The following information on how to record police officers was gathered by the Primeau Forensics’ research team. Our goal is to answer the question, ‘Do citizens have a right to video record police officers?’
To best answer this question, we surveyed police officers, law enforcement leadership, concerned citizens, and attorneys to present their answers. What is more, concerned citizens can actually assist police officers when using proper video recording methods. Always remember, everyone’s safety is a top priority.
The specific details expressed in this post are based primarily on Michigan law. However, the information we have gathered and presented in this article is universal. If you are reading outside the United States of America, consider laws enforced in your community or jurisdiction.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHT TO VIDEO RECORD POLICE
The Department of Homeland Security has a saying; ‘If you see something say something.’ Our philosophy is, ‘If you see something, film something.’
A concerned citizen has a legal right to video record police officers and can do so in public places. However, they cannot video record in a manner in which they interfere with the event or investigation. This includes video recording too close within the officer’s tactical operating area. Again, safety is a priority.
Interference to an investigation diverts the police officers’ attention and reduces their focus. In other words, does the police officer consider that you are interfering with the investigation at that time? If an officer warns you during a video recording, adjust your approach, where you’re standing, and what you’re filming.
Be aware that an officer may have a tremendous amount on his or her mind. As a result, they may be in a heightened sense of awareness from the current or previous incident. Keep this in mind when you are video recording police officers.
YOUR RIGHT TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS
If you are a witness, write down your name and number for the police officer and mention what happened. That way they will contact you later if you can assist with the investigation. If the police officer is unavailable or too busy at the time, you can supply this information to their shift supervisor.
On the other hand, you have a right to remain anonymous and video record police officers. Some witnesses whose employment may require them to present their recordings and statements to assist a police officer. These include nurses, social workers, security officers, paramedics, and first responders.
Whether you record an event or an eyewitness, you could be ordered to appear in court. You may even be asked to give a statement.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REMAINING UNBIASED
It is critical to remain unbiased while recording police officers. In order to protect the integrity of the investigation and those involved, record the entire event. We find that some witnesses focus on the police officer only. Pointing the camera directly at the officer introduces bias and makes the video recording difficult to view in its entirety.
Record the entire interaction of all parties. Don’t find offense in the police officer telling you to back up or to move away. Another article that may help in understanding how best to prepare digital evidence can be found on the blog.
CONTACT FORENSIC EXPERTS
The guidelines for how to video record police officers safely are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website. Finally, contact the Primeau Forensic’s team for more information or questions on your legal right to record police officers. Learn more about techniques with which to video record police in our next blog post.
In this post, we share several techniques for video recording police officers safely and respectfully. These follow our discussion on the legality of recording law enforcement, which you can explore by following the link. Because these encounters often involve smartphone recordings, the following methodology focuses on that medium. Follow along for deeper insight into these techniques.
THE RISE OF THE SMARTPHONE
Statistics show that 77% of Americans use a smartphone. Additionally, more apps are brought to the market every day that make recording and sharing videos simple. It comes as no surprise that an average of 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
What does that have to do with video recording police officers and video forensics? Citizens are capturing both criminal activity and law enforcement interactions with their smartphones.
These videos become an integral part of the investigation. And unfortunately, there are forensic enhancement limitations for poor video quality. The following techniques for recording police officers will help you acquire the best recording possible.
5 TECHNIQUES FOR RECORDING POLICE
TECHNIQUE #1: STABLE FOOTAGE
Try to stay calm and focus on keeping the camera steady. Don’t zoom in too much on the subject to where your camera is unable to properly autofocus. Also, be sure to keep a safe distance. Should the video need additional zooming, it can be forensically enhanced.
TECHNIQUE #2: LANDSCAPE MODE
Always film in landscape mode. It offers a wider view and provides investigators with valuable information, such as point of entry, outside factors, and other surroundings. Additionally, filming in landscape mode provides a clearer image for forensic experts.
TECHNIQUE #3: DO NOT ESCALATE SITUATION
If you feel like you are too close to the situation, step back. Safety for you and everyone else is most important.
Also, don’t feel the need to use any equipment more than your smartphone. As technology advances, smartphone cameras are advancing with it. Most smartphones use a 1080p resolution, which is sufficient for forensic enhancement.
TECHNIQUE #4: HAND OFF VIDEO TO PROPER AUTHORITIES BEFORE EDITING OR UPLOADING
Don’t alter the video in anyway. Alteration includes shortening the video, using apps or software to enhance the video or audio, or adding effects. All of these adjustments affect the chain of custody and the forensic expert’s ability to identify or authenticate the video.
Chain of custody refers to the order in which evidence should be handled by persons investigating a case. Specifically, the unbroken trail of accountability ensuring the physical security of samples, data, and records in a criminal investigation.
We have all seen viral videos on social media or news outlets of criminal activity or law enforcement interactions. However, it is imperative that the investigation be complete before a video is made public. Posting the video online could give suspects important details that could hinder the investigation and put lives at risk. It is important to remember that what you film could affect people’s lives.
TECHNIQUE #5: REMAIN UNBIASED
While you may be emotionally invested in the situation, it is crucial that the video evidence be unbiased. In order for the investigation to be as accurate as possible, investigators need to see the event in its entirety.
Begin filming as soon as possible and continue until the interaction is finalized. Another good idea is to use multiple cameras when available. Not only does this provide multiple viewpoints, but also multiple versions of the recording for the best possible outcome.
BE MINDFUL AND RESPECTFUL
If you are filming an interaction with law enforcement, be mindful and respectful of the officer’s tactical operating area. Take the appropriate measures to speak directly with an officer’s supervisor if concerned with their actions. And if the officer asks you to back up, they do it for your safety. It is always best to work with the officer and not against them.
Also, keep in mind that the officer may be in a heightened state of emotion from a previous incident. As Barrack Obama once said, “Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.”
CONTACT FORENSIC EXPERTS
The guidelines for how to video record police officers safely are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website. Contact the Primeau Forensic’s team for more information or questions on the techniques for video recording police officers discussed here. And learn more on your legal right to video record police on our previous blog post.
A South Carolina police officer was arrested yesterday for the murder of an unarmed black man. This is all because of video evidence that surfaced of the North Charleston officer, Michael Slager, firing eight times at the unarmed man as the man fled in an open field.
THE SERIES OF EVENTS
According to police reports, the victim in question, 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, continued to flee after being hit by the officer’s stun gun. The reports also state that Mr. Scott took Officer Slager’s stun gun, which lead to a reasonable pursuit.
However, the video seems to show a different story. First, the stun gun is dropped. Second, the officer guns down Mr. Scott and drops something next to the unarmed man. It is not clear what was dropped; however, some fear that this was planted on the man after his shooting, as police report that the officer’s taser was taken.
VIDEO EVIDENCE BENEFITS
In either case, the innocent bystander who recorded the Good Samaritan video aided in this investigation. Not only did he take the responsibility to record the events, but he also utilized landscape mode on his cell phone to record the altercation. As a result, we’re provided with additional digital video evidence for this investigation.
As you see in the first few seconds of the video, portrait orientation would not have accurately captured the events as they occurred. Mr. Scott would have run off screen and we never would have seen this happen. However, because he shot the video in landscape mode, we see the shooting clearly.
Situations like this help reinforce the importance of the devices in our pockets. Smartphone video can make or break a case like this and we need to understand why it’s so crucial to utilize the tools we have when an unlawful event occurs. If it weren’t for the Good Samaritan, this story may have gone unseen and unnoticed.
You can watch the video below via the NY Times here.