Nine Things That Happen When You Film Police Encounters

Published On March 9, 2012 | By Pete Eyre | Articles

The write-up below was authored by Austin White, a part-time libertarian scholar and guitar instructor in Clermont, FL. His two previous posts at CopBlock.org netted almost 100 comments in total. Austin’s writings have also appeared on LewRockwell.com, infowars.com, the Orlando Sentinel and he blogs at Stop the State.

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Anyone who has ever filmed a police encounter and put it on YouTube has received some, or a lot, of negative comments for their actions. This is mostly due to a lack of understanding among the general public as to why someone would want to film police as they are detaining or arresting someone.

To explain, here are nine things that are achieved by filming police:

1. You’re exercising your right to film police.  You do have the right to film cops.  This right is codified in the Constitution under the First Amendment.  In the past year, New England’s highest Federal court ruled that filming cops is protected by the First Amendment.  You don’t need any special reason for doing so.  You don’t need permission from any bureaucrat.  You don’t have to work for a big media outlet.  Get a camera and a YouTube channel and you are officially media.  Congratulations and film away.  If you don’t exercise your rights, they atrophy.  Exercise them.

2. In the case where you are recording someone else’s police encounter, like a neighbor or friend, you are significantly reducing their chances of being the victim of police misconduct.  Police will be less likely to perform unwarranted searches, plant drugs, beat the person, rape the person, murder the person, or arrest them on trumped up charges if they know there are cameras around recording their every move.  You’re reducing the extent to which the predatory armed enforcers are likely to harass their prey.  Police-accountability activist Antonio Buehler was possibly facing years in prison for allegedly assaulting an officer until he later obtained video evidence from bystanders that refuted the claims of the cop.

3. In the case where you are recording your own police encounter, you could be saving yourself from a potentially life-destroying event.  You could be preventing yourself from going to prison.  Anyone who thinks they are not at risk of being arrested is quite oblivious to the number of “laws” on the books, as well as the vagueness of those laws and the ability of the state to interpret those laws however they want in order to put you in a cage.  Every American is now at a palpable risk of being arrested and jailed at some point – unless you’re a cop.

My friend Tj was pulled over by police a year and half ago over a malfunctioning tag light.  Immediately the gang of cops went into overkill mode and began ordering him out of the vehicle, were pulling on his door handle, and suspiciously claiming he dropped something out of the car window.  Eventually the police began threatening to pull TJ out of the vehicle and claiming that he might be a danger to the officers (cop language for “get out or we can kill you”) – all over a tag light.  You can see the video for yourself to see how Tj recording the encounter with his cell phone quickly deterred the cops from perpetrating further harassment.

4. You inspire others to stand up to cops and demand accountability.  Standing up to cops is scary.  They can quite literally kill you and get away with it, as well as everything below killing.  When you film cops and deter them from engaging in misconduct you become a beacon of peaceful resistance to the police-state for other people to emulate.

5. You remind the cops (allow me to put on my minarchist hat) that they are our servants and we are their masters.  We pay the police with our tax dollars to provide security and protect our rights.  We are the employers and the police are the employees.  We have every right to monitor our employees to make sure they’re doing their job right.  This is especially essential now that police have become routine rights violators and are far more likely to violate people’s rights than private criminals are.

The state watches us, reads our emails, listens in our phone conversations, and is putting more and more cameras around to surveil us in public places – is it really that unreasonable for us to watch the watchers a little bit, especially when they are actively looking for ways to put anyone they can into cages?

6. You are exercising the only real check we have on the police-state besides civil disobedience (which is becoming more appealing everyday) and armed rebellion.

Police investigate themselves and are the arbiters of disputes involving themselves.  How does the average person stand a chance against that?  Bad cops are very rarely found guilty for their crimes and when they are found guilty the punishment they often receive is a modicum of what the average American would receive.

In the fall of 2010, Orlando Copwatch did a lengthy investigation of an incident where OPD officer Travis Lamont body-slammed an 84-year-old man onto pavement and broke his neck – simply because the old man committed the heinous crime of touching Lamont’s shoulder.  Despite the fact that numerous witnesses called the police station in outrage and spoke to the media about the horrific behavior of Lamont, Orlando Police Chief Val Demings and six other senior officials cleared Lamont of any wrong doing and he lurks the streets of Orlando to this day.

The only effective method we have for dealing with bad cops is filming them in the act and putting it on YouTube so they can receive the shame and ostracism they deserve.  If someone had been able to capture footage of Officer Lamont’s actions that night and put in on YouTube for it to go viral Lamont may have ended up in prison where he truly belongs.

