Protecting Yourself as a Law Enforcement Officer in the Age of Technology

Thanks to the seemingly unending generation of video recording devices, more officers are being recorded doing their jobs than ever before. The general public is now recording everything from a minor traffic stop to a simple arrest. While this shouldn’t really be a problem, the public takes these recordings, edits them or displays only small segments of these recordings with the sole intention of making the officer in the video look like he is at fault.

Prior to the advent of the smartphone and more recently the dash cam, the number of these recording has skyrocketed. It has reached the point at which all law enforcement officers need to be given specialized training to ensure they realize that their every action could be being recorded by the person they are dealing with or virtually anyone with a smartphone.

First Amendment Rights Violations
Over the course of the last few years, a number of lower Federal Courts have ruled that citizens’ rights to record officers in the line of duty are protected under the First Amendment. With this in mind, here are five tips designed to help officers deal with the potential of being recorded.

1. At all times when dealing with a member of the public during an arrest or a traffic stop, assume you are being recorded. To avoid any risk of your actions being misconstrued, it is important for you to maintain your composure and be polite as well as courteous.

2. Never get into any type of debate regarding a citizen’s rights to video record you in the line of duty. Arguments like these almost always end up making you as the LEO look bad and are never productive.

3. If you are aware you are being recorded and the person is being difficult or combative, it is vital you remain calm and enunciate your commands clearly while remaining polite at all times. Be sure to explain what is going on carefully to the citizen along with why it is happening.

4. While a citizen may have the right to record your actions, there may be times when you need to take action to protect your safety and that of others involved. There have been a number of cases in which the courts ruled in favor of the LEO because he acted to protect himself and others.

5. Be sure you have taken the time to review your department’s policies regarding being recording by members of the public. Knowing this information may help ensure you act appropriately when being recorded and could prove vital in the event of a hearing regarding your conduct.

These are good general rules to go by, but the most important thing to remember is that as long as you are acting in accordance with your department’s policies and in a manner befitting your job as a law enforcement officer, you should have no problem. Every situation you are likely to encounter is going to be different, but knowing that you may be being recorded and acting in accordance with this, is the best way to protect yourself from potential lawsuits and charges of misconduct.

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