Ask A Cop: Surveillance Cameras

Have a questions for law enforcement? Get it answered here.

Is there anything you have ever wanted to know from the police department? Well, this is your chance to ask. We will be teaming up with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies from around the county to answer your questions.

Whether you have a question about certain laws and how they might affect you, your family or friends or how to stay safe in certain situations, we want you to ask them. Every week we will run one question and answer. To submit a question, email jennifer.squires@patch.com.


I have installed surveillance cameras around my property and now my neighbors would like to do the same thing. Are there any laws or restrictions we need to go by?


There are no laws or, or restrictions, for a private person to have video surveillance cameras around their property for the purposes of security.  However, there are laws, and constitutional rights, regarding privacy. 

The California Constitution contains a guarantee of privacy. For this right to be violated, video surveillance must fulfill three criteria:

  1. It constitutes an intrusion
  2. It intrudes in a location or context where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy
  3. It outweighs other interests by the gravity of the alleged violation

Most “eavesdropping” laws (California Penal Code sections 631, 632) expressly prohibit the unauthorized installation or use of cameras in private places. Installation or use of any device for photographing, observing or overhearing events, or sounds, in a private place without permission of the people photographed or observed is against the law. A private place is one where a person may reasonably expect to be safe from unauthorized surveillance. Such as locker rooms, restrooms, changing/dressing rooms, bedrooms, and other areas where a person should expect a high level of personal privacy. A private place could also be considered a backyard, or a window into a residence. 

If your cameras are located on your property in plain view, are not in a private place, and do not violate any state or federal laws, it would appear they would be lawful. 

—Michelle Burhans, Sheriff's Deputy

Brian November 14, 2012 at 11:06 PM
If the police are getting access to the picasso system, why wont google make it available for private citizens to search there data? Also if the police are getting access to picasso to solve crimes, why arent more crimes being solved?
Alisha Angeleno December 14, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I have a question that I would like to see addressed in a future "Ask a Cop" column. If I witness a police officer engaging in dangerous illegal activity, am I allowed to make a "citizen's arrest"? If so, how would I go about doing such a thing? Is this really possible? It is my understanding that any citizen who witnesses a felony can make a citizen's arrest, and that police officers are not immune from having to obey the law. What sort of power does the average citizen have when a police officer is witnessed breaking the law? While Santa Cruz is a shinning exception, it is well-known, for example, that many police officers in Southern California have broken state law by arresting medical marijuana suppliers. California state police are bound by state law to follow the California Constitution, and are not Federal agents. The California Constitution states that when state and federal law contradict one another, agents of the state are to abide by state law, not federal law. How does one force the police to obey the law?
Brad Kava December 15, 2012 at 02:14 AM
I will ask it. thanks


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