Hawaii lawmakers are seeking to clarify the public’s right to film or take photos of law enforcement without fear of being threatened with an arrest or their recording being destroyed. 

Rep. Roy Takumi, who introduced House Bill 1591 on Friday, said while the First Amendment allows the public to photograph and film on-duty law enforcement, that right isn’t spelled out in state law. Takumi said his bill gives the public clarification that unless they get in the way of an arrest or investigation, police are prohibited from stopping a recording. 

Honolulu Police Department patrols with unmasked person in foreground in Waikiki during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A measure pending in the House would clarify the public’s right to record police officers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“So that it’s crystal clear that people know they can record police as long as they don’t interfere,” Takumi said. 

If passed, the statute codifies that law enforcement would be in violation of a person’s civil rights if police stop, seize, destroy, search, ticket or arrest someone for recording law enforcement activity. 

It also makes clear that officers must ask the person behind the camera for permission or obtain approval from a judge if they want a copy of the recording. The measure also clears the way for citizens to sue police if they feel their rights under this new provision are violated.

“The police should know better that people have the right to record, but in the heat of the moment, people tend to behave in ways they shouldn’t,” Takumi said. “It’s a tough job being a police officer, but any of the bad actors out there, we shouldn’t tolerate that as well.”

Takumi noted that it was bystander footage that was instrumental in shedding light on the high-profile deaths of Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020. Both men died in police custody.

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