Police Abuse

Recording Police Encounters? There's An App for That.


ACLU-NJ Police Tape

There are a variety of smartphone apps that might be useful for recording police encounters. The best ones either make it difficult for police to delete recordings, or stream them to secure servers in the cloud so that they're beyond reach of even the most publicity-shy keeper of the peace. But the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey offers an app that's purpose-designed for monitoring police without them noticing, and for keeping the resulting recordings safe and delivering them, at your discretion, to the ACLU for review. From the ACLU's write-up

The iOS "Police Tape" app, which works on iPhone and iPad devices, records audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins, which prevents any attempts by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy of the audio recording on the phone, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations.

More than 35,000 people have downloaded the Police Tape app since it was released in July. The app is intended for use in New Jersey where the law allows citizens to record the actions of police officers in public, even without their knowledge.

The excerpt above refers to "audio" but the app also records video (though probably not so discreetly as it captures sound). In addition to its recording abilities, it includes an electronic copy of the ACLU's "Know Your Rights" summary of individual rights and advice on what you should and shouldn't do in various police-encounter scenarios.

While the Police Tape app is designed for New Jersey's legal environment by the ACLU-NJ, there's no reason it shouldn't be useful elsewhere, so long as you keep an eye on local recording laws — especially since it's generally wise to not advertise to police that you're recording an encounter anyway.

Download the Android version here.

Download the iPhone/iPad version here.

And don't miss Reason's advice on recording your dealings with the forces of law and order, and rules to consider for the same.

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  1. I wonder if these apps have quickstart buttons. It’s one thing to be pulled over and have some time to get the app going while the officer runs your plates, but it’s another if you’re in a sudden encounter with the police on the street and you want to start your app but not be super obvious when doing so.

    1. Open watch requires two taps – one to open the app, and one to start recording

      1. Always double-tap.

      2. What if you have to get back to the home screen from something else?

    2. We could go like Russia and have everyone driving around with a GoPro attached to their dash.

        1. I think all these videos are staged.

          What’s the first thing the driver looks at after his lucky escape? Surprise! The camera!

          Fourth Wall, people! Only Eddie Murphy is allowed to penetrate it!

        2. I saw that one yesterday. There are actually a couple of hour-long superedits of Russian car-cams. It’s frightening to see just how stupid people can be on the road in their multi-ton vehicles.

  2. I assume the lock screen can still be put up and they keep recording if your lock screen is up, yes? Wouldn’t want the cops to get their mitts on an unsecured device.

    1. They can just pull the battery or smash it. My thought is how do you start the app, and the recording, if you’re already in contact with them, without them realizing you started it? Because drawing their attention to it probably gets it taken away or broken.

      1. Let the app start when it recognizes “yes sir” through the mic.

        1. Let the app start when it recognizes “yes sir” through the mic.

          How bout…”What do you want, pig?”

          Okay, I’m not that stupid, but I can fantasize.

          1. How bout… “Oh shit. Not again.”?

      2. Sure, they can turn it off.

        I just don’t want my phone to be unsecured around a cop. I don’t want to have to choose between recording and having a secure phone.

      3. If the recording ends with “Hey, what are you doing to my phone?”



        The officer will no doubt be charged with destruction of property as anyone else would, because there is no double standard.

        Haaaaaaaaaa haha haha ha!

        I’ll be here all week.

        1. You could have just dropped it and stepped on it out of spite to get the cop in trouble.

          1. Hey, its not like he doesn’t have a camera too, which no doubt functions perfectly when its needed to support his story.

        2. No double standard? Have you not been paying attention for a few weeks, sarcasmic? Having not proven anything about the lack of a double standard, Dunphy’s moved on to “police are held to a higher standard” now.

  3. That little animated thing was totally false!
    Cops never demand identification without probable cause!
    That’s just bigot talk!
    They politely ask, and then let you go on your way if you refuse!
    They are always kind and professional and if they step out of line there is hell to pay since they’re held to a higher standard!
    Dunphy said so!

