Can you record the police? Yes. There is nothing to stop you, the Metropolitan Police (the largest force in the country) even say so here. Do officers like it? Maybe not. Here we discuss the pros and cons of filming so you can make a decision if it’s right for you.
ost people have smartphones and they are clearly a useful tool in collecting evidence. In fact, the police are also starting to use body-worn video cameras now so filming stop and search will soon become the norm.
While you are allowed to film, some police might not like it and might tell you to stop, making the interaction even more confrontational. In fact, some people might be unsure about filming the police for this reason. You just want the situation to end as quickly as possible and you do not want to risk annoying the officer, maybe making things worse. Some people we speak to don’t want to risk their phones, we’ve heard stories about them getting taken away or damaged. Others have been stopped and searched on a dark street where they would be too frightened to take any chances. These concerns are understandable.
We believe that there are potential benefits to recording stop and search. As well as having your own proof about what happened, recording helps to improve police behaviour as nobody wants to be on film doing something badly. But, ultimately you have to use your common sense and do what you are comfortable with. People film the police a lot, you have probably seen videos online and many officers will even expect it. In case you are unlucky enough to be dealing with an unreasonable officer, assess the situation and how you want to play it.
Here are some tips if you decide to record the police:
Communicate what you are doing to them
At the beginning of the encounter, politely inform the officer that you are going to get your phone out to film the search (reaching for your pocket without warning might be misinterpreted as a threat as they have no idea what you might be pulling out).
Don’t get in their way when filming
You are allowed to film the police but it is an offence to obstruct them from doing their work. Keep your phone at a safe distance, don’t push it in their faces and make sure they can still reach everywhere they need to.
Ask a witness to record it for you
You could ask a friend or passer-by to film the encounter instead. First of all it’s hard to see how this could be seen as obstructing the search (the same rules apply for witnesses though, they shouldn’t get in their way!) but knowing that someone else is watching can also make the situation less scary for you. Finally, having the search filmed from further away is actually better as it means that the lens can capture more of what is going on. If the witness uses their own phone to record, make sure they share the video with you.
Switch to audio recording
If the police officers still object to you filming them, you could compromise by putting your phone back in your pocket and just recording what they say. It’s unlikely that they could consider this obstruction and recording the answers to your questions is the most important thing anyway.
Use a live streaming app to record
This means that anything you record is being uploaded to a server at the same time. Whatever else happens, you will not lose your recording. Using a live streaming app (e.g. UStream, LiveStream) does not mean your videos will be publicly available – you can adjust your settings to keep them private.
When it works, filming can help to protect everyone’s interests. But remember – it’s a tool to monitor police, not piss them off.
When should I not film?
Keeping yourself safe is the most important thing so if it looks like trying to film the police is making the situation tense you might decide it’s not worth it. However, this does not mean that you have to accept unreasonable behaviour, us and make a complaint about it. It’s frustrating but exercising your rights after the event is sometimes the safest option.