7 Rules for Recording Police

Courts are expanding rights but cops are cracking down. Find out how to keep your footage, and yourself, out of trouble.

(Page 3 of 7)


Rule #3: Respond to “Shit Cops Say” 

When it comes to police encounters, you don’t get to choose whom you’re dealing with. You might get Officer Friendly, or you might get Officer Psycho. You’ll likely get officers between these extremes. But when you “watch the watchmen,” you must be ready to think on your feet.

In most circumstances, officers will not immediately bull rush you for filming them. But if they aren’t properly trained, they might feel like their authority is being challenged. And all too often police are simply ignorant of the law. Part of your task will be to convince them that you’re not a threat while also standing your ground.

“What are you doing?”

Police aren’t celebrities, so they’re not always used to being photographed in public. So even if you’re recording at a safe distance, they might approach and ask what you are doing. Avoid saying things like “I’m recording you to make sure you’re doing your job right” or “I don’t trust you.”

Instead, say something like “Officer, I’m not interfering. I’m asserting my First Amendment rights. You’re being documented and recorded offsite.”

Saying this while remaining calm and cool will likely put police on their best behavior. They might follow up by asking, “Who do you work for?” You may, for example, tell them you’re an independent filmmaker or a citizen journalist with a popular website/blog/YouTube show. Whatever you say, don’t lie—but don’t let police trick you into thinking that the First Amendment only applies to mainstream media journalists. It doesn’t.

“Let me see your ID.”

In the United States there’s no law requiring you to carry a government ID. But in 24 states police may require you to identify yourself if they have reasonable suspicion that you’re involved in criminal activity.

But how can you tell if an officer asking for ID has reasonable suspicion? Police need reasonable suspicion to detain you, so one way to tell if they have reasonable suspicion is to determine if you're free to go. You can do this by saying “Officer, are you detaining me, or am I free to go?”

If the officer says you’re free to go or you’re not being detained, it’s your choice whether to stay or go. But if you're detained, you might say something like, “I’m not required to show you ID, but my name is [your full name].” It’s up to you if you want to provide your address and date of birth if asked for it, but I’d stop short of giving them your Social Security number.

“Please stop recording me. It’s against the law.”

Rarely is it advisable to educate officers about the law. But in a tense recording situation where the law is clearly on your side, it might help your case to politely present your knowledge of state law.

For example, if an insecure cop tries to tell you that you’re violating his civil liberties, you might respond by saying “Officer, with all due respect, state law only requires permission from one party in a conversation. I don’t need your permission to record so long as I’m not interfering with your work.”

If you live in one of the 12 all party record states, you might say something like “Officer, I’m familiar with the law, but the courts have ruled that it doesn’t apply to recording on-duty police.”

If protective service officers harass you while filming on federal property, you may remind them of a recently issued directive informing them that there’s no prohibition against public photography at federal buildings.

“Stand back.”

If you’re approaching the scene of an investigation or an accident, police will likely order you to move back. Depending on the circumstances, you might become involved in an intense negotiation to determine the “appropriate” distance you need to stand back to avoid “interfering” with their work.

If you feel you’re already standing at a reasonable distance, you may say something like, “Officer, I have a right to be here. I’m filming for documentation purposes and not interfering with your work.” It’s then up to you to decide how far back you’re willing to stand to avoid arrest.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Good article. But I wouldn't trust my Droid X to actually save the video I've taken to save my life. The cops could get away with murder if it was up to me and my Motorola to record the evidence.

  • ||

    That's what you get for buying a Motorola. You'll probably get a DROID RAZR next. Dope.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I like my RAZR.

    (sulks in the corner)

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    WRONG. I will be buried with this phone, because I currently have an unlimited data plan, which is no longer an option. So were I to upgrade, I would have to go to some tiered bullshit like you have and I won't do that. I won't live like a commoner.

  • ||

    I am on an unlimited data plan, and upgrades of the phone don't affect the plan. At least on Verizon they don't.

    IN YOUR FACE

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, I simply cannot wait until the next time you go to the Verizon store to upgrade your phone. I plan to be there to watch this mythical event where you think you can hold on to your unlimited plan.

  • Lord Humungus||

    some of my co-workers have unlimited data plans and continue to upgrade their hardware without any issues.

    me? I'm cheap SOB and use the bottom of the barrel 200mb plan. I just mooch off of the wi-fi here at work and abroad.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    YOU WORK WITH UNICORNS. I will not back down from my assertion.

    Although I suppose if I upgrade my phone without getting their discount which requires a new plan, I suppose technically I'M STILL RIGHT AND YOU'RE ALL STILL WRONG.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    My wife and I both upgraded from an HTC Droid to an iPhone 4, through the Verizon store last month. We kept the same unlimited plan at the same price we've had since 2005.

    I liked the HTC alot, but I must say the iPhone is fucking awesome. I'm hooked.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Been there, done that

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I'm on AT&T with a discontinued unlimited plan and I've upgraded a number of times.

