Recently there have been instances popping up all over social media regarding “First Amendment Audits” of law enforcement and government buildings and practices. The entire focus of these audits is to judge the proper (or often improper) response of law enforcement to the presence of a cameraman. The hopes of some auditors is to have a poor contact with law enforcement, resulting in a violation of their 4th Amendment rights and or a bad arrest. This obviously places the officer and agency in line for civil damages and embarrassing online videos. This also leads to interesting and valuable training opportunities!
The question is, when and how should we act?
A review of many of the posted audit videos shows us, extremely well trained and professional law enforcement officers acting what I can only describe as “childish” when confronted with an audit and a camera. From us blocking their view, following them, challenging them for ID, or even worse, pulling out our own cell phone and taking pictures and video of them. What is the point? The videos are never taken well by the public audience, and the comments; I won’t even mention them.
I know, some of you may be saying “But terrorists, they scout locations and police stations are a target.” I agree. They certainly do. When was the last time you found a terrorist standing in wide open view, in public, blatantly videotaping a public building with obvious disregard for the police driving around? Probably never. If they were going to scout a location, they would do it and you likely would never know.
Honestly, as a law enforcement professional for the past twenty years, I have seen my share of video cameras, and baiting of law enforcement. At no time have I felt a threat when someone with a camera was filming me, my police station, or anything to do with us as law enforcement. Remember, the audits are carefully planned to remain in a place that they can legally be, and there is no law about recording activity or buildings from a public place. They are well within their rights to do so, and from my experience, the best response to an audit roaming around your police station public areas is to ignore them. They eventually lose interest and move on to somewhere they can make headlines.
Consider the audits as a reminder that we do serve the public, and in such, we should adjust our policing and our methods to suit the situation. We shouldn’t be carrying heavy stones over glass bridges as law enforcement.