The court said that the ability to record police is importance because it ensures that the public can hold government officials accountable for misconduct.
In 1991, George Holliday recorded video of the Los Angeles Police Department officers beating Rodney King and submitted it to the local news. Filming police on the job was rare then but common now. With advances in technology and the widespread ownership of smartphones, civilian recording of police officers is common. These recordings have both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from charges.
However, despite the growing frequency of private citizens recording police activity and its importance to all involved, some jurisdictions have attempted to regulate such recordings. Individuals making recordings have also faced retaliation by officers, such as arrests on false criminal charges and even violence.
The case the court ruled on involved retaliation. Richard Fields and Amanda Geraci attempted to record Philadelphia police officers carrying out official duties in public and were retaliated against even though the Philadelphia Police Department’s official policies recognized that private individuals have a First Amendment right to observe and record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties.”
The court said it join the growing consensus, saying “Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public.
“Government operates best in sunlight, and the police are not an exception,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which represented Fields and Geraci with cooperating counsel. “The First Amendment right to document the police at work is critical to promote transparency. We are grateful that the appeals court agrees.”