Federal Court Order: Atlanta residents have the right to video police

Atlanta police officers are prohibited from interfering with your right to photograph or video them, and the department is supposed to fire officers who do.

Under federal court orders in Calhoun v. Pennington and Anderson v. City of Atlanta, two cases I litigated with fellow Atlanta attorneys, Atlanta police officers are prohibited from interfering with the public’s right to photograph or video police activity, and the penalty for interfering with photography or video is dimsissal.

Anderson concerned a woman who was arrested, and had her cell-phone confiscated and her photos deleted, after photographing Atlanta police officers beating a handcuffed suspect. Calhoun concerned an unlawful police raid on a gay bar, during which Atlanta police officers prevented the victims from recording the actions of the police.

As part of the resolution of these cases the Atlanta Police Department was ordered to implement the following Standard Operating Procedures:

1. All employees shall be prohibited from interfering with a citizen’s right to record police activity by photographic, video, or audio means. This prohibition is in effect only as long as the recording by the citizen does not physically interfere with the performance of an officer’s duties.

2. Employees shall not intentionally delete or destroy the original or sole copy any photograph, audio, or video recording of police activity created by a member of the public.

3. Employees shall not intentionally delete or destroy the original or sole copy of any photograph, audio, or video recording relating to any use of force described under the “Reporting Requirements” section of APD SOP 3010 (“Use of Force”)

The Anderson order also required the Atlanta Police Department to amend its disciplinary regulations to make violation of these prohibitions an offense requiring dismissal of the officer.

Section 4.3.5(3) shall be revised to designate violation of the above-referenced rule regarding “Interference with Citizen’s Right to Record” as a Category D (Dismissal) offense.

Anderson v. City of Atlanta (1:11-CV-03398-SCJ, N.D. Ga.); APD.SOP.2011, Section 4.4.1 (“Interference with Citizen’s Right to Record”); APD.SOP.2020, Section 4.3.5(3) (“Disciplinary Process”).

It is important to remember that one may not physically obstruct or hinder a police officer in the process of recording him; the officer has a right and duty to do his job without interference, but as long as you are not physically interfering with the officer, an Atlanta police officer may not interfere with your right to record him in public.

We are proud that Atlanta residents have these additional protections regarding this important right. If anyone feels his or her right to record police has been restricted in any way, or if you would like a copy of the federal court orders in either of these cases, please email me at [email protected].

The suppression of First Amendment activity by police officers during the events in Ferguson, Missouri brought increased public attention to the question of recording the police and many national publications have been reminding Americans of their right to record police officers in public. The following articles provide additional information on this important topic:

I have also been involved in other cases involving the right to video or photograph police, including the case discussed in these news reports: