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Bill Would Legalize Citizen Recordings Of Police Officers

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In this photo file photo taken Wednesday June 24, 2015, a citizen, right, records Sacramento Police officers taking a suspect into custody who was stopped in what police say was a car that was reported stolen, in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California law is vague on whether people can record photos and videos of police officers while the officers are doing their jobs. A bill that passed the state Legislature Thursday seeks to clarify that it’s legal.

The measure comes in response to several recent incidents.

“We’ve seen public safety officers interpreting the law in their own hands,“ says the bill's author, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). “Either confiscating reporting equipment, taking it, erasing it, damaging it or intimidating people from recording.”

So Lara’s bill makes it clear that it’s legal for bystanders to record photos and videos of law enforcement officers in public places – or if the bystanders are in places where they have the right to be. The measure also says that making a recording is not grounds in and of itself to detain or arrest the person.

But the bill also leaves intact existing law that makes it illegal to interfere with an officer’s actions. That allowed law enforcement groups to be neutral on the measure – and led to bipartisan support in the Legislature. The measure is now on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown.

A separate measure still in the Legislature would make it a felony for a law enforcement officer to destroy a citizen’s recording equipment.

 law enforcement

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio