CAN YOU FILM POLICE UK: This page explains your rights for filming the police during a stop and search.
The police have no power to stop you filming or photographing officers on duty. Recording film footage on a police incident, or taking photographs of their actions, is not illegal.
But, you must follow some basic guidelines if you choose to film police officers or law enforcement personnel.
Ofcom statistics show 71% of adults own and use a smartphone in the United Kingdom.
That means the majority of the public have a camera on their mobile phone. So more people are filming on duty police officers during a stop and search procedure.
The information in this guide highlights how your film footage can make a difference in law. It also points out the value of using genuine film footage as potential evidence.
5 Reasons for Filming Police On Duty
- The police often behave differently when ordinary people stop to film and record their actions.
- Filming on duty police officers during a stop and search can make the experience less intimidating or less threatening.
- The police will expect regular filming more often if duty police officers get filmed when they stop people.
- Filming police on duty can show whether police stop and search powers get used indiscriminately.
- Genuine film footage can help provide valuable evidence if someone gets arrested or there is a formal complaint.
Is Filming the Police Illegal UK?
Any member of the public can film a police officer on the streets without asking permission. There is no UK law stopping anyone filming activities in a public place.
All police forces in Great Britain adopt the Metropolitan Police guidelines on photography. Their official advice clarifies the point.
“The police have no power to stop you filming or photographing incidents or police personnel”.
Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000
The law states that police officers can stop you filming them if they believe the video will get used for purposes of terrorism.
A simplified definition of terrorism is ‘a coerced unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property’.
But, police guidelines state that using this law too often could be unlawful. For Example: If Section 58A got used to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities.
Note: This does not apply when you stop to film the police stopping and searching people.
Important Points about Filming Police Officers
It can often be a humiliating experience any time you are dealing with a police encounter. This is especially so if you are the victim of a police stop and search operation.
If you plan to film the person who got stopped it is pertinent to ask them to agree to you recording the incident. You can assure them that you are only filming the actions of the police.
The police may ask you to stop filming saying that it ‘breaches the privacy‘ of the individual who is getting searched and questioned.
That is another reason to ask “I am here to ensure the police do not do anything to you that they are not supposed to do. Do you approve that I can record what the police officers are doing to you?”
It is always better if more than one person is filming the police officers on duty. You can choose between videoing the officers conducting the stop and search or having the other person film the cameraman.
Avoid Being Arrested While You Film the Police
Police officers never want incriminating footage of them if they make an unlawful act. In some cases it could leave you as a target. So you should be mindful of this when you are recording police officers on duty in case they try to arrest you.
- Try to remain calm and focus on recording what you see. Avoid getting involved in the actual situation that you are filming.
- What should you do if officers say you are obstructing them in their policing duties? In this case step back from the area but you may continue filming. Remember the police have no legal powers to stop you filming incidents in public areas.
- Your priority is collecting evidence about the actions of the officers. Be sure to record any examples of police abuse, orders, or threats. Keep the camera rolling and focused on the police even if nothing interesting is happening.
- All police officers should wear numbers to help identify them. The number is usually on the shoulder of their uniform. Always try to get the officers’ numbers on the recording. Read out their numbers on camera if you cannot get their specific identity in the video recording.
- As a rule it is best not to film the face or identifiable clothing of the person who got stopped and searched. An exception could be if you need to show abuse or maltreatment. The reason is you could inadvertently become a police evidence-gatherer. Also, the victim may not appreciate getting identified on YouTube undergoing a police stop and search procedure.
- Avoid uploading anything that the police force could use against the person getting searched. An example would be if the victim uses abusive language or swear words.
- Always try to film a recognisable landmark of sorts. Examples would be street signs or major buildings. You can get them on film after the incident has finished but it is best recorded before you turn off the camera. That method prevents the police from stating that your recording is a different event.
How to Use Phone Cameras for Filming Police
Try these simple tips when you use a phone camera for filming police officers on duty. You will capture better video footage if you:
- Keep the camera as still as possible. Avoid moving it around too often because you want to get a clear and steady shot of important events.
- You can try focusing your eye on an object in the top corner of the screen. That may help if you have difficulty keeping the camera still.
- The best filming of police officers on duty is usually done without zooming in and out too many times.
- Make sure you zoom out after you film something important (like a PC name badge). Try to get a landmark close to the incident in frame to help prove exactly where it took place.
Finished Filming On Duty Officers: What Next?
What steps should you take after you finish filming on duty police officers? First you must keep all footage safe and get it backed up as soon as possible.
It is also a good idea to swap details with the person getting the stop and search treatment (if they get released). That means you can then forward film footage to them in case they need it later.
The Network for Police Monitoring
Netpol seeks to monitor protest, public order and community policing. Especially if it is excessive, discriminatory or threatens the civil rights of the public. You can let them know if you are uploading your police video to YouTube or Vimeo. Mail: