Videotaping Police Should Never be a Crime

Radley Balko takes a look at a couple recent episodes of police abuse caught on camera. Both events are notable not only for the outrageous behavior involved, but also for the subsequent efforts to cover up what took place.

As video technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, such recordings have rapidly become one of the most important tools for ensuring police accountability. It is critical that the right of citizens to record police in public be upheld and that efforts to restrict such activity be vigorously condemned. I’m not usually a big fan of the whole “If you’re not doing anything wrong, what are you worried about?” argument, but when it comes to public servants charged with upholding the law, there’s simply no excuse for secrecy.

Law enforcement officers who do their job legally and professionally should have no objection to being recorded in the course of their public duties. To argue otherwise is to create a blueprint for misconduct.


Washington Post Reviews 10 Rules for Dealing with Police

DeNeen L. Brown at The Washington Post attended our D.C. premiere at the Cato Institute yesterday and put together a thorough piece that’s available online and in print. We’re hearing from a lot of new people today as a result and it’s exciting to see the video receive this kind of attention. We’ve even gotten a couple orders from police departments and I’m looking forward to their feedback because we worked hard to create a resource that would have educational value for police as well as citizens.

Along these same lines, there’s one point that I wished we’d better clarified in our conversation with The Post. Despite its focus on urban settings and black and Hispanic suspects, I’d like to emphasize that 10 Rules isn’t just for people of color. We wanted to place emphasis on representing communities that feel particularly targeted by police, but the legal and practical concepts in the film are valid and useful no matter who you are. Although race can sometimes be a factor in influencing who gets approached by law enforcement, it’s really not a factor in terms of how the citizen should behave during an encounter. Anyone who’s curious about how best to handle police encounters should find the film very helpful. … Continued

10 Rules for Dealing with Police – Some Early Reviews

Our new film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police is arriving in mailboxes around the country, and the reviews are just getting started.

*Our friend Phil Smith at takes an in depth look at the film here.

*Barbara Hollingsworth at the Washington Examiner attended yesterday’s D.C. premiere at the Cato institute and has a good summary.

*Popular drug policy blogger Pete Guither has an awesome review at his site, DrugWarRant. I particularly like this one, because Pete makes fun of my acting:

Scott plays Thug #1. Oh, yeah. Not Thug #2, which is played quite competently by Steve Silverman. No, the number one thug in this movie is definitely Scott Morgan.

I’m thinking there may be an Oscar nomination. That lean-back double-take when he starts running from the police is exceeded in style only by the intentional dive and double roll shortly after, ending with his grotesque mug frozen on the screen, which left me doubled up with laughter (and will give me nightmares tonight). Please, please, please, flex your — turn that sequence into a youtube video so I can watch it over and over again!

Fortunately for Pete and the rest of you, we have several outtakes from that scene. I’ll see what I can do to get them spliced together into one awesome clip. Everyone seems to love seeing Steve and I get chased and roughed up by two massive cops, but wait til you see it happening over and over again with slight variations. Stay tuned, folks.

In the meantime, you can get your copy of 10 Rules for Dealing with Police right here.


Dallas Police Plan Widespread Warrantless Searches

As long as the public remains largely ignorant about 4th Amendment rights, police will continue to rely on coercive tactics that treat people as guilty until proven innocent:

Dallas police began a new initiative today to combat drugs. Citywide, officers are headed to suspected drug houses to “knock and talk” with the occupants.

The technique involves knocking on the door of a suspected drug house and trying to talk the people inside into inviting officers in to search without a warrant. Police can enter without a search warrant if they see illegal activity happening.

Dallas police have long used the technique, but its use will be widened during the next few months to include more officers and more areas within the city. [Dallas Morning News]

If this sounds to anyone like a program that only affects drug offenders, it’s not. Police tactics like these are always framed as an effort to “get weapons and drugs off the street,” but they are so much more than that. By definition, the people targeted under such policies are innocent citizens against whom police have no actionable evidence of criminal activity. After all, when police have credible facts indicating that drug crimes are taking place at a specific location, they may obtain a search warrant and enter lawfully.

