It is true that it is legal to videotape any police encounter in a public place. However, it cannot be done in a way that interferes with the officers performing their duties. This includes getting so close to the officers that they feel that they can no longer safely perform their duties. There is no definitive “distance” currently in the law, it is a matter of judgment on a case-by-case basis determined by the officer involved in the encounter.
The general public sometimes does not understand that police officers need to maintain a zone of safety while conducting an investigation or while performing an enforcement operation or encounter.
The training that you highlighted in your recent article states some of these points as well. In that aspect it is a positive thing that is being brought to the attention of the general public. They should know that it is their right to videotape police in public places and how to do it so that it is safe for all parties involved.
With technology being what it is, including the use of cell phone cameras, there is no need for anyone to get too close to an officer while he or she is performing their duty. Cameras have zoom features and, if not, they can not compromise the safety of the officers in order to get a “better angle or shot.”
Police Commissioner William Bratton has ensured that police officers have extensive training on the rights of civilians to videotape them in public.
Our officers also see the tapes that are highlighted in the media and on social media sites. Not every encounter that is taped depicts the NYPD in a professional manner and some officers don’t always act in a professional manner. That being said, the overwhelming majority of officers act in a highly professional manner under extreme circumstances every day. What is seen on an edited clip on the news or YouTube does not explain the entire encounter in the vast majority of cases. The public does not understand that some use of force shown in some videos is within the law and NYPD guidelines and only focuses on what is being commented on by the person taking the video. All facts and circumstances must be taken into consideration before judgments can be made.
In today’s age of technology, I don’t think that a police officer is going to act any differently when they observe a member of the public videotaping them. This is a daily occurrence and I can’t remember a scene I have responded to in recent history that cell phones haven’t come out as soon as a police encounter begins. This coupled by security cameras that are located on businesses and homes is all a part of “doing business” in this day and age.
The NYPD will be moving forward with “body cameras” for police officers in the near future. This will enable the NYPD to show an encounter from our viewpoint as well.
Ronald D. Leyson