Jumaane D. Williams and Helen Rosenthal introduce “Right to Record Act” expanding New Yorkers’ Constitutional Right to Film Police

On July 14, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Contracts, held a press conference to announce the introduction of the “Right to Record Act” (Int. 1235-2016). They were joined by Council Members Inez Barron, Ydanis Rodriguez, Rosie Mendez, Rafael Espinal, Carlos Menchaca and Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte. They were also joined by advocates from the New York Civil Liberties Union, Cop Watch, Citizens Action, Girl Be Heard, Communities United for Police Reform, Vocal New York, the Legal Aid Society, and Malcolm X Grassroots.

The Right to Record Act will prohibit police officers from interfering with, or intimidating individuals from recording their activities, and establishes a cause of action for violating the Act.

The bill expands on New Yorkers’ rights by creating a specific, local Cause of Action (private lawsuit) that will allow aggrieved individuals to argue their case not just on the basis of the First Amendment, but also on the basis of a codified statute. The bill also establishes a new reporting requirement.

Under the legislation, the New York Police Department will be required to submit to the Mayor and City Council, a report that includes data on number of arrests, criminal and civil summons issued, categorized by:
Precinct where the action occurred
Offense charged
Race, ethnicity, gender and age of the person arrested or summonsed

“This is an interesting time in the country. This bill is not anti-police, this bill is about wanting police to be better at their jobs. I appreciate the risks they take every day on the job,” said Council Member Williams. “The Right to Record Act is a response to several instances where people, who were recording police activity — which is their constitutional right — were either arrested on trumped up charges, detained, or had their property damaged for exercising their constitutional right.”

“We are at a seminal moment in history–our country is reeling from last week’s loss of seven people– needlessly shot and killed. Having footage of these events– taken with cell phones, iPads, and other new technology– allows us to better understand the nuances of each situation. We no longer have to rely on someone’s memory of an incident; technology allows us to know exactly what has happened (or, is happening). This bill reaffirms the right to record police activity and to sue the City if that right were breached. I want to thank Council Member Jumaane D. Williams for leading this effort to reform our law enforcement and make our City safer for everyone. Knowledge is power and is the first step in reform,” said Council Member Rosenthal.

Taking photographs and videos, or other recordings, of activity that is plainly visible from public spaces is a protected constitutional right. However, there are documented cases where law enforcement officers order people to stop recording their activities, and in many cases harass, and arrest those who record their actions.