Are you allowed to film the police? Well, many federal courts have upheld the right of citizens to record their interactions with police officers from your phone or camera. Also, police officers have no reason to expect any level of privacy when they are performing their daily duties on public spaces and property, meaning you are legally free to record them when you are in public places (or on your property). However, police officers sometimes don’t often take too kindly to being filmed and therefore turning on your camera, alerting them that the exchange is on film, is always going to pose a personal risk.
The most recent anecdote is Brandy Berning, who was assaulted by Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies, Paul Fletcher and William O’Brien, after she mistakenly told Mr Fletcher that she had been recording her interaction with him. Fletcher quickly demanded that she hand over her phone and he threatened her that she was committing a felony (it is not a felony to record your interactions with police officers). To add insult to injury, Berning had initially been pulled over for a traffic violation (driving in the HOV) lane, and Paul Fletcher wasn’t even on duty. Fletcher appeared in court several weeks ago to face numerous charges including burglary, battery and criminal mischief, over his ‘road rage’ incident with Berning. Following his short court appearances, Fletcher was granted a mistrial because Judge Michael Usan was absent after a family emergency and it wasn’t clear when he’d return to the bench.
Seasoned cop-filming activists will suggest that you opt for filming by using an app on your phone that can send the recorded information off-site. An increasing number of cops are resorting to stealing the phones, trying to destroy them or their contents, also, it isn’t uncommon for the “dash cam” videos to disappear as well. One app to use is Bambuster (recommended by Cop Block), which allows you to begin recording a live feed of the event. Another, Police Tape from the ACLU (among others) allows you to secretly record your encounters with the police, while backing up the footage on their serves in New Jersey.
When choosing to film or interact with the police officers, it’s important to remember that if you want to exercise your right to remain silent you are going to clearly communicate that you are invoking your Constitutionally protected right to remain silent. If the police try to take or steal your phone: that is illegal (although don’t expect them to be punished for it...)You should also ask the officer if you are being arrested, state that you do not consent to any search, and always ask if you are free to leave. It is also adviseable to get them to state their name and badge number, if you have a bad feeling.
It’s important to try to remain courteous when dealing with the police: try to remain calm, smile and don’t swear and complain. It might also help to improve your interaction if you show respect and say things like “sir and no sir.” It isn’t in your best interest to ever bad-mouth a police officer, as things can quickly escalate and we’ve seen what has happened numerous times when individuals have chosen this route. Stay in control of your words, body language and your emotions, this will also help you to think more clearly and communicate your intentions and thoughts more effectively.
There is reason to believe that filming police officers might help to reduce the incidence of corruption and police brutality, is also being explored by numerous police departments who are opting to outfit their officers with mini-cameras which film their daily activities and send the feedback, those who have implemented such a strategy have seen at least a 60% reduction in the use of force and complaints of police brutality.