From coast to coast, legislatures and police departments are paying attention to what’s happening on the street, and are taking, at long last, positive steps to deescalate and defuse the stress and the danger of police encounters to both the police and the public.
My home jurisdiction, Fairfax County, Virginia, and its police department announced on July 29, 2016, that it had, on June 1, 2016, made public its new policy and procedural guidelines on the recording of police officers during encounters with the public. It is a positive set of guidelines which is sure to promote not only higher quality police work, but also greater confidence and respect for officers in this already very fine department.
As advocated in “A Toast to Silence“, the guidelines begin with re-affirming, and clearly establishing the right of the public to observe, photograph or record police activity in areas accessible to, or within the general public’s view, and that no officer shall inform or instruct anyone that such recording is prohibited, nor shall any officer obstruct directly or indirectly any such ongoing recording.
However, the filming of such activity may not interfere with officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties, jeopardize their safety, or incite others to act unlawfully, a sensible caveat. If the officer being recorded feels that his or her work is being interfered with, or is a safety hazard for the person doing the recording, or for anyone else, the officer may request or direct that person to a safer location while at the same time still respecting the right to continue to record in public.
The law of obstructing an officer still obtains and the person doing the recording may not obstruct the officer or go inside an established crime scene perimeter.
If a recording party captures images of a crime being committed, the officer may request — not demand — being allowed to obtain a copy of that recording, and there are detailed instructions to officers in this circumstance regarding doing this with the consent of the owner of the recording device.
This police department, serving roughly 1.3 million people, has consistently delivered high quality, professional policing. This new video recording policy continues that tradition, and sets a good example of how to do a difficult job well while respecting the law and the rights of the people.
Three cheers for the Fairfax County Virginia Police Department!!!