In Virginia it is NOT illegal to take a video of police conducting their duties in a public place. Earlier this month a Manassas McDonalds customer saw two Prince William police officers violently arresting a patron of the restaurant. The customer used his cell phone to record the incident.
The Prince William County officers handcuffed the man and forcefully pulled him outside the restaurant. The man with the camera followed them outside, and tried to film the events outside. When the man with the camera went outside, he claims a police officer ordered him to go back inside. The officer threatened to arrest him for "interfering" or loitering. The man shouted that he was not violating any law. He later posted the video above online. Prince William Police later issued a statement promising to review the incident as a whole and recognizing that police officers should not
"impede on anyone's right to video our (police) actions in public so long as there is no obstruction of or interference with police actions or anyone else's rights or safety."
The law clearly supports that statement. In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals Circuit Court held that a private citizen has Fifth and Fourth Amendment rights to record video and audio of public officials in a public place.
Despite the law, police continue to harass citizens that film police activity. In 2011 Norfolk Virginia police arrested and jailed a former president of the Park Place Civic League and a member of the city manager's budget advisory committee who filmed police activities during a Black Panther Party rally. In Richmond, police arrested a reporter for RVA magazine for taking pictures of police and accused him of trespassing. Both cases were later dismissed.
Real life police interactions with citizens can be far more dramatic and shocking than the things we see on TV shows. The videos below show a few examples of startling police arrests:
Last year, cell phone video captured an apparent abuse of authority a Richmond Virginia music festival http://youtu.be/qmFBijcMn34
In court, officers and citizens often have diametrically opposed accounts of these incidents. Courts are inclined to support police testimony. Officers come to court in groups and usually offer concurrent testimony. Citizens, on the other hand, seldom have supporting witnesses. If a citizen has been drinking, some judges discount their statements. This approach is illogical. Police should not be able to injure and violate the constitutional rights of citizens just because they are intoxicated. If citizens don't have adequate legal counsel, brutality victims can find themselves to be the defendant and even get convicted of a crime arising from these incidents.
When police try to hide independent information about citizen encounters, the public loses faith in the honesty and integrity of law endorsement. If police are following and upholding the law then they should have no problem with a video record of their actions. Officers that attempt to stop citizens from making videos clearly have something to hide. Video of these incidents merely preserves a truthful unbiased account for a court to view at a later time.
Fortunately, some agencies realize that the public wants honest records of what public officers do on the streets. A few months ago D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced that placing cameras on the body of officers is one of the department's top five priorities. Deputy Director of D.C.'s Office of Police Complaints says
"Body cameras are emerging as an important tool in policing across the country,"
The law does not prevent collection of video evidence of a police citizen encounter. Video and audio record might later be utilized by a good lawyer to prevent a conviction for a crime that the person did not commit. Police efforts to stop video records are illegal and may reveal an effort to conceal officer misconduct.