Colorado residents have right to record police officers

Danny Bishop

Colorado citizens have the right to record police officers, and some in the Fort Collins community believe all interactions with police should be recorded.

A bill passed summer 2015 ensures Colorado residents can record police officers, as long as they are not obstructing an officer.

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“A person who lawfully records an incident involving a peace officer and has that recording destroyed by a peace officer or a peace officer seizes the recording without receiving permission from the person to seize it or without first obtaining a warrant has a private civil right of action against the peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency,” according to the bill passed in July.

Fort Collins Assistant Chief of Police Cory Christensen said officers have been trained to interact with citizens recording them for years.

“Officers have been training along these lines long before this statue, and have been training to this degree for several years,” Christensen said. “We believe in the professionalism of our officers, so it doesn’t matter if we are being recorded or not.”

Christensen said police officers will not ask citizens to stop recording, except in sensitive situations such as sexual assault, out of courtesy for those nearby. He said state law allows citizens to record police officers, but citizens still need to respect an officer’s ability to perform their duties.

“People confuse their right to record and get in the way of officers trying to perform their duties,” Christensen said. “(Officers) don’t care if you are recording, you just can’t be in the way. Obstructing police is a crime.”

Christensen said the Fouth Amendment gives officers the right to seize property, such as a recording device, under certain circumstances, but that authority is rarely used. Christensen said 50 of the 100 uniformed Fort Collins Police officers are equipped with body cameras. He said they hope to obtain 60 additional cameras in the next 18 months.

CSU Student Legal Services Staff Attorney Forrest Orswell said students should record every interaction with police officers.

“It does both sides good to record interactions,” Orswell said. “It cuts down on misinformation.”

Orswell said if an officer does ask a citizen to move due to obstructing police proceedings, the citizen still has a right to continue recording.

“You have a right to ask questions about an order as you comply, and I think you can continue recording as you comply,” Orswell said. “Always err on the side of caution and comply, but that doesn’t mean (citizens) have to stop recording.”

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Senior Civil Engineering student Chelsea Adkisson said recording interactions with police would be useful to have as a personal record of an interaction.

“I can’t see why it would be a bad idea,” Adkisson said. “It would only help both parties.”

She said she could not see herself recording an officer during an interaction.

“I doubt in the moment I would break out my phone to record,”  Adkisson said. “I’ve never had a bad interaction with the police, but people do behave better if they know they are being recorded.”

Collegian Investigative Manager Danny Bishop can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @DannyDBishop.