step back, etc., if they feel that you may be in danger yourself or if you are in a position that might pose a danger to others (like officers having to worry about protecting you while dealing with a violent situation).

Your Rights at Stake: Texas Bill Tried to Outlaw Your Right to Film Police With Your Phone or Camera

This is stunning but it happened. It’s there on the Texas House of Representatives’ website if you want to read the proposed legislation. A lawmaker here in Dallas, State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), introduced a bill down in Austin that would make it a crime here in the State of Texas for an ordinary citizen on the street — you, me, your mother, your kid — to record, videotape, or photograph the police. Period.

The only limitation: 25 feet away from the event (unless you were armed, then it was 100 feet) or if you got your paycheck from a mainstream media outlet (bloggers not included).

The proposed law would make it illegal to film or photograph law enforcement if you were within 25 feet of the officers at the time.

It’s House Bill 2918. Luckily, media coverage of this obvious violation of our First Amendment rights caught fire and earlier this week, Representative Villalba withdrew his proposed law. Good.

Still, it’s pretty shocking that a Dallas lawmaker would think this was okay, right? And he didn’t go down easily — at first, Representative Villalba was arguing on Twitter that he was only trying to get people to keep their distance from law enforcement so that no one interfered with the police doing their job.

Right … like that would have been the result of this legislation if it had passed.

Police Excessive Force is a Serious Problem : Defend Your Right to Film

As a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Dallas for many years, I know all too well how serious police excessive force can be — and how often it happens in our part of the world. Now that smart phones are capturing police all over the place abusing their police power, bad cops are being caught and police departments are taking action. Hopefully all of the time, but not necessarily.

Police brutality is in and of itself a crime. It’s a violation of civil liberties. We should all be concerned about this when it happens. And we should feel free to film the police doing their job whenever we decide it’s something that we want to do.

If you are arrested or threatened with arrest or investigated for arrest for filming any action or activity of law enforcement, then you need a strong criminal defense lawyer to advocate on your behalf.

It’s important for your case and your defense — and it’s also important for the protection of the rights of every single member of the public. Remember that HB 2918 was filed …..


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