A Flip for Every Citizen

The police are very good at enforcing their own version of the facts after an encounter with citizens goes wrong.  It is only the advent of the inexpensive digital camera that has started to save folks from the police's ability to make up a story and stick to it when they screw up.  In fact, I am constantly amazed at how long the police will often hold on to their story even in the face of video evidence.

So after reading stories like this one, I am strongly considering buying myself a Flip camcorder or something similar and just tossing it into my car.  Of course the downside is, as documented by Carlos Miller, there is nothing guaranteed to enrage your average law enforcement officer than filming his or her actions in public.

Related, here is a good video:  10 Rules for Dealing with the Police.

And on a lighter note, here is some classic Chris Rock on the same topic.


  1. L Nettles:

    I've got a Kodak Zi6 the Zi8 looks even better.

  2. morganovich:

    one of the interesting wrinkles here is that the massive increase in amateur video finding its way into court has actually led police departments to install their own audio and video. companies like icop and digital ally specialize in it. some even use proprietary data formats for which there are no editing tools to prevent and real or alleged tampering.

    this seems to me to be a good solution all around. it creates a definitive record of what happened which (if truth and justice are goals seems valuable), but it also keeps everyone on their best behavior. the police know they are on record, so they have to play by the rules. if they bully, over react, or entrap, it's all right there.

    there are many who argue that such a video is an invasion of privacy, but that seems like trying to have it both ways. if it's OK for you to video a cop, then they can video you too.

  3. roger the shrubber:

    best advice i ever got in re talking to/dealing with cops was from a lawyer in the family. "don't."

    he then elaborated a little bit: since any *bad* thing you say about yourself to a cop WILL BE used against you; and any *good* thing you say will be disallowed in court as hearsay; and ANY teeny-tiny lie they manage to catch you in makes you a much better suspect and gives them a lot more probable cause; etc etc etc...

    1) don't answer any questions they may ask beyond your name and address. the wrong answer to an innocuous question like "where are you driving in from?" can get you arrested.
    2) take the on-the-spot arrest for non-cooperation rather than talk to them and build a case against yourself.
    3) "the beautiful thing about the 5th amendment is that it allows you not to implicate yourself, **and you're the guy who gets to make the decision as to what might or might not be incriminating**. since the fact is that ANYthing you say might incriminate you, best not to take that risk. say nothing. take the 5th."
    4) the cop or detective on the scene has essentially no input as to whether or how the DA will press any charges against you. his job is to arrest you, then get you to talk yourself into prison. if he offers a deal, he's lying. if he offers to help, he's lying.
    5) when a dirty cop gets busted, they ALWAYS lawyer up and refuse to answer questions. learn from the pros.
    6) if a cop asks something of you - "may i come in? "you mind if i take a look around in your car for your/my own safety?" - the answer is always always always "no".

  4. commieBob:

    Don't they learn?

    Remember Rodney King? That was a long time ago. You would think the police would have got used to the fact that everyone has some kind of video recorder these days ... ?

    The RCMP complaints commissioner just released his report on the Polish guy who got tasered to death at Vancouver airport. He was quite clear that, if a citizen had not recorded video of the event, the cops version of the story would stand.

    (Here I resist a rant wishing that more politicians were like Ron Paul and Tommy Douglas. It was provoked by the firing of the commissioner who released the report.)

  5. BlogDog:

    If you want to multitask, the new iPod Nanos and iPhones (well, most phones these days I guess) have built-in viddy capability.

  6. Matt:

    I have a flip, and it is indeed reasonably priced, compact, and has very good video quality. The only drawback is that it doesn't zoom very far. I haven't used it to film a police situation, but I did film some deer I saw and a large bobcat dead in the road.

  7. O Bloody Hell:


    Cop Rule #1: Cops are like vampires -- if you don't invite them in, it's harder for them to hurt you.

    That sounds facetious, but it's actually just sensible. If a cop comes to your door, and asks to come in, the answer, unless they have a warrant or insist against protest, is to say no, "I'll come out". Even if it's snowing outside.

    As it is utterly impossible -- literally impossible -- to know what obscure and ridiculous laws you may be violating in your own home, your best bet is to not allow any member of law enforcement access to the inside of your home. If they don't see it, they can't charge you with it -- whatever "it" is.


  8. O Bloody Hell:


    Also, regarding surveillance, in a slightly different but moderately related vein:

    The Transparent Society
    The cameras are coming. They're getting smaller and nothing will stop them. The only question is: who watches whom?
    By David Brin

    Also, in the same vein, it seems resoundingly ironic (yes, in the real, not the 'Alanis' sense) that they have long since mounted surveillance cameras in the bell tower of Independence Hall.

  9. O Bloody Hell:

    > a large bobcat dead in the road.

    Ummm, Matt, if it was dead, why did you need video?


  10. Michael:

    I don't have a lot of sympathy for Watts. What has been going around the net as "his own words" has been cleaned up. His first account reads like it was written by a marine corp drill sergeant.

