Law enforcement officers are notoriously uncomfortable with citizens' filming them. With smartphone technology, filming police activity and uploading it to an online video streaming service is increasingly commonplace. The legality of such actions, however, is not clearly defined. Most police officers will likely stop individuals from filming if they catch them, but many police officers have been suspended or fired from abuse captured by a bystander’s videotaping efforts.
Although police officers typically destroy video evidence or issue a warning to those who film them, a Florida woman was recently arrested for using a cellphone to record an officer during a traffic stop.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, 33-year-old Brandy Berning was pulled over for driving in an HOV lane at the wrong time. When Lt. William O’Brien approached her vehicle, she began recording their conversation. She eventually informed the officer that she was recording, to which he responded, “I have to tell you, you just committed a felony.” The two then became entangled in an argument over the legality of the situation, with O’Brien attempting to confiscate Berning’s phone and Berning fighting back. Berning ultimately spent the night in jail, although she did not face any charges.
“All I knew was I was trying to keep my phone. I knew I couldn’t give him my phone, because I didn’t know why he was acting the way he was if he didn’t plan on doing something wrong,” Berning said regarding the situation.
In response to her altercation with O’Brien and her subsequent night in jail, Berning plans to sue the responsible law enforcement agency.
While Berning has not yet filed a law suit, many are viewing her potential case as a precedent-setting decision that would determine how the filming and photography of police officers would be handled in the future.
According to The Blaze, the laws are currently muddled. Police cannot legally delete filmed content on an individual’s device, but they can order citizens to stop filming if it interferes with their jobs.
Whether Berning was guilty of anything remains to be proven, but her case could have widespread implications for citizens who wish to film law enforcement officials in the future.