Illinois Makes it a Felony to Record Police

Despite the state supreme court, it is now a felony to record police.

How many times has a citizen’s recording of his encounter with a police officer (or even the cop’s own dashcam video) helped to corroborate the civilian’s story and exonerate him? Many times, if it hadn’t been for someone’s video footage of the confrontation, the civilian would be locked up for years, all because of what was written in the police report.

Cops hate being recorded, especially by a “civilian.” While there are some people who record police just to provoke them so they can have a shocking video to post on the internet, I would say that’s not the norm. Most people record police when they’re confronted by one in order to protect themselves. If the police officer sees that he’s being recorded, perhaps that will encourage him to behave himself.

Of course, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes, it makes them belligerent, in which case it’s vital to have that footage as evidence.

In Illinois, they just made it a Class 3 felony to record a police officer, or any of several other government agents. The Free Thought Project reported:

According to IllinoisPolicy.org, the bill discourages people from recording conversations with police by making unlawfully recording a conversation with police – or an attorney general, assistant attorney general, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney or judge – a class 3 felony, which carries a sentence of two to four years in prison. Meanwhile, the bill makes illegal recording of a private citizen a class 4 felony, which carries a lower sentencing range of one to three years in prison.

There’s only one apparent reason for imposing a higher penalty on people who record police in particular: to make people especially afraid to record police. That is not a legitimate purpose. And recent history suggests it’s important that people not be afraid to record police wherever they perform their duties so that officers will be more likely to respect citizens’ rights, and officers who do respect citizens’ rights will be able to prove it.

Below is some of the vague wording from this legislation:

“(a) Eavesdropping, for a first offense, is a Class 4 felony (from Ch. 38, par. 14-4) and, for a second or subsequent offense, is a Class 3 felony.

(b) The eavesdropping of an oral conversation or an electronic communication of any
law enforcement officer, State’s Attorney, Assistant State’s Attorney, the Attorney General, Assistant Attorney General, or a judge, while in the performance of his or her official duties, if not authorized by this Article or proper court order, is a Class 3 felony, and for a second or subsequent offenses, is a Class 2 felony.”

The wording in this bill is also written in such a way that it could stifle the recent police accountability measures of body cameras. Police may argue that using body cameras to record encounters with citizens outside of “public” places would violate the law, as citizens have not consented to being recorded.

When cops object to being recorded, I’d ask them the same question they always ask civilians:  “Are you trying to hide something? If you haven’t done anything wrong, then you should have nothing to hide.” Do theses cops have something to hide? Being recorded is pretty innocuous. It’s not like a camera is a dangerous weapon or anything. But it seems the police in Illinois would rather deal with a civilian wielding a gun rather than a camera.