7. You are preparing cops to get used to being filmed.  Every year the price of cameras goes down, the quality goes up, the size of cameras goes down, the ability to conceal cameras increases,   we now have the ability to upload live footage to websites like Qik.com, and there is a growing movement of people happily willing to use these tools to keep police accountable.  There is nothing the cops can do about it.  The bureaucrats can write whatever laws they want to stop us, but the market will help us get around them.  When you get out there and start filming cops you’re giving police a friendly reminder that soon every cop’s every move will be monitored by the tax payers and that they better start acting more civilized.  You’re stimulating a feeling among police that they are being watched.

8. You’re standing up for your rights and your fellow citizen’s rights and will feel damn good about it.  You’ll be able to look back and know that you didn’t submit to the police-state like some slave.  The preservation of your dignity and spirit is worth the risks of filming cops.

9. You are reducing the amount of tyranny that your kids will live under.

Yes, filming police is dangerous, but day-to-day life in the totalitarian Amerika that will develop as a result of our apathy will be far more dangerous.  Now is the time to film cops; not later.  The police-state will only get more severe if we don’t act now, which means it will only get harder to keep police accountable if we back down.

Honesty and plainness go always together, and the makers and multipliers of mysteries, in the political way, are shrewdly to be suspected of dark designs. . . Publick truths ought never to be kept secret; and they who do it, are guilty of a solecism, and a contradiction
-Cato’s Letter No. 39 July 29, 1721

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About The Author

Pete Eyre is co-founder of CopBlock.org. As an advocate of peaceful, consensual interactions, Eyre seeks to inject a message of complete liberty and self-government into the conversation of police accountability. Eyre went to undergrad and grad school for law enforcement, then spent time in DC as an intern at the Cato Institute, a Koch Fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance, Directer of Campus Outreach at the Institute for Humane Studies, Crasher-in-Chief at Bureaucrash, and as a contractor for the Future of Freedom Foundation. He later hit the road as co-founder of the Motorhome Diaries and Liberty On Tour, and now resides in the 'shire.
  • Graham

    Can anyone give a link to court cases to support our right to film police? I’d love to have something to present to them when they try to tell me it’s illegal.

  • http://facebook.com/xsintrik Anthony

    @Graham; http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/10-1764P-01A.pdf

    Thank you Austin for this well written piece about our right and duty to film police encounters, not only of our self but of others. Accountability is a necessary idea in today’s society, with such rampant problems with moral and ethical integrity in the system. Write on friend, write on.

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  • paschn

    Apparently we aren’t filming the “Renfield Class” in D.C. enough either.

    http://www.brasschecktv.com/videos/the-secret-government/leon-panetta-cites-un–nato-not-congressas-legal-basis-for-military-action.html

    Can you feel our sovereignty slipping away? Note the side-bar about their end run around the 2nd ammendment? sign a treaty with the Zionist owned U.N. then send out the sycophants in blue to confiscate your weapons.

  • gid

    Wow great post, thanks for sharing. Your video of your friend handling the police officer is really good. Being prepared for such an incident is key.

    Paschn I most certainly feel my sovereignty slipping away. i wish everyone would educate themselves. For a starter Everyone could read this. http://www.catosletters.com/

  • Elfin Slade

    armed rebellion.

  • Common Sense

    You spelled America wrong…

  • Frank Overton

    I’m a police officer in one of the most violent cities in america, to respond to number 5, “Police are our servants and we are their masters”.
    Are you fucking kidding me, first off, I pay my own salary so stop with that shit, I hear it everyday. Most of you hippies on this website probably don’t even work. Second off is I don’t need sympathy, I do this job because I love it. You guys talk shit on stuff you don’t even began to know about, then you criticize it because you see a youtube video that doesn’t show the whole story of how the person tries to fight us and take my life so we do what ever we can to subdue him and were the “monsters”. This website is a fucking disgrace.

  • Carlos

    Thanks to all those courageous people who film Cops, to avoid the “Blue Shield of Silence” from concealing evidence of beatings, wrongdoings and corruption.

    The link below is old [happened one or two years ago] but serves to illustrate that, if you don’t have a camera when these things are happening, you are fried.
    It’s your word against a dozen of…a-hem!, “ARCHANGELS”…

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/04/13/maryland.police.beating/index.html

    Carlos

  • Frank Overton

    @ carlos

    My thought on filming cops is that it’s completely unsafe to us, it second guesses us, so we end up hurt, in the hospital and possibly worse because were tot concern about getting sued for some scumbag who’s fighting with us. And people who film cops are losers, Jesus Christ don’t people have better things to do, it’s beyond me.

