With how common smartphones are these days, many people film encounters with police officers as evidence in case things go wrong. In stories that make the news, occasionally police dashcam videos show police officers erasing cellphone or dashcam videos captured by citizens, or in some cases destroying the devices themselves.

Is it illegal specifically for police officers to delete or destroy video evidence of their own encounters, captured by citizens?

Note: Because I'm sure this varies greatly from state to state, I'm asking in particular about New York and California, and the United States as a whole in case any federal law applies

  • 2
    I.e. are you asking if tampering with evidence is illegal?
    – user6726
    Mar 21, 2017 at 5:16
  • 1
    @user6726 Tampering with evidence is obviously illegal, but in theory and in practice is the act of police officers deleting or otherwise destroying video footage of a police encounter considered illegal? For example, is this footage even considered evidence? Mar 21, 2017 at 5:51

1 Answer 1


Footage of an arrest is clearly evidence: tampering with it is a crime.

Notwithstanding, destroying someone's personal possessions without authorisation is a crime. Accessing a computer (which all modern image and audio recorders are) without authorisation is also a crime.

  • 2
    I think you need a bit of clarity as I am currently accessing a computer and am confident I am not committing a crime.
    – Pete B.
    Mar 21, 2017 at 17:35
  • I'm thinking that he meant accessing a device without the owners authorization is a crime. Likely a federal crime too, which I doubt even a police officer investigating a crime can legally do without a warrant.
    – mark b
    Mar 21, 2017 at 19:04

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