The “knock and talk” approach is used exclusively to enter private residences in the absence of probable cause. Vague and unfounded suspicions, or even prejudices, could ultimately determine which locations are singled out for investigation. In the process, innocent people living in high-crime neighborhoods are placed at great risk of arrest in the event that a guest, neighbor or former tenant left something illegal on their property. Our upcoming video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police shows exactly how that can happen.

As misguided as these tactics are, there is one simple option available to concerned citizens who don’t want police digging through their drawers: just don’t let them in. Unless you give them permission to enter, police need a warrant to search your home. You may simply decline the search and tell the officers that you’ll gladly cooperate if they return with a warrant. If that makes you uncomfortable, another option is not to answer the door at all, which also reduces the likelihood of police claiming that they saw or smelled something illegal when you opened the door for them.

The bottom line is that invasive “knock and talk” programs don’t work if everyone knows their rights, which is why the D.C. police simply canceled theirs after we started doing this:

Anyone in Dallas who’s concerned about the new policy should consider organizing a similar effort.


When Police Mistake Candy for Crack…

Everyone’s talking about this wild story from New York City, in which two men spent 5 days in jail for a bag of coconut candy. The driver consented to a search of his vehicle and both men were arrested after police discovered what they believed was crack cocaine. An officer told the passenger to “shut up” when he insisted it was candy, and the men had to wait in jail for almost a week before lab tests proved their innocence.

In addition to demonstrating the combined arrogance, incompetence, and contempt for innocent people that so often characterizes drug war policing, the story also provides another glaring example of how consenting to police searches can instantly make a bad situation much worse. Pete Guither explains:

Lesson #1: Never, ever, ever, ever, agree to a search. If you’re guilty, you’re helping them catch you. If you’re innocent, you’re wasting your time, you’re taking a chance since they aren’t required to fix anything they break, you’re leaving yourself open for being charged for something you didn’t know about that fell out of a friend’s pocket, and you’ve got the possibility that a couple of morons will think your coconut candy is crack and throw you in jail for a week.

Whether or not refusal prevents the search is beside the point here (although, yes, refusal often prevents the search). Such cases are less likely to be prosecuted, even after evidence is discovered, due to the fact that police and prosecutors do – believe it or not – sometimes recognize a constitutional violation and decline to proceed simply because they don’t want to bring a messy case into the courtroom. Finally, consider how much more impressive a civil suit would look in this case with an illegal search thrown into the mix along with the already-compelling story of spending days in jail over coconut candy.

We’ll never know how things would have turned out if these guys had refused the search, but there’s no question what happened when they agreed to it.


How to Protect Your Rights on Facebook

Uh-oh, you might wanna think twice before posting those party pictures on Facebook:

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer has nearly 400 friends on Facebook. He got an offer for a new one about a month ago. “She was a good-looking girl. I usually don’t accept friends I don’t know, but I randomly accepted this one for some reason,” the 19-year-old said.

He thinks that led to his invitation to come down to the La Crosse police station, where an officer laid out photos from Facebook of Bauer holding a beer — and then ticketed him for underage drinking.

He was among at least eight people who said Wednesday they had been cited for underage drinking based on photos on social networking sites. [LaCrosse-Tribune]

First things first, there’s certainly nothing good to be said about these sorts of law-enforcement tactics. Police always have better things to do than roam the Internet looking for pictures of naughty college kids and there’s no excuse for invading people’s privacy to make a couple petty arrests. The very notion of officers assuming fake identities on Facebook is just inherently repugnant and serves only to destroy their relationship with the very people they’re supposed to be protecting.

