“Ask The Chief” allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

Submit your question to askthe.policechief@ci.red-wing.mn.us.

Q: In today’s world, you see on Facebook or YouTube people filming in public/public spaces/public officials (police in general). What are the rights/laws for doing this? What can a citizen do or can’t do? What can a law enforcement officer expect or do when be filmed?

A: Thank you for your question, it is fairly well defined by the courts that taking pictures and filming in public is often allowed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some refer to this as a “First Amendment Audit,” which involves an individual recording a public area of a government building or law enforcement conduct.

The apparent motive behind these citizen audits is to ascertain whether the government entity’s response and subsequent conduct is consistent with the individual’s rights under the First Amendment. In general, this type of filming is permitted; however, if the police are dealing with a call for service, recording the victim statement to police may violate certain laws and victim rights.

Minnesota statute also covers when there may be an expectation of privacy, just capturing video or taking pictures in a public space is more acceptable than when audio is also collected. Minnesota Statute 609.749, Harassment, Stalking, Penalties, covers activity that would cause the victim (citizen) under the circumstances to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated. Therefore, determining other citizens present and the activity in the public area could be a factor in the legality of the recording.

In general, the basic answer to your question is that filming public officials and police in a public space is an acceptable practice. However, based on the situation or event, I would encourage you to talk with a private attorney to ensure the activity or situation that you wish to record is acceptable, especially if you plan to capture audio

References and resources

1. Minnesota Statute 609.749, Harassment; Stalking; Penalties, located online at: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/609.749

2. Minnesota Statute 609.746 Interference with Privacy, located online at: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/609.746

3. https://www.cirsa.org/news/first-amendment-audits-coming-to-your-town/

4. Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust, https://www.mcit.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/first_amendment_audit_v2_08-23-2018.html