Viral videos of police misconduct have made the public more wary when facing law enforcement, including personal encounters during traffic stops. To protect yourself, you may feel compelled to record your interaction when an officer pulls you over. Although filming in public is within your rights, there are still limitations.
Things to keep in mind before you start recording
When at a traffic stop, prioritize respect and cooperation. Avoid doing anything that may impede their ability to perform their jobs. Provide your basic information and follow instructions. If recording feels necessary, you should be able to do so.
Montana has no laws prohibiting the recording of a police officer at a traffic stop. Additionally, the First Amendment protects your right to take photographs and videos of police officers and other government employees performing duties in public. Although asking for consent is not necessary when recording public officials, taking videos or recording secretly is generally a criminal offense.
If you decide to take a video, be sure not to interfere with the police officer’s work and inform them of your intent to record. Otherwise, you could face legal penalties.
Keep in mind that the police officer cannot take your phone without a warrant. Forcing you to delete your videos may constitute evidence tampering.
What can you do with recorded material?
It’s not always clear what you can and cannot do with videos that feature other people. Generally, it is not wise to upload videos featuring other people if you do not have their consent. Yet, if the video documents police misconduct, it may be vital during an investigation.
If you have doubts about your rights concerning video recording a police officer or if you are facing traffic stop charges, consider speaking to an attorney.
In situations where there is police misconduct at a traffic stop, having a video can help protect you. However, it’s also good to know when to practice restraint. Provoking a police officer may only escalate tensions.