A controversial law, making it a felony offense to record police officers without their knowledge, has been ruled unconstitutional by a Cook County judge this week. Judge Stanley Sacks, assigned to the Criminal Courts Building determined the law criminalizes “wholly innocent conduct.”
The law was at the center of a case we mentioned last month, where artist Christopher Drew was arrested for selling art on the street without a permit. He was then charged with violating the eavesdropping law because he used an audio recorder to document his conversations with police, a recorder the police didn’t initially know about.
This current law makes such recordings a felony. Even when acting in the line of duty, in a position paid for by taxpayers, people are not allowed to record cops.
But judge Sacks’ ruling isn’t the first attack on the law, nor will it be the last. Lawmakers are currently looking to change the law and make it more logical. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Elaine Nekritz, would allow such recordings if they occur in public places while officers are acting in the line of duty.
The issue of recording police officers has become more and more prominent in the last several years as camera phones have become more and more prevalent. Usually at issue is video recordings of police, though this particular case focused on audio recordings.
Prior to judge Sacks’ ruling there was a concern that charges would be levied against any less than cooperative journalist documenting police action in the coming G8 and NATO meetings later this spring. Although charges could still arise, prosecutors will be even more likely to think twice considering both Sacks’ ruling and the pending legislation.
Does this mean you can shove a camera in a cop’s face whenever you feel like it? Of course not. But, you should be able to record the police from a safe distance, so that your recording does not interfere with their duties.
Does this mean the police will respect your recording of them? Not necessarily. In many cases arising across the country, it is the police and not the laws that are causing amateur camera people problems. When involved in a high-pressure, dangerous, and litigious job, as police officers are, video documentation isn’t always welcome.
For this reason, many people have faced unlawful arrest or seizures of their property simply because an officer was inconvenienced.
Whether you are charged with disorderly conduct for interfering with police duties or if you were wrongfully arrested, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and what can be done.