MTYT: Should it be legal to videotape law enforcement?

By Gary McNair - bio|email

Chances are you've heard of Rodney King.  But have you heard of George Holliday?

Mr. Holliday was the man who videoed the beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles police officers in 1991.  While he's not a household name, his video is among the most important images captured in our nation's history.  It helped push forward the effort for civil rights in this country.

But here's a new twist to consider.  Currently, Anthony Graber faces prison time in Maryland for videotaping his encounter with police and putting it on the internet.  Across the country some prosecutors claim videotaping officers in action violates wiretap laws.  Maryland is one of 12 states where all parties have to consent before being recorded.  North Carolina is a one party consent state, but it is still illegal to eavesdrop.

We've had instances in our region where police have claimed it's illegal to tape them in action – one was caught on video in Wrightsville Beach this year where officers threatened to arrest Stephen Stearns as he recorded a police arrest.

Attorney General Roy Cooper won't say whether it is legal or not to video officers in public places.  But I believe Cooper needs to make a statement.  And this is what that statement should be: Videotaping needs to remain legal in North Carolina -- for Stephen Stearns, for George Holliday and for the media.  It should apply to everyone who wants to help make sure that scrutiny of public work remains available to the public.

That's my turn.  Now it's time for your turn.  To comment on this segment, or anything else, email me at

Emailed comments from viewers:

Great piece on my turn/your turn!  I had no idea Maryland laws were different from NC laws.  It should be legal nationally for the media or people to video officers or anyone else in public.   With the evolution of smart phones, how can they even "police" it?


Yes ,  I beleave it will help keep the bad cops under control better .  Also , If the cops can use the wire taping excuse . How long befor the same excuse could be use aginst cams at stores ??  Or even the traffic  cams that Wilmington has ? Seems to me that Law enforcement would be opening up a big can of worms .


Let me get this straight.  Taxpayers pay for police "protection".  Their salaries, their benefits, their retirement.  And we, who pay for all this, are not allowed to film them in action?  Have these people carved out a special section of public service that is immune to common sense?  Can we vote them all out if we don't like them?  Or would I be arrested for voting against them?


Yes I agree that video taping should be legal.They are public servants and we pay their checks,we should be able to keep tabs on our money with no restrictions. Also there has been a lot of bad cops and the public needs to know. I know of a video that saved a girl from being locked up and now a lawsuit is pending because of their own video. If they can video, then the public should be allowed to do so  also .


If you are not doing anyhting wrong, why worry ! If we become a consent state, can the police continue to record a citizen without their permission

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