HPD Up To Date On Citizen Right to Video Their Activities

The videotape of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles twenty years ago brought that incident to public scrutiny. And there was the recent closer-to-home case of Chad Holley here in Houston. Although challenged over the years, the courts say that citizen recording of police activity is permissible.


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The chances that an arrest will end up on YouTube led several states to try to make it illegal to record an encounter with an on-duty police officer, citing existing wiretapping laws as legal justification.

But last year, the Federal Appeals Court ruled that video recording of police in a public place is a constitutional right.

Associate Dean Richard Alderman is with the University of Houston Law Center. 

“I mean, basically, people have the right to photograph things that are public. And if you are doing something outside or on the street or in a front yard or in a shopping center parking lot, all of those areas are considered public. And if somebody wants to photograph it or record it, they have the right to do so.”

Executive Assistant Chief Michael Dirden with the Houston Police Department says officers are well aware that they are working in a new age.
“Well, as a general rule, what we tell our officers is that citizens have a right to photograph you when you’re doing your job. It’s a new day in law enforcement, it’s a new day in the public sector, and folks are going to film you. They’re going to videotape and they’re going to audio record what you do.”

Cellphones with cameras are omnipresent. And YouTube is in the back of every officer’s mind.

“Ah, yes, it is. YouTube is an interesting phenomenon that most police officers and other public servants are learning to get a handle on.”

Associate Dean Alderman says there is one caveat.

“Now with the police, there is another countervailing factor — you can’t interfere with what the police are doing. So if the police require that you back off, you have to back off. If the police say, you know ‘stand over here, we have to do our investigation,’ you have to follow the rules that they think are reasonable to do their job.”

But Chief Dirden adds that there are limits to on-the-scene restrictions that an officer can order.

“And we try to educate them about the limits and bounds of Article 3815 of the Texas Penal Code which details what interference with public duties are. But for the most part, our position in the Houston Police Department in the way we train and educate out officers is that this is the 21st century. People are going to photograph you. Make the adjustment. Get used to it, and go about doing your work in the manner that a professional police officer would do.”

The rules of this new age apply to everyone. Dean Alderman notes that workplace surveillence and cameras on the street can record anyone, anytime, anywhere.

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