  4. Getting tasered for recording police encounters? There’s a zap for that.

    1. You’re a fucking monster.

      1. You love it and you know it.

  5. very much support stuff like this. again, record police whenever you can and when interacting with police, assume they are recording you.

    fortunately, there is a growing, established body of case law revealing what common sense should clearly reveal – that the act of recording police is 1st amendment protected activity. those legislators who wrote laws criminalizing same, will of course see no ramifications for passing blatantly unconstitutional law, any more than those that enforced it will.

    obama administration aside – this was supposed to be an open govt. – open trials, open meetings, and with rare exception (like undercover opps etc) govt is not supposed to be hidden. expose govt., by recording it “doing its thing”.

    1. Cool story, bro.

      1. I especially liked the part where he told us how awesome he is. Didn’t you?

        1. I like the part where he tells us how his profession is one of honesty and integrity, as he goes undercover to trick people into trusting him for the purpose of betraying them.


          1. Kinda like Survivor.

            1. undercover police work is a valuable way to catch people involved in illegal activity. i worked undercover for a long time. unfortunately, most undercover work is done to further the war on drugs, which is bad policy in the first place.

              undercover work, decoy work (the NYPD robbery decoy squad did great work), stuff like that is a great service to the public. if the skell robbing people passed out in the subway has to worry “is this guy really somebody i can victimize or is it a cop and i’m going to get arrested”, that’s a good thing

              if the auto thief has to worry “is this vehicle sitting here with the keys in the ignition just a lucky cathc on my part or is it a police decoy”, that’s a good thing.

              british columbia of all places, believe it or not, was at the forefront of using bait cars etc. to catch thieves and imo it’s the perfect example of how we should use police resources to catch REAL criminals

              and of course some people say that it’s “entrapment” which is absurd. if a “normal” person see a car, unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, they are not enticed to all of a sudden become a car thief and steal the car. so, it’s not entrapment

              thieves suck. i fully support the use of decoys, undercover work, and other proactive means in catching them.

              1. undercover police work is a valuable way to catch people involved in illegal activity.

                Yeah, especially people who are begging to get shot, right?

                Ladies and gentlemen, I give you dunphy’s greatest hit:

                Dunphy (the real one)| 7.16.12 @ 12:12PM |#|?|filternamelinkcustom

                no, simple constitutional law and common sense.

                most people have such common sense

                i’ve knocked on what? 20,000 ? 30,000 doors in my police career?

                how many morons answered it with a drawn gun?


                this guy was a fucking moron begging to get shot

              2. and of course some people say that it’s “entrapment” which is absurd.

                I wouldn’t call it “entrapment”, but it’s not exactly common place for someone to abandon an expensive car with keys in the ignition in a poor neighborhood.

                Some stupid will seize the opportunity, not because they sought it out as a criminal would, but because a cop handed it to them on a silver platter.

                Still, theft is wrong.

              3. Let’s consider, Mr Dunphy, what would happen to me should I discover a wallet in NYC.

                Now, I could call the police, but then any cash would probably end up in the pockets of the gangbangers in blue. And what if the guy had warrants out? Giving the cops the wallet could permit them to hunt him down for “crimes” like fixing a car without government permission or putting on a puppet show without a permit two examples of the excuses the NYPD uses kidnap people and stick them in cages on Rikers until their relatives ransom them.

                The better thing to do is for me to return the lost wallet directly.

                But, if the NYPD should be laying out a bait wallet, then I would be guilty of a felony and they would arrest me as a dirty thief if I walk away.

                1. That’s actually a violation of state law. In New York you have ten days to turn property in to the police, just so that you can return it to the owner yourself.

              4. And what happens when a passerby locks the car and takes the keys?

            2. undercover police work is a valuable way to catch people involved in illegal activity.

              Undercover police work is used mostly to enforce victimless crimes. Crimes with victims rarely need undercover work, from what I can tell. Even the occasional decoy squad is used mostly for prostitution, another victimless crime.

              And no, bait cars are not “undercover police”, unless your defnition of police involves inanimate objects.

              1. unless your defnition of police involves inanimate objects.

                The law’s definition does include dogs, so….

              2. Considering that they put inanimate objects on trial….

                (Think asset forfeiture.)

