5.160 - Observation of Officers

Effective Date: 05/07/2019


It is the policy of the Seattle Police Department that a person not involved in an incident may remain in the vicinity of any stop, detention, arrest, or other incident occurring in a public place, and observe or record activity and express themselves, including making comments critical of an officer’s actions, so long as the person’s conduct and presence are otherwise lawful.

Officers should assume that a member of the general public is observing, and possibly recording, their activities at all times.

1. Officer Safety, the Protection of the Suspect or Person Being Detained, Including His or Her Right to Privacy, and the Safety of Onlookers are the Most Important Factors

2. People Have the Right to Record Police Officer Enforcement Activities

Exception: The person’s conduct and presence must not:

- hinder, delay, or compromise legitimate police actions or rescue efforts;

- threaten the safety of the officers or members of the public; or

- attempt to incite others to violence

These conditions on the conduct do not prohibit conduct that creates a slight inconvenience for an officer, such as minor delay caused by escorting the person to a nearby location. 

3. People, Regardless of Their Intent to Video and/or Audio-Record an Activity, May Not Enter any Established Marked and Protected Crime Scene or a Restricted Area That Would Normally Be Unavailable to the General Public

Officers and follow-up investigators will determine who enters or leaves a secure scene.

In public areas, there is no distinction between people employed by news media organizations and those who are not. The existence of “press credentials” extends no special privileges to any person, nor does the absence of such credentials limit a person’s free access to record law enforcement activities while in public, under most circumstances.

4. Officers May Contact People to Obtain Evidence

When officers seek recorded media from a member of the public, they shall first request voluntary surrender of the media. Officers shall document this request and the person’s response in the Report. If the person surrenders the media, officers shall provide a Report Number and the requesting officer’s name.

If officers do not have sufficient authority to seize the media but think it may be of value to a criminal investigation, they shall advise people that a court order will be sought for the media since it may be evidence of a crime.