You’re driving along a Florida street and see flashing red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror. You pull over to the side of the road and wait. A police officer approaches your driver’s side door.
Can you hit the “record” button on your phone to capture on video what happens next?
Here’s what to know about the law in Florida:
Can you take video of a traffic stop or an arrest in Florida?
The simple answer is ... Yes, you can take video of police officers making traffic stops or arrests in Florida, either from your own vehicle or on public property like a sidewalk, the street or the beach.
“Florida police on active duty can be recorded on cell phones or other recording devices as they are considered public figures and not afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy,” according to the Fusco Law Group in Jacksonville..
But know this ... You can still get in trouble, according to Florida law. That law makes clear that it’s illegal to disrupt a police investigation — and that can be up to an officer’s interpretation.
“When the person points his or her camera at the police while the officers are on duty, it is possible to interfere with an investigation or an arrest. If the person capturing video gets in the way, causes the arrest to fail or interferes with these actions, he or she can obstruct the duties of the officers. Then, he or she can then face charges for the current activity of obstructing justice,” according to the legal resources site HG.org.
What does the law say about taking video of police?
“Florida statute ... indicates that ‘parties’ don’t include police if they are both active and in a public setting. This is because active-duty police officers aren’t afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy because they are defined as public figures,” according to the Lopez Law Group in St. Petersburg.
Says the Weinstein legal Team of Fort Lauderdale: “It is legal to record on-duty police officers engaged in police work in Florida, so you can legally record them during a traffic stop. However, you should use common sense and follow a few basic rules. You should also be aware that you might be arrested, even though you are not doing anything illegal. And, if you’ve followed the rules, you will probably not be convicted of any criminal charges.
“If you record the police during a traffic stop, they might harass you, confiscate your device, or even go so far as to arrest you on charges such as disorderly conduct, violation of wiretapping laws, or obstruction of justice. They cannot arrest and charge you for recording police officers, since it is not illegal to do so.”
Have their been efforts to change the law?
Case: In 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that a Palm Beach County woman should not have been arrested for videotaping police. The appeals court said Sharron Tasha Ford had the right to turn on her camera on Boynton Beach police in 2009 after stopping her son for sneaking into a movie theater, according to a report by the Palm Beach Post.
“A rule otherwise would mean that everyone who pulls out a cell phone to record an interaction with police, whether as a bystander, a witness, or a suspect, is committing a crime,” Judge Martha Warner wrote earlier when the court originally sided with police. “If that were the case, then had the individual who recorded George Floyd saying to the officers, ‘I can’t breathe’ been in Florida, she would have been guilty of a crime.”
The Post reported on the reversal: The three-judge panel reversed itself and joined Warner, “agreeing that police officers have no expectation of privacy when they are performing their duties in public. Therefore, they agreed, Ford shouldn’t have been arrested for violating the state’s wiretapping laws.”
New legislation: Bills filed this year in Florida would have given police officers greater authority to arrest people trying to take video of them, making it illegal to approach within 20 feet of a police officer. The bills died before a full vote in the Legislature.
Advice if you are taking video of police in action
ACLU Florida offers these tips if you plan to record police action:
▪ Announce that you are recording what is going on.
▪ Stay a reasonable distance away from whatever activity you are recording.
▪ Do not interfere with the police’s actions while recording.
Note: A previous version of this report listed an incorrect year on a police video case in Boynton Beach. The ruling was in 2021.