The term “cop-blocking” refers to the act of attempting to contribute to the de-escalation of a potentially dangerous situation with law enforcement employees, by recording or photographing the parties involved. Cop-blocking aims to ensure that those individuals representing the state are held accountable for their actions. The act of cop-blocking requires the simple task of filming police interactions. A similar term ‘cop watch’ refers to the same principle of ensuring safety and accountability, both terms represent a network of activist organizations in North America, which serve to observe and document police activity.
The individuals who engage in this act of good will should, if at all possible, try to get the full names, and badge numbers of the law enforcement officers that they interact with. Police officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they are in public, that would preclude a member of the public from photographing or recording them. It is important to mention however, that some law enforcement officers react to this type of behavior aggressively, and numerous individuals have experienced violent retaliation from officers who they attempt to document and videotape. So it is important to approach the officers in a calm, peaceful, and non-threatening manner, assuring that your main objective is the ensure the safety of every party involved.
Officers may demand that you hand over your camera or phone, and might engage in an unauthorized, and therefore unreasonable, search and seizure contrary to a person’s natural right, but it is important to stand for your ground as the Supreme Court has indirectly upheld your right to film police in their public duties. One man in California had his dog shot by police after they approached him when they noticed that he had been filming them from a distance. The man told the media that he had been filming in order to “make sure that nobody’s civil rights were being violated.” Officers claimed that the music coming from the man’s car was distracting them, when they approached and attempted to make an arrest, the dog jumped out of the car and began barking at police officers, who then ended up shooting and killing the animal.
There are numerous other accusations of police abuse from individuals who attempt to film police officers while they are executing their occupational duties in public. The best advice one could give you when it comes to dealing with the police, is to not talk to the police. Any statements you make can be used against you at a later time. If you are approached by the police, remember to clearly ask if you are being detained and/or if you are free to go. Remember that you have the right to refuse consent to a search of your home, person and/or vehicle, unless those officers have a warrant, in which case there isn’t much you can do. Copwatch, Cop-block, and other similar groups, who each advocate the documenting of police activities, are taking a pro-active role in the safety of their communities, and police accountability.
“Police transparency is a vital aspect of their civil service to our fellow citizens, and one way to keep them accountable and far from opacity is to make sure they know they can be and are being filmed, photographed and documented in any way and at any time.” – Seattle Cop Block activist Tim Sage
Currently, there is no prohibition against photographing or video-recording the police in public during the execution of their duties. However, it is an offense to resist or willfully obstruct an officer in the execution of his or her duty. Unless you are photographing an officer for the express purpose of obstructing the execution of their duty, the behavior does not constitute an offense. Police can detain you if they believe you are interfering with their investigation, so remember to keep a respectful and safe distance, and explain that it is not your intention to interfere, and that you are exercising your right to observe their actions. One might wonder, if they aren’t doing anything wrong, why so many are so adamantly against being filmed?