Camarillo Cop Watch is still a relatively small movement, but already we’ve received a few questions from our fellow citizens about what we do and why:
Why do you film the cops?
Cops frequently document their interactions with the public with dash cams and hand-held cameras, but they generally only do so when they feel it will benefit only themselves. Cop Watch Counter Surveillance emphasizes documenting ALL interactions with police from traffic stops and arrests, to “casual” conversations in the park. If you watched the video “Don’t Talk to the Police” in the Useful Videos post, you’ll know that there are no “casual” or “innocent” interactions with cops. They are always looking to catch somebody doing something. And yet they frequently shy away from the camera themselves, often blocking their faces or shining flashlights into the lens, even lying about their badge numbers to further conceal their identities (not that it does any good, we do our homework). If the police are really doing their jobs properly, why don’t they want anyone watching?
Is it legal to film the cops?
The short answer is yes, it is legal to film on duty officers as long as you are not interfering with their work. Can We Tape? has a state by state listing of what constitutes “eavesdropping” and illegal recording, but any conversations or actions taking place in public view are fair game. Furthermore, police officers are public servants, acting in the eye of the public, and filming them on duty is constitutionally protected, again with the emphasis that it is only legal so long as you are not inferring with their work.
The ACLU provides this helpful link: Know Your Rights as a Photographer
However many cops will try to tell you that it is illegal to film them, and they may try to tell you to turn of the camera, or even try to confiscate it or destroy it. Many Occupy camps saw their cameras, smart phones, and even laptops destroyed as law enforcement tried to keep videos of their brutal raids from reaching the public eye. Again we must ask, if they are doing their jobs right, why are they hiding?
This case file of Glik v. Boston details the case of man arrested for filming officers. Not only was the case thrown out, but the officers were publicly scolded and scorned for bringing their ridiculous charges to court.
Why do you swear at the cops and flip them off? Is this necessary to be part of cop watch?
Many current members of the Camarillo Cop Watch feel that their local police have done little to nothing to earn any respect, so we express that under the protection of our First Amendment rights of speech. The courts have determined that foul language is a form of political speech and therefore protected, so any cop that reacts personally and tries to detain or arrest an expressive citizen is not doing his/her job properly and violating his/her oath to do the job impartially without personal bias.
Note: there are a few exceptions to our right to use our language at will. Use of amplification devices without permission or permit is usually not allowed. Shouting at night or in residental areas might leave you vulnerable to a “disturbing the peace” charge. Certain public areas like parks and shopping centers have their own rules for conduct and may eject you for using “foul language”. Until the public at large is more desensitized to mere words, it’s advisable to pick your battles carefully.
Threatening anyone, cop or citizen, is illegal and will make you a target for arrest. Calling a cop a “fascist pig” or even a “corporate Nazi” is free speech; saying you want to harm a cop, his vehicle, his family, or even the police department is not legal and is asking for trouble.
It is not necessary to express yourself in this manner to be part of Cop Watch, but it is absolutely your right to do so if you feel inclined. We do recommend filming these interactions for your own protection – at least until the cops start reacting the way decent human beings should, by ignoring it or doing something to change our minds and earn our respect again.
Check out these articles about citizens expressing themselves:
Man flips off cops, gets “rewarded”
I love the quote at the end of this article: “Prairie Village’s police chief […] said of such abuse: “We have to just swallow it.”