Is it Legal to Record the Salt Lake City Police Department?

Violent, sometimes deadly clashes between police officers and civilians have been a major national topic during the past few years.  While some departments have taken steps toward mending community relations, many Utahans are still dissatisfied with the level of transparency surrounding arrests and police stops, especially in places like Salt Lake City, Saratoga Springs, and other cities that have experienced recent police shootings.  With Gallup polls reporting confidence in law enforcement at its lowest point since 1993 — the year after the L.A. riots — many concerned Americans have gained interest in filming police activities.  Here, Utah disorderly conduct lawyer Darwin Overson explains whether it is legal to film the police — and what to do if you get arrested for recording an officer in the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Glik Ruling Protects Your Legal Right to Record Members of Law Enforcement

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that civilians have the right to record police officers in Glik v. Cunniffe (2011), a case which arose after Simon Glik, a resident of Massachusetts, recorded Boston police officers conducting an arrest at a public park.

Glik was immediately placed under arrest for recording the incident, and, after being criminally charged with wiretapping and other offenses, filed a lawsuit against Boston and his arresting officers, asserting the police had violated his Constitutional rights by arresting him for filming.  In a victory for civil rights, the court unanimously held that Glik’s rights had indeed been violated, noting that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

The Glik ruling dealt with videotaping on public property.  However, on a related subject, you may also be interested in reading about when it is legal to record phone conversations in Utah.

Police car in the rear view of a car mirror

Can You Be Criminally Charged for Filming a Police Officer in Utah?

While Glik was a crucial win for civil rights, there are still some limitations restricting the right to lawfully record the police.  Broadly speaking, it is illegal to record law enforcement when doing so impedes an arrest or other police operations.

Interfering with police in Utah can result in criminal charges.  Interfering with an arresting officer is a crime under Utah Code § 76-8-305, which provides the following:

“A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he [or she knows, or should know] that a peace officer is [trying to conduct] a lawful arrest or detention… and interferes with the arrest or detention by… refus[ing] to refrain from performing any act that would impede the arrest or detention.”

In other words, a person could potentially get arrested for filming an arrest if the act of filming interferes with the arrest.  This applies regardless of whether the person is filming their own arrest, or that of another person.  Criminal penalties for a Class B misdemeanor in Utah include, at maximum, six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Utah Code § 76-8-305.5 creates a related offense called “failure to stop at the command of a law enforcement officer,” which is charged when a person flees the police after being ordered to stop, in order to avoid an arrest.  This offense is a Class A misdemeanor, subject to maximum fine of $2,500 and a maximum sentence of one year in jail.  Furthermore, it’s a crime to lie to the police — even though, at least under some circumstances, the police can lie to you.

Disorderly conduct charges are another potential outcome of a confrontation with law enforcement.  Disorderly conduct is a Class C misdemeanor under Utah Code § 76-9-102, subject to a fine of up to $750 and a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

Don’t assume your case is hopeless if you were charged with disorderly conduct, interference with an arresting officer, or other crimes after an altercation with the police.  A skilled defense attorney may be able to prove that you were not interfering or causing a disturbance as alleged, and may even be able to have your criminal case dismissed.

witness swearing on the bible in court

What to Do if You Were Arrested for Videotaping the Police in Salt Lake City

Despite the “well-established” legal protections that defend a civilian’s right to record law enforcement, some police officers still continue to harass and arrest people who are acting within the scope of the law.  In August 2014 — three years after the Glik ruling — Bryce Weber, 19, was cited for disorderly conduct after filming a Woods Cross police officer whom Weber noticed sitting outside of his residence.  The same month, Vernal police arrested Coty Tabbee, 27, for disorderly conduct after Tabbee filmed his mother’s arrest.

If you or one of your family members was arrested for recording the police in Salt Lake City or other cities in Utah, Overson & Bugden may be able to help.  With over 16 years of experience handling thousands of felonies and misdemeanors throughout Utah, criminal lawyer Darwin Overson has built a legal career as an aggressive and outspoken defender of citizens’ Constitutional rights.

To set up a free legal consultation with Darwin, call the law offices of Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.  Your information will be kept confidential.  Darwin is available to visit county jails and holding centers, including the Salt Lake County Jail.