Tradecraft: Filming Cops

Chicago Police Department

Chicago Police Department

Tallahassee, FL (TFC) – An activist from Florida Cop Watch shared his tip for filming law enforcement encounters with The Fifth Column. The activists associated with the particular group of cop watchers have provided journalists with serious leads in the past and have broken quite a few major stories in their area.

The representative had this to say:

Let me first say that it is absolutely legal to film the police. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be harassed or even possibly arrested.

The key word in this is “SAFE”. When you are approaching a traffic stop, a crime scene or any police employee; remember to stay calm and be prepared for any scenario. When being confronted by law enforcement, they will ask “Why are you filming?” or “What’s your name?” It is important to be aware that you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any of their questions. That is all up to your level of comfort whether you choose to answer their questions. If you start feeling uncomfortable, you can walk away. Then, if law enforcement tries to ask you more questions, you can simply ask them, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?” This gives them a choice to violate your rights on camera or stop interfering in your right to record.

When filming a law enforcement encounter, you need to keep a safe distance. I personally think this about 25 to 30 feet away. This will also help stop law enforcement trying to say you are interfering. Never approach law enforcement from behind, especially on traffic stops. Always stand in front of them, letting them clearly see that you are there. Let them know we are watching.

While filming, you will also want to state out loud what law enforcement agency is on the scene, the car numbers, tag numbers, and how many are there for your camera’s audio. This is useful in identifying the law enforcement employees that you are filming. These are some legal tips on staying safe while exercising your right to film the police. Know your rights and keep your cameras rolling!

Jimbo Justice

Florida CopWatch