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Can You Legally Record the Police in Florida?

Melinda Morris
By: Melinda Morris
Jun. 01 2017

Film the Police

We recently reported on the potential rise of body cameras being used by law enforcement in the Tampa Bay Area.  While Pasco County utilizes body cameras for every officer, other Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies have yet to implement the technology in any form.  Notably, the St. Petersburg Police department has waffled on the issue of body cameras and dashboard cameras for officers so much so that the Tampa Bay Times recently called for Chief Tony Holloway to make up his mind on the issue.

It would stand to reason that given the advancements in technology and lower prices for law enforcement agencies to implement video recording police-civilian interactions that more and more Tampa Bay police officers will have body cameras in the near future.

So, if the police can and will record their interactions with you, the question is can YOU record the police?

The question is more complicated than it may seem at first.  Florida Statute §934.03 – “Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited” – makes it a crime to record “wire, oral, or electronic communication” unless all parties to the communication consent.  Florida is thus often referred to as a “two-party consent” state.  The exception to the rule is where the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then consent is not required.  The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has asserted that police officers conducting public business (the business of policing) in a public area do not, and should not, have an expectation of privacy, and therefore consent from the officer is not required.  The problem with this position and interpretation on the law is that there has not been a court ruling in Florida specifically on the matter of filming or recording the police that would establish a legal precedent.  The ACLU has also suggested that turning off audio and only recording video may steer clear of any illegality under Florida law, however most cell phone cameras don’t have an easy way to turn off the audio portion of a video recording, and once again, clear precedent on the matter has yet to be fully established.

Those interpreting Florida Statute §934.03 state that it is intended to cover audio recordings, not video filming.  As well, several Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies including the St. Petersburg Police Department have gone on record stating that the public may record officers.  The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office advises their officers that they should assume that they are being recorded by the public, and specifically to not order anyone to stop recording unless it interferes with their ability to enforce the law or is a safety risk.

More and more members of the public want to record the police during an interaction to protect their rights and to create evidence that may be used in the defense of their criminal matter.  While recording the police has valid justifications, individuals should be aware that they may be arrested for Obstruction of Justice if the officer believes that the recording interferes with their ability to carry out their “lawful execution of any legal duty.”  Florida Statute §843.02 – “Obstructing Justice” is very broad and officers may use the law to make an arrest if they feel that their duties are being hindered, or if they feel that their safety is being compromised even if the actual act of recording is legal.

If you have been video recorded with a body camera or dashboard camera when you were arrested in the Tampa Bay area including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater, Largo and the surrounding counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee or Sarasota, call the Morris Law Firm for a strategy session on your case.  As well, if you have been arrested for Obstruction or Resisting Arrest, call us for a consultation.  Make sure to make your attorney aware if you have recorded any portion of your arrest.  Call 727-388-4736, Option #1 for New Clients.