Film the Police

A guide to safely documenting citizen contact with police officers

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Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain the benefits and dangers of filming police
  • Students will demonstrate strategies for safely filming police
  • Students will leave with app recommendations and further reading

Materials Needed

  • Students’ personal smartphones (iOS/Android) or other video recording devices (this is optional but recommended)
  • Handout: “Stuff Cops Say/ Stuff You Say
  • Video projector and computer for watching supplemental videos and slides

Video Hook

If You See Something, Film Something I: You Have The Right To Film The Police

Lecture Section: Why Film Police?

Activity: Discussion

  • Prompt students to think about and share times when they’ve seen video of police officers infringing on a citizen’s civil rights.

Some examples:

Why Film Police?

  • Filming police on duty can (hopefully) prevent situations from escalating into violence and infringement of citizens’ civil rights.
  • Conversely, if a situation does escalate, filming police provides evidence of the wrongdoing, which can lead to accountability after the fact.
  • You have the legally protected 1st Amendment right to film police in public performing their job duties.

How to Film Police | Body Language

  • No sudden movements! Your phone looks like a gun. Slow & steady.
  • Calmly inform the officer that you are filming them, and that you have the 1st amendment right to do this.
  • Do not resist arrest. If the officer intends to arrest you, calmly cooperate.


The following Chris Rock comedy sketch “How Not to Get Your A** Kicked by Police” is a humorous take on a serious subject.

Activity: Role Play 3 Filming Scenarios

Students get the handout Stuff Cops Say, Stuff You Say and act out one or more of the 3 filming scenarios:

  • Cop’s Attention is on You
  • Cop’s Attention is on Someone Else
  • Cop is Pulling You Over

Students can take turns as the videographer or the police officer, and practice the Dos and Don’ts of filming police.

How to Film Police | Technology

Streaming Video  Apps Beat Recording and Uploading Later

If possible (and especially if you fear for your safety) you should use a streaming video app instead of just using your camera’s built in video recorder. Streaming video is instantly uploaded and published while you’re filming, so there’s no chance of your video being confiscated or destroyed before the world can see it.

CopBlock recommends the Bambuser app for iOS and Android.


If that’s not a possibility, of course, any video or audio recording app will do. Just know that you will need to keep control of your device long enough to publish your footage to the web.

CopBlock publishes a great list of recommended apps for sharing video from all platforms.

Start Filming with a Voice Command

Android’s Google Now and (I believe) Apple’s Siri “virtual assistant” apps have commands that allow you to start filming video handsfree. This can be useful when you need to keep your hands visible to police.

Keep Reading! Resources for Staying Informed

Police Accountability Groups