It seems like every day or two we hear a story about a photographer getting hassled for taking photos in a totally legal way. Now, a new directive has been issued to the police force of Washington DC, and it clearly outlines that people have the right to record the police.
The directive is available online here, and Chief of Police Cathy Lanier has explained that yes, it's totally legal to record them, and that they can't tell you to erase the footage.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.
It also clarifies that photography of buildings and events is completely legal; bystanders have the same right to records as media; the police can't order you to stop, detain you, demand an explanation, or threaten you; and "members shall not, under any circumstances, erase or delete, or instruct or require any other person to erase or delete, any recorded images or sounds from any camera or other recording device."
All things told, it's great to see a sane guideline come out of a major police force, though it's a bit sad that something that seems so obvious and common sense need to be enshrined like this.