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Recording Cops: Who Watches the Watchmen?

Posted by Joseph Tully | Apr 16, 2015

Know Your Rights! It is your right, and some would say duty, to remain vigilant against abuses of the law. The First Amendment exists to protect you documenting government abuses. If you are pulled over, served with a search warrant, see an unusual interaction between cops and a citizen, and definitely if you see a friend being arrested, pull out your phone. With today's camera phones each of us is a reporter, a photographer, and documentarian.

It was regular people who recorded the videos of George Floyd's murder. Unafraid of the police, these courageous bystanders captured the event and notified the world.

Recordings of police officers, whether by witnesses to an incident with officers, individuals who are themselves interacting with officers, or by members of the press, are an invaluable tool in the fight for police accountability. Often, it's the video alone that leads to disciplinary action, firing, or prosecution of an officer.

In California, and in every other State (except maybe Illinois), it is perfectly legal to film cops at work in public, as long as it doesn't physically interfere with their ability to do their job.

Some advice for traffic stops, protesters, and people who might have a police encounter is to have your friends and neighbors prepare to record the police. Have a first call, and a phone tree, to get word out when you, your local grower, or medicine provider is being raided. See my earlier post on Search Warrants.

Use your camera phone to record them loading up your medicine and “evidence”. Capture the aftermath and the mess police made during the search. Even have someone video the trucks hauling plants and herb to the dumps to be destroyed.

Recording police is your constitutional right and serves an important public function.

About the Author

Joseph Tully

Founding Partner, Criminal Law Specialist Our founding attorney, Joseph Tully, is sought out for his expert legal advice throughout California. With over 20 years of experience as a criminal lawyer, in 1000+ felony and other cases, Tully served as felony trial counsel as a public defender before...