  • Bob

    This information is great but needs to have one caveat: It is valid only in 98% of the United States.
    Illinois law was written to to protect those on on the other side of the ‘Thin Blue Lie’ from being audio recorded. They can record ‘civilians’ without notice but even in public where there is no expectation of privacy, while they are being paid by us, it is a felony to record them.
    Several judges have recently ruled that the law is unconstitutional and McLean County States Attorney, Ron Dozier refused to prosecute a case, stating “My real problem with the law is that it makes a felony out of what is, in many cases, perfectly innocent conduct that even may be beneficial conduct,”
    The ACLU is in the midst of an appeal of a ruling by a Chicago judge upholding the law last year.
    An Illinois legislator introduced a bill to repeal the law before the G8 summit scheduled for May in Chicago so the police wouldn’t be able to hide their actions during the expected street protests. The G8 has now been moved to Camp David due to ‘security concerns’.
    Whether you’re a resident or just passing through Illinois, don’t record law enforcement until this law is gone.

  • Inalien

    I admire what you do but like most you have a gross misunderstanding of the 1st amendment. It is only a prohibition of the feds from passing certain laws. It guarantees us no rights. The constitution has nothing to do with guaranteeing us rights. Rights are a blessing from our creator not the government or a document.

    Please be more accurate.

    In Liberty
    IW

  • Ademo Freeman

    “First off, I pay my own salary.”

    I always wondered why more Cops don’t complain about having to pay taxes. I mean, you’re paid with tax dollars (sure, some of it could be your own money) but then you go and give part of it back, in taxes, why? That’s your boss (the government) saying here’s your paycheck and now give me 40% of it back… what’s even more funny, is you actually do.

    How dumb are cops?

  • paschn

    @Frank Overton

    From your comment one can assume snowfall is beyond you. “I do this job because I love it.” Therein is the problem. loving it simply bolsters the opinion that the bulk of you, male and female are pathological. Not quite smart/wealthy enough to be at the table with the elite, but more than happy to scrape their “leavings” off of the floor, wipe their chins and carry on with a smile…..”loving it”.

  • DKSuddeth

    @Frank Overton, if you feel that simple video or audio recording you is dangerous, you can quit your job. I don’t care either way. As far as I’m concerned, taking away the last single check we have on government tyranny (read that as YOU), means that the very last check we have is killing you in self defense. how safe would THAT make you feel?

  • Inalien

    Graham says:
    March 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

    “Can anyone give a link to court cases to support our right to film police? I’d love to have something to present to them when they try to tell me it’s illegal.”

    Graham your statement strikes right at the core of what is wrong with America. We are born with all rights and they come from the creator,not from government.

    The onus of proof should be the other way around because we are innocent until proven guilty. RIGHT?
    The jack booted thugs should show us where we authorized them to stomp all over our God given right of free speech.

  • MoT

    Mr. Overton is either a plant, as an agent provocateur, a true vegetable, or an indication of the idiocy that is policing. Nobody asked you to don your clown suit Franky boy… You did that on your own. A sign of your own psychological illness.

  • Frank Overton

    @ MoT

    I’m not asking for sympathy or credit, I’m just standing up for my job and the cops out there who do the job right and you people think you have a right to judge shit that you would never understand.

  • Common Sense

    In Cook Co, its still a felony…

    “…So at least in Cook County, the state’s attorney will continue to prosecute the eavesdropping law: “As state’s attorney, I’m going to enforce the laws that are on the books. That is the law that is on the books,” Anita Alvarez said…”

  • IDIOTTSUNAMI

    @Frank OVERTON, I see your one of the cops that are always bragging/complaining how dangerous your job is,that everybody is out to kill you. Talking yourself up to be brave as you badmouth everybody on this website. Those same brave cops claim to “fear for their lives” as the reason they shoot to kill. Armed or unarmed its the same death sentence you hand out.Cops like you sound like a broken record. You claim to be out fighting crime,but all you do is bully your way through life behind your badge, demanding respect,without earning it. I hear the anger in your words. Your ego got the best of you,just by reading something you didn’t agree with. I think its safe to say “with your anger issues” that you’ve beat many people bloody then bragged about how it was done. Not all cops are bad. Real men dont demand respect with force,just cowards.

  • Common Sense

    @Overton,

    sorry its not that dangerous…being a clerk or a farmer is more dangerous actaully

  • NikkiD

    Notice how the only person to curse and insult complete strangers is a LEO, or so he claims to be. Way to stay classy, and professional, Frank!!

