The dawn of the internet and personal phones and equipment with cameras in them, and perhaps especially action cameras like the GoPro has given rise to a perhaps pretty uniquely American phenomenon; Rights Auditors. In short, these are people who test and document how public officials and law enforcement react to being “audited” by civilians on how they react to people exercising their amendment-given rights, so to speak. Be it the first, the fourth, fifth or second amendment, these guys (and girls) push the boundaries of what law enforcement see as “normal”, and the varied reactions are … varied. That’s perhaps the nicest possible term to use. But sometimes, things get out of hand, even though the first commandment in anything like this is to video absolutely everything – preferably using a service that streams and stores that video in some kind of cloud at the same time.
Personal security when dealing with law enforcement
Even if you haven’t broken any laws, and you haven’t stepped on private property, police officers and other law enforcement officers will, at times, kill you. So there’s that. Taking security precautions when you know that the cops might not be far off, isn’t always a good idea, and showing up anywhere in full body armor and a riot helmet isn’t very smart either – that’s definitely going to land you in the “immediate threat” category. That being said, some protection is always a good idea, and something a little less obvious might just save your life, that one time a rogue, scared or overzealous cop show up to the scene. While full body armor is not a good idea, it’s important to note that law enforcement is trained to shoot for “center mass”, which means the biggest part of you. Torso, that is. And there are definite things you can do to try and make sure you escape from an encounter like that with your life – and the ability to sue later.
- Use a discrete bullet resistant vest. It’s not like you have to protect yourself from 7.62 armor piercing rounds. You need handgun protection (and perhaps something that’ll stop those taser prongs…).
- Carry a small backpack. Armor it with these.
The sad fact is that you can’t take up a fight against law enforcement on the spot, no matter how wrong they are. That means you have to, at some point, submit to being detained or arrested, if that’s what they want to do. The trouble with police in the US – and a few other places – is that the officers that are willing to arrest you for something legal, also known as an unlawful arrest or detainment, will be the same ones that have previous records of misconduct, or poor training, or both. Also the ones most likely to use unreasonable force against someone. Protecting yourself from trigger happy police should be unnecessary if you’ve done nothing illegal, but to quote law enforcement’s favorite expression, in this day and age there’s no such thing as being too careful when dealing with the police.
How to carry out “Rights audits” – safely
You have to start crawling before you can walk, so before you take on the known “baddies”, such as the FBI and the US Marshalls, or the DEA, you should start locally. While local police may have less training, and therefore be a danger from that aspect, they’re less likely (at least in smaller communities) to gun down people on a whim.
Do your research. Know what laws apply for providing ID to law enforcement and government officials, what the FOIA process is where you are, what kind of obligations your local police have to identify themselves to you, and so on. Most importantly, research what is and what isn’t public land and public areas, roadway easement boundaries, and if there actually are areas with legal prohibitions against photography around you. If you want to test your second amendment, you need to be extra careful, and find out if there are areas legally exempt, where you can not carry any kind of weapon, if you need a license, what the police can and cannot do when they approach you, and so on. Be sure that you’re on the right side of the law – and expose police and law enforcement that step over that line. That’s how you win.
Carry the DHS photography memo with you. (link is .pdf, @ NPPA)
Carry pertinent law text with you.
Have a lawyer ready – on speed dial.
Research is more than reading. YouTube is your best and often only friend in these matters, so check out some of the best channels on rights audits out there (and add more in the comments if we’ve missed some!):
Keeping government and law enforcement accountable and within the law, not just in the US, but wherever you are, is one of the most important things to your personal safety and security. That’s why you’ll see more on this topic here at SnallaBolaget, in the near future. Check out the links, and if you have further tips, leave a comment!