Why You Should Record Your Interactions With The Police


A long-overdue national debate about the use of force and accountability is taking place in this country, with recent events, caught on video, depicting police officer misconduct, crimes and ignorance of the law, and very little accountability.

It’s become clear that recordings of police encounters are a powerful tool to hold police accountable for their actions.

Naturally, many members of the police would prefer not to be recorded, leading to a long-standing tension between citizens who record police encounters, and police who try to prevent citizens from doing so.

Policy-300x225You should record your encounters with the police, for your own protection. These are some examples of why that is important.

(image credit: The Cato Institute)
  • In 2009. Oscar Grant was shot dead by a Bay Area Rapid transit police officer while unarmed, restrained, and lying face down. Public recordings of the shooting led to charges against the officer, who was unable to tailor his narrative to avoid accountability [LINK]
  • In New York City, Eric garner was placed in an illegal chokehold by police officers despite crying out that he could not breathe. His death was recorded, preventing officers from denying the chokehold, which had been banned by the NYPD for years. His death and the video of it, led to huge protests against the police, leading many to wonder how many others had been subject to chokeholds that wre not recorded. [LINK]
  • In a particularly shocking encounter, a South Carolina police officer, unaware he was being recorded, shot a fleeing suspect in the back, then planted a Taser gun on the victim in an attempt to cover up the circumstances of the shooting. The shooting was so unjustifiable that not even the police department stood behind the officer. Had the encounter not been recorded, the shooting would have been defended as reasonable by the police. [LINK] and [LINK]
  • Carrie Media has filed a lawsuit after her smartphone was illegally seized by polce because she recorded a police encounter. The police, naturally, has stated the officer has done nothing wrong despite numerous court rulings stating that officers can only seize citizens’ phones in narrow circumstances. [LINK]
  • Police routinely lie about the circumstances of their actions, as in this particularly outrageous example of a drug-raid in which the occupant was shot and killed despite presenting no threat to the officers. [LINK]

The list of examples goes on, and on, and on.

Police officers are given a huge amount of deference and latitude; when a shooting or violent arrest takes place, the officers’ report of the encounter is rarely questioned. The police close ranks and insist that, no matter how egregious the circumstances, it was justifiable.

Accountability among police officers is extremely rare, and officers do not react well to having their authority questioned, by anybody.

Smartphone recordings are shifting the balance of power back toward the public, imposing a measure of accountability that officers are not used to and do not like.

The result, is that, despite repeated court rulings determining that citizens have the right to record encounters with police, police continue to obstruct and prevent such recordings, in violation of the law. [LINK]

There’s a huge double standard at play in the sort of composure, good judgment and decision-making the courts demand during police encounters. That is, the courts and police departments demand all three from the people on the receiving end of  encounters, yet none of these from the police.

Recording your encounters is one of the best ways to ensure that your rights are respected, or, barring that, violations of your rights are documented.

Gizmondo has an excellent post about what to know in order to record police encounters; it’s well worth a read. [LINK]

An interview with a former police officer (in the two video clips below, at the bottom of this post) is a candid look at why officers so object to being recorded. It’s a refreshing example of honesty from someone has a police officer’s perspective:


  • PINAC - An excellent resource for recording the police, and daily examples of the police abusing their authority

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