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  • heidi

    @ NikkiD – I did notice that and am glad somebody else did too :) If I’d been able to record the cops that arrested me, I could have hoped to get some justice. Frank wants to claim that we don’t know what really happens…but some of us actually do. I’m 100% behind recording their actions whenever possible – and 100% against any laws infringing on that which should be our right as citizens. BTW, Frank – the police report in my case contains outright provable evidence of conspiracy and lies from the police…but no one will look at it. You’ve been coddled by the system as a cop for too long. The tables are finally turning – and you’re throwing a temper tantrum about it. Go whine to your fellow officers. We don’t need that here.

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  • James Brian Peterson

    When freedom is outlawed(as it currently is being)then only outlaws will dare to be free.Should you become the”enforcement”target of the present insolvent de-facto foreign-controlled Corporate/Administrative Organizations of International Political Means and rogue and feudal character and habit;CRIMINALLY PROSECUTE THEM-JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY BY GRAND JURY PRESENTMENT!Do not allow them to destroy your life!

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  • Anon

    “I’m a police officer in one of the most violent cities in america, to respond to number 5, “Police are our servants and we are their masters”.
    Are you fucking kidding me, first off, I pay my own salary so stop with that shit, I hear it everyday. Most of you hippies on this website probably don’t even work. Second off is I don’t need sympathy, I do this job because I love it. You guys talk shit on stuff you don’t even began to know about, then you criticize it because you see a youtube video that doesn’t show the whole story of how the person tries to fight us and take my life so we do what ever we can to subdue him and were the “monsters”. This website is a fucking disgrace.”

    Nice language. Well if I was allowed to film my arrest back when I was a teenager that was simply skateboarding in a school parking lot (which got me arrested) the cop may not have gotten away with a few things he probably isn’t allowed to do. The cop told me to “Look at that old lady over there. Know what she’s thinking? She’s thinking there should be a nigger in the back of this car instead.” I’m not 100% sure, but are cops allowed to be racist on the job?

    As for the hippie part, I’m currently in college for Economics and on my way to law school.. Then I’ll actually be able to fight back and accomplish what these people here are trying to do. Without taking comments from a cop such as “hippie” and the excessive amount of cursing.

    Enjoy!

  • no nonsense

    frank overtone, there are too many reasons to waiste time explaining to you why among other justifications for monitoring police encounters that audio and video cell phones are essential to saving law abiding citizens from wrongful arrests, fabricated charges damaging their lives. And all due to a rogue, bully officer was either bored or on a power trip that night, and on a whim just picked someone out. As an authority vested with use of force when necessary, should ONLY be used when necessary and with prudent judgement. Not happahazardly like in countless cases ending up with needless tragedies to innocent citizens. I have respect for a lot of other officers that I find do well and are proper, but your tenor and tone ruins your own credibility to even be a far cry short of any standard of ethics.

  • job

    They are indeed our masters since we being but “citizens” make ourselves publicly owned slaves per the 14th amendment. Involuntary slavery was abolished but not voluntary slavery. By identifying ourselves as citizens we subject our selves voluntarily to the rule of our masters. All acts and statues hold the force of law as long as we consent.

    All one need to be free is to rescind their contracts (SSN, DRIVER LICENSE, ETC) and become free men and women.

    This is why they treat us this way it is because of what we are in reality, publicly owned slaves.

    google freeman , robert menard, common law

  • Jarrod J

    Men like Frank Overton are the reason that people don’t trust police and that the police as an institution are not trustworthy. I had two friends from high school go into law enforcement. Being the idealistic hippy that he was, one of them was driven out of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (the other major law enforcement agency in Travis Lamont’s neighborhood) after reporting his partner’s theft of a bunch of cash from a drunk driver to their version of IA.

    The other one kept his head down and stayed out of trouble while doing the job the best he could for five or six years, before applying for a position with the FBI. He says that they still have a few problems, but generally the FBI is far more professional, and far more accountable to civilian oversight, than the local PD he used to work for. I guess that shows that the police don’t have to be jack-booted thugs, as long as you attract the right kind of men and women to the job, train them well, and create a system that actually holds them to a high standard of professionalism. (That and the federal government can actually get things right once in a while)

  • joshua williams

    Your a fucking disgrace you dumb ass we do pay your salary good luck convincing them with the same weak ass story we here when we go to court for u dumb mother fuckers. Fuck off if u don’t like this website log off u bitch an by the way 87 % of law enforcement chose there career path to be in a position of authority. Ur all trash

  • paul moses

    just another dumb ass cop…. tough guy asshole….you are the perfect reason that we need to video tape you morons… you think you are the law….your shit and I hope you make a mistake one time and its recorded so some smart lawer can put your ass in jail….bend over future inmate.