That said, it’s also worth keeping in mind that you have a 5th Amendment right not to post incriminating pictures of yourself on Facebook. It’s just an unfortunate reality that police do creep around on the web an awful lot for no particularly good reason and you never know where their prying eyes might land. This means you should think about what you’re posting, and keep an eye out for other people incriminating you as well. Simply untagging yourself from a couple questionable photos could be all it takes to save you a huge hassle down the road.

In my experience, this issue goes beyond what may or may not have taken place in one photo on one particular night. I’ve known people who got passed over for a job because their prospective employer found unflattering photos online. Worse, I know of instances in which online photos were used to attack someone’s character in an otherwise unrelated criminal case. The bottom line is that posting pictures online has much broader implications than simply showing your friends what a kick-ass weekend you had.

Finally, remember that if you’re ever confronted with a photo that shows you in a compromising situation, you don’t have to incriminate yourself. Rarely will the photo itself be sufficient evidence to convict you of anything. What they’re really looking for is the confession that they hope will come spilling out of your mouth after they show you what they’ve got. If you keep your mouth shut and ask for a lawyer, chances are they’ve got nothing. … Continued

Chicago Politicians Demand Exemption From Routine Searches

If you don’t enjoy being searched anytime you enter a government building, you’re not alone:

Chicago aldermen with their noses out of joint Friday demanded to know why they are searched along with the masses at the city’s central headquarters for administrative hearings.

[Administrative Hearings Director] Bruner initially defended the policy, telling aldermen, “It’s not my intention to offend anyone. It’s only our intention to make sure that people coming through are searched. . . . We’re trying to treat everyone equally.” [Sun Times]

Apparently, the idea of “treating everyone equally” didn’t sit very well with those in positions of political power:

Budget Committee Chair Carrie Austin (34th) was so “offended,” she warned Bruner what might happen if he fails to “take another look at your policy.”

“It’s not a matter of giving anybody any preference. But us that are aldermen — we are the ones who set your budget. If we’re the ones setting your budget maybe we’ll take an adjustment” downward, if the policy is not rescinded, Austin warned.

She says she doesn’t want special treatment, then in the same breath she threatens to defund the department if it doesn’t surrender to her demands. Unbelievable.

Maybe instead of demanding new privileges for themselves, Chicago’s aldermen should do more to deal with the city’s rampant problems with police abuse. If you don’t like being searched at security checkpoints in city buildings, then maybe you should show more sympathy for all the innocent people who don’t like being illegally searched on the street.


You Don’t Have to Let Them in

A couple people have sent us this clip from the latest cop show, Police Women of Broward County. I don’t know what exactly to say about it except that if you’ve decided it’s necessary to grow your own marijuana at home, you should really teach everyone in the house about their rights during police encounters, so that they don’t rat you instantly when cops come to the door.

Either there was simply no plan in place here, or the young man just completely freaked when he saw police in the doorway. Regardless, “it’s not mine” is a really awful response when police are inquiring about the possibility of contraband in your home. I would have recommended “do you have a warrant?” instead.


Some Thoughts on the Gates Arrest

A rather typical encounter

Last week’s media frenzy surrounding the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. illustrates once again that concerns about racial profiling and police abuse are as potent as ever in American culture. The incident itself is fascinating not only because of what happened, but because of what didn’t happen. No blood was shed, no property destroyed, and no one will be facing years behind bars. Instead, we’ve witnessed a rare event in which the media has had the opportunity to debate a much more common scenario: a misunderstanding that escalated into hostility and a questionable discretionary arrest.

Supreme Court Upholds Fourth Amendment in Strip Search Case

Flex Your Rights Hero Savana Redding

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Safford Unified School District #1 et al v. Redding that school officials violated the 4th Amendment when they strip searched a 13-year-old girl. Savana Redding was subjected to a strip search that included looking inside her underwear after the school principal received a tip that she might be in possession of prescription ibuprofen. None was found.

By a strong majority, the Court declared the search unreasonable under the 4th Amendment, finding that a full strip search was unjustified based on the nature of the drugs and in question and the absence of specific evidence that contraband would be found in her underwear.