Five Yards is sufficient distance

Posted on June 3, 2020


Law enforcement didn’t recently start abusing citizens. Indeed, they’ve been abusing citizens since police departments were created. Today, nearly every citizen has a high resolution still & video camera on them in the form of a cell phone. Dash cameras that can be turned to record a police stop are commonplace. Body cameras are now employed by police departments to try and tell another version of the story. So it isn’t that they recently started abusing citizens in the last 15 years. It is that everyone has a camera now and is able to record. The ACLU even has an app for police stops that sends your video in real-time to the ACLU cloud so that even if your phone is confiscated by rogue police trying to cover for their crimes, the ACLU has a copy of the video. The same can be done with Facebook live, periscope, or any other number of applications.

In the past few years, citizens themselves have taken up the mantle of the first amendment audit. Spanning from attorneys to those with lengthy criminal records, people are testing the boundaries of videotaping police doing their jobs. And in most locales, the police do not like being filmed doing their job and have confiscated cameras and phones and arrested people for interference into a police investigation.

Take some time to review some of these first amendment audits on Youtube and you come away with a strong understanding that laws need to be put in place to protect citizens filming police activity. Sure, there are a few that are overboard and attempt to taunt officers into action but most of them are just observing and reporting police activity.

There are numerous cases where people were filming from hundreds of feet away and the officers come over and arrested them and confiscated their cameras or phones. These too can be found on Youtube.

Other police officers might push citizens back a considerable distance so that they can’t get a good video shot of what is going on – all under the threat of arrest for interfering in a police investigation or because police allegedly feared for their safety from a person filming from 200 feet away or even 30 feet away.

Confiscating phones on the scene is commonplace when a police-initiated crime has occurred. ESPECIALLY IN CALIFORNIA. They state that it is to protect the evidence from spoilage. If citizens get their phones back at all, and that is pretty rare these days, the video has been erased. Many of these first amendment audits have taken the time to have a second person recording a first-person filming the police from a distance or in a concealed manner to protect the video and demonstrate that there was no interference in a police investigation or that phones or cameras were actually seized by police. DUI, license, and insurance checkpoints are places where cameras and phones are likely to be confiscated. 

Five yards from actual police activity is a reasonable distance to obtain high-quality video on a cellphone and to not interfere in an investigation as long as the recording citizen isn’t verbally interfering and preventing the investigation from happening. Responding to a police officer should not be construed as interfering in an investigation, nor should any refusal to answer police questions be justification. A few jurisdictions have made legal settlements for these types of arrests but they continue with little abatement because we have no standard and we have no laws. 

George Floyd’s police murderers were filmed at one angle substantially closer than 5 yards – close enough for those filming to capture his last words while being asphyxiated. It is incredibly rare that citizens are able to get that close.

California needs a five-yard rule for filming police to stop the insanity of arrests for interfering in a police investigation by filming. Our police need far more accountability – not less. California also needs to require a warrant signed by a judge to confiscate cameras or cell phones since it has been shown time and again that people don’t get their equipment back after its confiscated by the police.