We’d have to have been living in a cave not to recognize how ubiquitous and powerful smartphone video has become. Within the last year we’ve seen dozens of instances of cops behaving badly (criminally) and being caught on tape doing it.
In California the Senate passed SB 411, which increases the protections civilians have when they record cops behaving badly. Sponsored by Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) the bill clarifies that it is completely legal when a citizen films a cop in public performing his duties .
What are the current laws in California regarding videoing the cops? Well, as laid out at Flex Your Rights (www.flexyourrights.com), you have the following rights:
- Know the Law. The law in California and 47 other states currently allows the videoing of cops. It has to be in public and while they’re on the job and it cannot interfere with them doing what they’re doing. The two hold-out states were Massachusetts and Illinois. Their respective federal appellate courts overturned the bans. The Illinois ban was appealed to the US Supreme Court which declined to hear the case. (That’s a good indication that filming the cops will pass legal muster.)
- Don’t Be Sneaky. Record them in the open. Don’t try to hide your recording.
- Respond Calmly to What Cops Say. If they ask what you’re doing, say”Officer, I’m not interfering. I’m asserting my First Amendment rights. You’re being documented and recorded offsite.”
- If they ask to see ID, ask if you’re being detained. In California you do not have to show ID unless the cop can show reasonable suspicion that you’re committing a crime.
- If they tell you to stop or that what you’re doing is against the law, inform them that it’s not.
- You do not need to move any set distance away. If they tell you to stand back, you need to make sure you’re giving them enough room to work.
- Don’t Share Videos with Cops.
- Be Prepared to Be Arrested. Cops can be bullies and bullies don’t like to be defied or have their transgressions filmed. Be prepared that the cop may, erroneously arrest you. The remedy for an illegal arrest where no charges can be filed is civil damages under 42 USC 1983, the federal civil rights statute.
- Know the Technology. Load an App like Bambuster or Qik that allows you to stream video and store it offsite. Always password protect your phone.
- Don’t point your camera like a gun. Avoid being perceived as aggressive.
Keep these ten rules in mind as you walk around and if you observe cops behaving badly, certainly start filming.