Tips on Recording a Police Encounter

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Over the last few years, we have seen that bystander videos can be a critical element in documenting and exposing police misconduct. If you are confronted by the police or come upon a situation you believe merits recording, would you know how to handle it? Let us review some tips on recording a police encounter. 

You are permitted to record, but must follow police orders. You have a First Amendment right to record a police encounter. Many court decisions have held that police cannot order you to stop filming or take your phone. You are not, however, permitted to interfere. This means you have to follow any police orders to back away. You should remain calm and respectful to prevent the situation from escalating. 

Make safety a priority. The police encounter can be traumatic to witness and may be a chaotic scene. Make sure you feel safe, and remember that you can remove yourself from the immediate situation and still film by backing away or filming from the safety of your car. 

If you narrate, keep it brief. Talking or narrating can be both helpful and a hindrance. It may be helpful to briefly state the location, date, time and what you are witnessing, but try not to get emotional, because you may state things that will later make the video inadmissible. You may also speak over something an officer or victim is saying, which could be critical evidence later on. It may be best to make a brief statement and then remain quiet, capturing what is occurring. 

For the recording., consider panning out to capture the whole scene, which can prevent claims that something different was occurring off of camera. Hold the phone horizontal and as steady as possible. Try not to scan the scene too quickly. Hold the phone in place for at least several seconds to capture what is occurring. Also, focus on other evidence you can capture with the phone, such as street signs, license plate numbers, or a clock. Consider turning the GPS on your phone to validate the location. Never edit the video, as altering it in any way may make it unusable. 

Consult a lawyer. Finally, although you may be tempted to immediately upload the video, one of the best things you can do is consult with a criminal lawyer. They can assist you in determining if anyone’s image should be blurred for privacy reasons. They can also help you determine the best media outlet to release the video and the best time to release it. 

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