Can I record the police in Oregon?

With the widespread use of cell phones and digital cameras, many people want to know, “Can I record the police in Oregon?” Generally, the answer is “yes,” but there are some considerations if you intend to record police officers.

Recording the police in Oregon

Can I video-record a police officers?

Yes. Oregon law does not prohibit the video recording of anyone on public property if they do not have a reasonable expectation of personal privacy. There are exceptions that prohibit recording of nudity and sexual activity (see ORS 163.701 “Invasion of personal privacy in the first degree” and ORS 163.700 “Invasion of personal privacy in the second degree”).

Can I audio-record police officers?

Yes, but Oregon law generally requires that persons being audio-recorded be notified. They do not need to consent. See ORS 165.540 “Obtaining contents of communications.” Police officers (aka “law enforcement officers”) do not need to be notified if the recording is made while the officer is performing official duties, the recording is made openly and in plain view of the participants in the conversation, the conversation being recorded is audible to the person by normal unaided hearing, and the person is in a place where the person lawfully may be. But keep in mind that this exception applies to recording law enforcement officers only, and may not apply if the law enforcement officer is having a conversation with or speaking with a third-party that is not a law enforcement officer. Best practice is to notify everyone; consent is not required.

Can I record the police officer when pulled over for a traffic stop?

Yes, but you must notify them if you intend to audio-record. Also, see the other considerations below.

Can I record the police officer during protests?

Yes, and you should. See ORS 165.540(5)(b) subparagraphs (A) through (D) and also the considerations below.

Can I record the police officer during other encounters?

Yes, but you may also choose to simply walk away. Law enforcement can only detain you if you are suspected of committing a violation of law or a crime. If for some reason you choose to converse with the officer rather than leave the scene, you should notify the officer in conformance with ORS 165.540(5)(b) if you begin audio-recording. Also, see the other considerations below.


Recording the police in Oregon

Other Considerations when Recording the Police in Oregon

As a citizen of the United States and Oregon, you have constitutional and statutory rights to take photographs, video-record, and audio-record anything in public (except as provided in ORS 163.701, ORS 163.700, and ORS 165.540). However, this does not necessarily mean it’s always advisable to do so. In some situations, recording the police will cause them to become angry and could subject you to their harassment (even if it’s unlawful harassment). Consider the following if and when you decide to record the police:

  • Stay cool and calm. Do not use the recording device or the actual act of recording to be provocative or to escalate any perceived tension at the scene.
  • Expect to be challenged by the police officer you’re recording. Many officers specifically entered law enforcement because they enjoy controlling other people or being in control of situations. They don’t like to be challenged or to have anyone question their authority. Your documentation of their words and actions will likely be perceived as a challenge to their authority. In Oregon, be aware of ORS 162.235 “Obstructing governmental or judicial administration” and ORS 162.247 “Interfering with a peace officer or parole and probation officer.”  It’s not enough to merely stay a safe distance from the officer with your recording equipment. You also need to make sure that you cannot give the officer any reason to falsely claim anything you were doing could have affected the officer’s ability to do their job (e.g. don’t be loud, don’t taunt, don’t make suggestive or furtive movements, don’t encourage anyone else to resist or fail to unlawfully fail to cooperate with a lawful order of the police, etc).
  • Know your equipment. Know what device you’ll be using– and how to use it– well-before you attempt to use it. If you’re going to use a simple cell phone, you may not need to practice using the record function. If you are using a dedicated voice recorder, field recorder, or video camera, consider that the first time you use it will be much more difficult if you are nervous, in a hurry to get recording, your fingers are trembling or your hands are shaky, if it’s dark, and if an officer is barking at you not wanting to wait for you to get your equipment working.
  • Watch your hands and the speed of your movements. If you place your hands in your pockets or purse in order to obtain a recording device, an officer could form the opinion that you are reaching for a weapon. In the most extreme situation, this will get you killed by an impulsive officer. There are many unarmed people shot and killed each year by police officers. If you need to obtain a recording device, move slowly and let the officer know you are reaching for a recording device. If the officer orders you to keep your hands away from something or up in the air, you may want to refrain from reaching for or using the device.
  • Consider using a device other than your cell phone. If you obtain audio, photos, or video which document a crime or dispute, an overzealous officer could seize your phone as evidence. Later, the officer might apply for a search warrant, invade your privacy, and look through the phone. Also consider that an officer who does not want to be recorded– to have something the officer did documented– may tamper with your phone and later damage or delete the very evidence you intended to document and preserve. Therefore, you might want to consider using an online service to livestream or otherwise record into the cloud so that the officer cannot use intimidation (the threat of physically confiscating your personal phone) or actual destruction (tampering with evidence of police misconduct) to dissuade you from objectively documenting the scene.
  • Maintain your rights. If you are asked why you are recording, do not get drawn into a debate with an officer who seeks to be confrontational. Simply tell them that you want to objectively document the situation, and if they believe you’ve broken any laws or will be breaking any laws by continuing to record, they should note any concerns on the recording. If the officer attempts to bully you, ask if you’re being detained. Ask if you are suspected of committing any violations or crimes. If not, you are free to go. You are also free to continue recording.
  • Respect private property rights. If you’re on private property and you insist on recording over the objection of the property owner, lessor, or renter, you can be trespassed off the premises. Leave calmly and peacefully, and find another place to record, if necessary.
  • If you’re going to document, document accurately. There is the possibility that– however slight– you could face civil or criminal liability by recording an event, and then later editing, altering, or deleting the record when you know an official proceeding is taking place. This is a complex issue which would best be discussed with an attorney, but to understand at least the concept, review ORS 162.295 “Tampering with physical evidence.”
  • Have legal counsel. You should be very cautious in relying upon legal advice from random people or by things you’ve read on the internet (including but not limited to this blog post). If you know you’ll likely be recording a police officer (perhaps because you are frequently and unfairly targeted as part of a racial or ethnic minority, or someone with a past criminal history) or if you know you’ll likely be recording a group of police officers (perhaps as part of a protest), speak with an attorney first. Understand your your rights and options. A little bit of planning as to how to best go about documenting any encounters may go a long way towards not only obtaining the best record, but also avoiding legal problems.

For more information on the laws concerning recording the police in Oregon, please see our dedicated page here.

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