Lawsuit aims to give right to film cops in public places

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Debra Goodman knows her smartphone’s video camera like the back of her hand and won’t hesitate to record a random police encounter, from tough neighborhoods in the Bronx to her own Upper West Side.

“I wasn’t scared until I was arrested, and then I was pretty freaked out," said Goodman. "They physically put the cuffs on me and they manhandled me, and threw me in the back of the truck like a piece of meat.”

Debra says things went south in a hurry on September 25th, when she began recording EMTS and two police officers attending to a disabled woman at the corner of Broadway and West 73rd street.

Debra is the plaintiff representing other police video documenters, in a federal lawsuit that seeks to give people the right – under the First Amendment – to record police officers working in public places.

That right already exists in several other cities, but there is no specific law on the books in New York.

While they haven't seen the case, a spokesperson from the NYC Law Department issued a statement regarding the NYPD's policy in bystanders filming police.

"Bystanders are allowed to film police officers as long they're not interfering with the officers' duties and/or police operations," she said. "People are also allowed to film public officials with the same principles in mind."

However, the Justice Department recognizes a citizen’s right to roll on the cops, writing in a 2012 memorandum,

"Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices."

“We’re pretty confident legally, especially with the precedent from the first, the seventy, the ninth, and eleventh court of appeals. Our sense is, this makes absolute sense. That as long as you’re not interfering with the police doing their job, why can’t you record it?” said Siegel.

Debra Goodman says her desire to turn ordinary walks into an exercise in law enforcement accountability, shouldn’t come with the gift of twenty five hours in custody…which is what she says happened following her own arrest.

“I think that we should try to affirm our right to have the right to film the police in public when they’re performing their duty,” said Goodman.


  • Angel

    Yes they have the right to film, but they cannot interfere with police duties or harrass or stalk a Law Enforcement Officer. That is a crime and the person filming can get arrested. Also what the person is filming, can it be used as evidence of a crime to be presented in court? Things that make you go hmmmm!

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  • D'Juan Collins

    Yes the people have the right to record the actions of the police or any other public official as long as it doesn’t interfere with their duties. There is so much police misconduct that often gets covered up. Having a video recording is the only way to expose that misconduct.

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