        2. People actually read dunphy’s posts?

      2. GODDAMNIT!

        *writes another grievance for sarc doing “included” work*

        1. The arbiter is my brother in law. Good luck!

  6. i love all these “oh noes” predicted horror outcomes if the police discover you turning the thing on etc. while they are speaking with you.

    as gillespie said many months ago, most cops don’t interfere with people recording them, and support same. i used to like to use that quote from one of his articles. because it’s true, and it shows the difference between him and balko, and the histrionic nonsense that some of the bloggers engage in.

    i’ve recorded cops numerous times w/o a hassle. youtube is full of thousands of videos of people doing the same. while there certainly have been some asshole cops, and in some cases, asshole cops emboldened by (imo) illegal legislation that criminalizes recording cops , all i gotta say is… man the fuck up and do the right thing.

    how hard is that? seriously. doing the right thing sometimes has risks. imo and ime, the risks to somebody recording LEO’s is way way overblown, but if people want to expose govt. misconduct, then yes… they may have to take some risk. step up to the fucking plate and do it.

    recording cops is CLEARLY a constitutional right. and it’s a right that has been abused in some instances and in some locales. that’s wrong. so FIGHT what is wrong… by doing the RIGHT thing.

    1. Cool story bro.

      1. You slay me.

    2. I hear you, Buckaroo. And that’s all fine and good that “most” cops don’t mind being recorded. The goal is for 100% ofthem to respect the rights of people to record them, and for those that don’t allow it to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not “trained” on procedures.

      You fuckers know (or should know) the law and every time you break it you should be held to account. Until police officers start getting prosecuted and other officers call for the prosecutions, your words are little more than hollow bullshit…which would be par for the course.

    3. the risks to somebody recording LEO’s is way way overblown,

      Since the risk should be zero, I’m not sure what point is being made here.

      1. It seems to be “Hey, maybe you’ll run into a cop who breaks your face and phone or illegally arrests you (and of course gets no punishment for doing so), but that probably won’t happen, so this isn’t a big deal.”

        1. the risk should be zero. we live in an imperfect country, one where legislators pass unconstitutional laws in some locales, that criminalize the recording of cops

          we also live in an imperfect world where some assmunch cops have negative and sometimes criminal reaction to being recorded

          those cops should be punished.

          the point i am making is simple. the vast majority of the time people record cops, they record cops. nothing else happened. i participated in protests of the CAO.i used my video camera. nothign happened.there are thousands if not scores of thousands of vid’s on youtube where people recorded police and nothing happened.

          my point is this. is there is risk? yes. in some locales, it is effectively zero. in others, it is there, if tiny

          my point is stop being a fucking pussy. wanking in a blog accomplishes nothing. if you see a cop doing soemthing, then record it.

          are you a fucking man or are you a fuckign pussy? what i am saying is this, if your metric for deciding whether to do the right thing or not is “if there is any chance whatsoever i could get hurt, i won’t do it” then you are a fucking coward. and you are part of the problem, not part of the solution

          the risk SHOULD be zero. it isn’t

          and REGARDLESS, if you believe in justice,and in actually DOING something, then record cops.

          if you want extra protection… and evidence. you have one person record the cops and TWO people record the person recording the cops.

          tactics. they work

          1. Cool story bro.

          2. tactics work when you’re walking home by yourself from the bar and a cop pulls up behind you and puts on his lights, demands to know where you’re going, where you came from, where’s your id, what do you have in your fucking pockets, fuck you I know you’re up to something and I’ll catch you, you got lucky



            cool story bro

    4. OK, first off, the times you’d WANT to record a cop is when he is, or you suspect his is likely to be, an asshole cop. So right away, your 99% of officers who are fine with cameras goes out the window.

      This is an app that will only be triggered in the one percent of cases when the cop isn’t likely to play nice, so worrying about how to safely make the thing work without triggering the asshole response in the 1%er you’re dealing with is definitely legitimate.

  7. A few years back I donated to the ACLU and they took my private information and sold it to political organizations including the DNC.

    I would never trust the ACLU enough to put their app on my phone.

    1. Thanks Corning.

      I just downloaded the app. Now I have to think twice about keeping it.

      Always importatnt to remember that whilst the ACLU does a lot of good work they have a huge agenda, of which, much of it does not probably jive with Reasonoids.

      1. If a Venn diagram of their agendas could be made, there would be an overlap.

  8. I think ALL phones should have that app! These stupid, useless cops are out of control!


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