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Can You Record a Police Officer in New Jersey?

Allegations of police misconduct make headlines across the country. Incidents involving police brutality, harassment, false allegations, and general abuse of authority are troubling but increasingly commonplace. When interacting with law enforcement officials, it is important to take steps for self-protection. At the Forrester Law Firm, a common question we hear is about whether an individual can record a police officer. In New Jersey, it is legal to capture videos and audio recordings of a law enforcement encounter on your cell phone or through other means. This is true for bystanders as well as those being charged with a crime. Our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can help if you or someone you love has been a victim of police harassment or is facing criminal charges. Consider calling (609) 613-1513 to schedule a free consultation.

Why Record Police Interactions

No one wants to find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Whether through mistaken identity, errors in judgment, or getting caught up with a bad crowd, being stopped and questioned by the police is a serious matter. In these situations, the police have a duty to respect the civil liberties of suspects, witnesses to the incident, or bystanders at the scene. That respect includes adhering to policies and procedures that protect an individual’s human rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, violations and accusations of police misconduct are increasingly common. In 2021, for the first time ever, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office released a list of police officers facing disciplinary actions. The list shows over 200 separate incidents of misconduct during just a six-month period. The most common violations include:

  • Conduct unbecoming of an officer
  • Neglect of duty
  • Use of excessive force in making arrests
  • Threatening and harassing bystanders and suspects
  • Providing misleading information
  • Unconstitutional searches and seizures
  • Manufacturing evidence
  • Making false statements on reports
  • Acting in an official capacity while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

The ability to record a police officer during a traffic stop, while being questioned, or when placed under arrest may help to prevent these types of violations from happening. Recordings can also provide valuable evidence in criminal cases for holding law enforcement officials accountable for their actions.

The New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-1) gives law enforcement officials the right to listen in on phone lines and intercept other electronic and oral communications among alleged suspects in certain situations. These recordings can then be used as justification for conducting searches or making arrests and as evidence in criminal court cases. While the law gives police officers the right to record citizens, do citizens have the right to record police officers? Under the United States Constitution, the First Amendment gives each citizen the right to observe, object to, and record police activities in the following places:

  • On public property—city sidewalks, parks, public transportation, and businesses
  • On your own property—personally owned or rented land, homes, cars, boats, or other recreational vehicles
  • On private property—in a common area, such as an apartment courtyard, or with the consent of the property owner

Provided that an individual is not interfering with an active investigation, impeding officers in performing their duties, or putting himself or others at risk, that citizen has the right not only to record a police officer but also to express concern and criticize his or her actions without fear or threat. In general, officers are not authorized to seize recordings or devices without a search warrant, unless they have a valid reason to believe that the recording contains evidence of a violent crime resulting in serious bodily harm or death and that the recording may be destroyed if not seized.

What To Do If Stopped by Police

New Jersey statewide policing policies were updated in December 2021 and directly address the issue of recording a police officer. The policies affirm the right to record these interactions and prohibit officers from hindering the public’s efforts, such as by telling bystanders that they are not permitted to record or requesting identification.

In the event that you are the one being stopped by police, take certain steps to protect yourself. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offers a free cellphone application that allows users to not only record but upload the interaction. These uploads alert the ACLU, which provides a transcript of the incident. The app also alerts other app users in the area, who can then respond and act as witnesses. Additional steps the Forrester Law Firm advises clients to take if they are stopped by police in their car, visited at home or at their place of work, or questioned on the street or in other public and private places include the following:

  • Remain calm and avoid any sudden movements or gestures
  • Keep your hands where the officer can see them at all times
  • Ask for permission before reaching for items, such as your identification
  • Other than providing your name and address, affirm your right to remain silent
  • Do not consent to a search but do not physically resist
  • Inquire whether you are being placed under arrest and why
  • If you are not being arrested, ask if you are allowed to leave
  • Request a phone call and refer further questions to a New Jersey criminal defense attorney. Contact The Forrester Law Firm in order to learn more about your legal rights.

Schedule a Free Consultation with A New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney

With increasing reports of police abuses, it is important to be aware of your rights during any interaction with law enforcement. This includes the right to record a police officer so that he or she can be held accountable for any abuses or civil rights violations. The Forrester Law Firm provides trusted guidance in these situations and, as a criminal trial attorney, aggressively represents people who face criminal charges in New Jersey. To schedule a free consultation, consider calling (609) 613-1513.

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