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Recording Police Officers Is Allowed, With Some Limits

Posted on in Criminal Law
Recording Police Officers Is Allowed, With Some LimitsVideo recordings of arrests can shed light on instances of police misconduct. A recording may show that the police officer’s account of the arrest was inaccurate or that the officer was overly aggressive with the suspect. The evidence may be enough to dismiss or reduce criminal charges. Police officers sometimes wear body cameras or have dashboard cameras in their vehicles. However, prosecutors will try to suppress video evidence that may hurt their argument. The defense can petition to obtain the video or present its own recording from the defendant or a third party. Illinois allows the public to record interactions with police officers, though there are circumstances in which it may be illegal.

Eavesdropping Law

Before a 2014 Illinois Supreme Court ruling, it was illegal to record a police officer during an arrest without his or her consent. After the law was deemed unconstitutional, Illinois lawmakers amended the section of the criminal code regarding eavesdropping. From the public's perspective, the changes improved the eavesdropping law in a couple of ways:

  • In most circumstances, members of the public do not need the consent of police officers in order to legally record them interacting with the public; and
  • The penalty for a first-time offense of eavesdropping on a police officer was reduced from a class 2 felony to a class 3 felony.


There are two conditions in which prosecutors may criminally charge a member of the public for recording a police officer:

  • When the recording was made surreptitiously; or
  • When the police officer had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A surreptitious recording means that the defendant secretly recorded the police officer. This creates a distinction between openly recording an officer without his or her consent and hiding the recording equipment in order to catch the officer off guard. A reasonable expectation of privacy is trickier to define because police officers are public servants when they are on the job. It may include recording police officers when they are having private conversations with each other.

Recording a Police Officer

Despite the change in the law, police officers may still threaten to arrest people who are legally recording their actions. To make sure you behave legally while recording:

  • Do not attempt to hide the fact that you are recording;
  • If confronted, calmly tell the police officer that you are not breaking the law; and
  • Do not obstruct the officer’s ability to do his or her job.

If police still arrest you for recording them, there will likely be no criminal charges as long as you did nothing else to disobey or disrupt them.

Video Evidence

If you or someone you know recorded your arrest, it is important that your lawyer gets a chance to see the recording. A DuPage County criminal defense attorney with Stephen A. Brundage, Attorney at Law, can determine whether the recording will help your case. Schedule an appointment by calling 630-260-9647.


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