California bill would protect civilians recording police activity

Dozens of protesters hold a demonstration and candlelight vigil outside of the 120th Police Precinct Station in New York in memory of Eric Garner in January.
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

From the LAPD beating of Rodney King 24 years ago to last year’s death of Eric Garner after a scuffle with New York police officers, bystanders who recorded the incidents on video have allowed the public to see at least some of what happened.

One California state senator wants to protect citizens who properly record the actions of officers in public from arrest or interference by the police. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has introduced legislation that would clarify that a civilian who makes an audio or video recording of a police officer, while the officer is in a public place, is not violating the law.

The measure also would make clear that recording does not constitute reasonable suspicion to detain a person or probable cause to arrest.


“Recent events throughout the country and here in California have raised questions about when an individual can -- and can’t -- record,” Lara said in a statement. “SB 411 will help erase ambiguity, enhance transparency and ensure that freedom of speech is protected for both police officers and civilians.”

The bill also restates that civilians are not allowed to obstruct an officer from doing his or her job. Representatives of the Los Angeles Police Protective League and California Police Chiefs Assn. were not immediately available for comment on the legislation.

The First Amendment permits the filming of police officers in public places as long as the filming does not interfere with officers, according to Larry Doyle, a legislative representative of the Conference of California Bar Assns. “Recordings of law enforcement activity benefit victims and innocent police officers by creating clear evidentiary accounts of what took place,” Doyle said in a statement released by Lara’s office.

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