  • some guy||

    I'm on Verizon too. Just got a Droid X2 2 months ago through amazon and kept my Unlimited Plan. So.. I'm going to second Epi's IN YOUR FACE!

  • Arf?||

    Unlimited plans are neither unlimited nor plans. Discuss.

  • sloopyinca||

    This is actually true when it comes to Cricket or some of the other non-big3 carriers.

    I have unlimited data, talk, text to anywhere in the USA, very few dead areas at half the cost of sprint, verizon or AT&T. And no contract, so if they piss me off, I can walk...and the threat usually gets them to bend over backward.

    Yes, I have to buy my equipment, but I have it, unlocked, so I can take it to another carrier any time I feel like it.

    BTW, the blog is back in action, and wedding pix are up for your mocking pleasure.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What happens in Vegas...

  • edcoast||

    For some reason, you look exactly like I thought you would.

  • JW||

    I've got my Windows Phone set to automatically upload all pictures and videos to my Skydrive account. It's worked pretty well so far.

    My use of T-Nowhere makes this transaction a bit iffy, but I do know that if I ever find myself in this situation, the cops can delete all they want. In fact, I would probably encourage them, just for the lulz.

    I just hope I don't end up giggling like Vizzini at the Iocane battle of wits.

  • ||

    +1 for the Princess Bride reference.

  • Bruce Majors||

    Check out this video on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....ata_player

    I just had an encounter

  • R C Dean||

    Its not just, or even, IMO, primarily, a First Amendment right.

    Its a due process right. Any law that prohibits or criminalizes the collection and preservation of evidence for the defense has a fatal due process problem, IMO.

  • Suki||

    Beautiful point.

  • ||

    Its not just, or even, IMO, primarily, a First Amendment right.

    I hear what you're saying, but it needs more commas.

  • John||

    RC your comma use is almost as bad as my spelling.

    I understand your point but it is not really a due process issue. Due process involves the government and you, not third parties. I could definitely see where my recording my own arrest creates due process issues. But I don't see how that extends to third parties.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    I'm thinking it can be a due process issue for the third party being arrested. It's a case of a government official denying the collection of and use of potentially exculpatory evidence.

  • R C Dean||

    Due process involves the government and you, not third parties.

    I'm not sure how that distinction would defeat my due process challege.

    You're recording cops who are hassling/arresting you. Presumably, penalizing you for gathering evidence for your own defense, and/or destroying that evidence, would be a due process violation.

    I'm recording cops who are hassling arresting you. How is your due process not violated if the cops arrest me and/or destroy evidence for use in your defense? Its the exact same evidence, to be used in the exact same trial, so how can it be OK to criminalize gathering/preserving that evidence depending on who is gathering/preserving it?

  • John||

    They are not criminalizing the gathering of evidence. They criminalizing an activity which may involve the gathering of evidence. There may not be a crime committed. It would be one thing if there was actual evidence there and the cops destroyed it. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a blanket prohibition against an activity that may sometimes result in the collection of evidence. That is not going to get you there.

  • anon||

    Any law that prohibits or criminalizes the collection and preservation of evidence for the defense has a fatal due process problem, IMO.

    Considering the fact that everyone's now guilty until proven innocent, I concur.

  • sarcasmic||

    Considering the fact that everyone's now guilty until proven innocent, I concur.

    Oh yeah? Prove it!

  • Tim||

    RULES FOR GETTING A BEATING:

    1. For some reason you are near the police.

    2. You irritate them.

    3. Nothing else really.

  • John||

    Not irritate them but have them be in a bad mood that day.

  • o3||

    2a - you are teh black

  • Suki||

    “Stand back.”

    Handy zoom feature helps here.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Was one of the rules to pretend you were from the show "Cops"? Because that seems like it might work.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Cops" is cops recording cops. Impersonating officers is frowned upon.

  • John||

    I hadn't thought of that. Funny that cops think recording is the end of the world, yet every last one of them would gladly let the show take a ride with them.

    And don't forget that cops love to give ride alongs to reporters. Their sense of privacy seems oddly selective.

  • sarcasmic||

    When they're doing Cops or giving a ride along, they're putting on a performance. They act completely different than they would if the Cops camera or reporter wasn't there.

    So yes, they understandably think it's the end of the world when they are recorded unexpectedly, because they're being caught actually being a cop instead of pretending to be a public servant.

  • sloopyinca||

    Even money says dunphy (the real one) would vehemently disagree.
    But not a single non-cop would.

    I posted a question about how cops are treated on our blog. What are your thoughts on this?

  • sarcasmic||

    Being that I have nothing but contempt for cops, I could really care less.

  • sloopyinca||

    I'll see your contempt and raise you my hatred. Aw, fuck it. I'm all-in.

  • Tim||

    Is it time for another Stossel thread ? (Looking at watch) It's been over twenty minutes now.

