POLL: Public rights questioned for filming police officers

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – More and more people are filming their interactions with police officers to increase accountability, but is that okay?

Police officers caught on camera doing things that seem illegal or outside their authority is nothing new. The videos have made headlines for years.

But now with cellphones making it even easier to capture video, police actions are gathering even more attention.

Recently, someone filmed an Albany officer writing a street performer a ticket for Disorderly Conduct. The officer told the busker he had to move, and then the cop pushed the camera away.

But when can you film an officer, and when should you put the camera down?

Melanie Trimble with the New York Civil Liberties Union said it is within a citizen’s right to film a police officer on public property while they’re conducting their day-to-day business.

“If you’re standing back and not encountering the incident, you’re basically just filming and audio taping, you should be within your rights to do so,” she said.

However, it can become a problem if you get too close.

John Cooney is a retired captain with the Troy Police Department. He said filming officers is becoming increasingly common.

“You need to assume you are always on camera,” he said. “You need to assume that anything you say or do will be recorded by someone.”

Now officers are receiving additional training.

“We’re teaching them that there is a certain distance that we call a zone of safety so to speak,” Cooney said.

Just as you have personal space, officers have professional space. If you’re filming them too close and it’s interfering with their operations, they can tell you to move away.

“As the public, if you’re going to film police officers, you need to stand back and allow whatever is going to happen in the course of the police officer’s business,” Trimble said. “You should not be trying to interfere with a police officer conducting business. It’s not up to you or the citizen to decide something is wrong and intervene.”

In addition, a cell phone could be misidentified as something more dangerous to an officer.

“In a sense that any distractions could be a threat,” Cooney said.

Cooney said officers need to remember their training when dealing with people who are filming them and follow protocol. He said the hardest part is finding balance between filming and letting an officer do his or her job.

If you do want to film an officer, it’s suggested you stay out of the way, and if you think they’re doing something wrong, turn the video into the department as many have an internal affairs policy to deal with those types of situations.

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