  • IceTrey||

    I have a big problem with rule 3. Engaging a cop in conversation is never a good idea. Everything you say can be used against you. The only things you should ever say to a cop are "Am I being detained" and "No comment".

  • anon||

    I have a big problem with rule 3. Engaging a cop in conversation is never a good idea. Everything you say can be used against you.

    I think you're a bit foolish on this. Talking to cops can get you out of way more trouble than it will get you into; if you can make them laugh or even crack a smile you can get away with shit that you have no business getting away with.

  • sarcasmic||

    A lot of that is their predisposition.

    If they've already decided that they don't like you for some reason, like your recording them for example, then it's best to say as little as possible.

    Once they decide they don't like you they're looking for any excuse, real or imagined, to fuck up your day.

  • anon||

    If they've already decided that they don't like you for some reason, like your recording them for example, then it's best to say as little as possible.

    Yup. Which is exactly why it's a bad idea to immediately bust out a camera as soon as you're pulled for a minor traffic violation.

    I'm not saying it's bad to record them, but if I ask someone how they're doing today and they reply with "Hold on; I need to record this" they're going to receive a far worse reaction from me than if they proceed like a normal person. You're creating tension where there wasn't any to start with. Also, I imagine to a cop, being recorded would be perceived as some kind of threat.

    You're much more likely to get a good response by acting civil to start and pulling out your camera only if you really think you'll need it later.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Recording the entire interaction is best, otherwise, it can be said that you said or did something to piss off Officer Friendly prior to the cameras rolling.

    "He threatened to take my gun."
    "He took a swing at me."
    "He flashed a knife."
    "He was getting belligerent."
    *Insert convenient cop-speak here.*

  • sarcasmic||

    Do they have a reference book of lies to put onto police reports, or is it something they just gain with experience?

  • sloopyinca||

    My guess is they come up with just the right one after they proof their initial report with their commanding officer and the DA. That way, they can get the correct story to the other officers on the scene before they answer any questions to the press.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    *Insert convenient cop-speak here.*

    "He said he was fine, that he accidentally pressed his med-alert bracelet, and he didn't need any medical help."

  • IceTrey||

    Tell that to Martha Stewart.

  • :) :(||

    And Casey Anthony. Accused of murder, acquitted on that charge, yet convicted of lying to police

  • sarcasmic||

    Everything you say can be used against you.

    Even things you don't say can be used against you if you can't prove you didn't say them.

  • ||

    One wouldn't be in a police officer's presence if one weren't guilty of something.

  • o3||

    cops hear my veteran plates talking

  • WTF||

    Are those the plates in your head?

  • WWNGD?||

    Above all remember... the police are your friends and if you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.

  • WWNGD?||

    Ha! fooled you, you should just worry.

  • ||

    "Worry" is probably an understatement.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I'll probably get flamed for this, but I wonder if there aren't any number of cops who don't mind being recorded at all (a la Officer Friendly). I would think that the same processes that would damn bad cops would prove exculpatory for good cops.

  • sarcasmic||

    99% of cops give those ones you speak of a bad name.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The arresting officers at his trial claimed he refused to leave when ordered to do so. But the judge acquitted him when his confiscated video proved otherwise.

    Did those officers then get charged with perjury?

  • sarcasmic||

    One of the perks of enforcing the law is that you can break it with impunity.

  • sloopyinca||

    Did those officers then get charged with perjury?

    What are you, some kind of comedian? Or are you high on drugs?

  • hk||

    lol

  • Arf?||

    Even if they didn't, how can they keep their jobs? Every time they go to trial any defendant can point to that case. How can a cop be a credible witness when they have lied under oath?

  • James Umland||

    The state of Montana actually has a statute against what I consider an inherent right to record police officers. Wish that I had the right to record, but I don't. :(

  • Johndoeny||

    If the police were not such BULLIES and ARROGANT towards the people and realize that all people are not bad, then MAYBE they would not be videoed so much. They get videoed because nobody TRUST the police anymore in this country.

  • NC Lawyer||

    Let's not generalize that all police are abusive. Most of the policemen that I have dealt with are very professional.

  • Mongo||

    Thanks for yer input, NinCompoop Lawyer.

  • Johndoeny||

    It is not the duty of the police to protect you. Their job is to protect the Corporation and arrest code breakers.----- Sapp v. Tallahasee, 348 So. 2nd. 363,---- Reiff v. City of Philadelphia, 477 F.Supp. 1262, ---Lynch v. N.C. Dept of Justice 376 S.E. 2nd. 247.

  • WashMagic||

    Wouldn't it make sense if those smart phone apps required a pass code only to review the recording, and not to make it? That way you could whip out your phone to instantly record, but not allow anyone to see the file unless you want to.

  • joy||

    But you will not be charged for illegally recording police schoenen air max 2012

  • Bruce Majors||

    Check out this video on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....ata_player

  • LambMaritza||

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