    The US and Canada are sovereign countries that have the right to set laws. I don't agree with J.D. Tuccille take that vehicles search at the border are unconstitutional. The US has the right to prevent materials from entering or leaving the country. So does Canada.

    Watts could have stayed in his car and answered a few questions. Instead he got out and made an ass of himself.

  11. Jim Collins:

    I have no problem with video cameras in police cars. I do have a problem with who controls the video data once it has been taken. Our local police have video cameras in their patrol cars and it is amazing how many times that the cameras are out of order or the video is lost when it can prove someone innocent of the charges. On the other hand, when the video is incriminating, the camera is always working and the video always makes it to court.

    I usually attend an event Saturday nights, that runs until about 2 AM Sunday morning. As it is some distance from my house, I am almost guarenteed to go through at least one DUI checkpoint on the way home. After a few altercations, I have installed a video camera in my car. It is a Flip camcorder secured with a few rubber bands. I have disabled the power LED and have covered the LCD screen so that no light from it can be detected. I always make a point of turning on my interior lights and hit the record button before I roll down my window.

  12. damaged justice:

    Or pick up one of the new camcorders that looks like a pen:


    At that price, more than one would be prudent, in multiple locations on your person and in your home, vehicle, etc.

  13. roger the shrubber:

    so judging from the comments on this post, it seems to be safe to say that the folks here - and i'm one of them - hate and fear the police more than we hate/fear criminals *without* badges. bad sign for america. badgeless bad guys can be stopped by good security: my house can't be broken into without a LOT of noise and trouble, (unless the burglar is one of the .01% who're good enough and sophisticated enough to do things like pick locks and defeat alarm systems, and guys like that don't work in my middle-class neighborhood), muggers and robbers can be stopped with good situational awareness and a gun in your pocket, but COPS.....

    cops scare me. they're trained to instantly overreact to or escalate any situation in which they *think* they might be in *any* small amount of peril (hence all the stories of cops shooting tail-wagging labs and spaniels); they're trained to shoot to kill each and every time; they're trained to lie at any time in which they think it might benefit them; every year, they're more and more militarized in terms of weaponry and methodology; they have a code of silence that makes the mafia green with envy; and their word trumps yours (and each and every witness you might be able to produce) in court. (even if they're caught lying under oath, so what? when was the last time you heard about a cop being tried for perjury?)

    it's only going to get worse: the justice/prosecutorial system is becoming more and more corrupt, willing to overlook innocence and/or inconvenient evidence in order to gain convictions - and they need the cops on their side to make this happen, so THEY're certainly not going to rein in the cops. don't even get me started on the feds: when they let lon horiuchi walk out of court a free man, that told you all you need to know. (the part later, when they awarded all the ruby ridge playas medals - even the brave warrior who shot the 13-year-old boy in the back- [really] was just icing on the cake.)

    the question is, what do we do about it? yeah, you can try taping any & all encounters you might have with the cops, but they're working feverishly to make that illegal. bad signs abound these evil days....

  14. Matt:

    @ O Bloody Hell:

    Dude it was huge! I had to get that ish...

  15. O Bloody Hell:

    > so judging from the comments on this post, it seems to be safe to say that the folks here – and i’m one of them – hate and fear the police more than we hate/fear criminals *without* badges. bad sign for america.

    I dunno. I think this is all a development of the lost naivete regarding the place of cops that happened from 1940-1970. We grasp that cops are a necessary evil, not "an inarguable force for good". Part of this is cops themselves, mind you, who have stopped walking beats and becoming familiar with the people of the area they patrol -- and that part works the other way, too -- just as the cop no longer knows the people, the people no longer know the cop.

    "Among other things, being disarmed causes you to be despised."
    - Machiavelli -

    Part of it is the developed siege mentality that cops have, as well as the growing disdain for the general populace, often described as "To a cop, there are three kinds of people: Criminals, Citizens, and Cops. They only respect the last of those, and the other two rank close to the same."

    And part of it is the inevitable attraction of natural thugs and bullies to the profession. I do believe there are a lot of good cops, but one cockroach in the barrel does put one off the barrel.

    And I think cops, like doctors, tend to have a strong amount of "us-v-them" attitude which really does a bad job when faced with corruption or wrong actions. If you're a cop, and you screw up, that shouldn't be something where it's hidden by other cops and defended by them when exposed, any more than with doctors. To some level, there is a measure of "we sometimes make mistakes while doing a tough job, and someone who isn't a cop (doctor) can't always see that", and I don't have an issue with that -- but when a cop makes a stupid decision that terminates someone's life, or even merely "ruins" it, that's not that different from someone else doing it, and the cop shouldn't get special protections -- either from the system or from fellow cops. There's a proper balance, and cops don't always grasp that. Small mistakes, and some types of mistakes should get a pass -- but "anything goes" for a cop because of their special position as "able to use deadly force", they have to be hit harder in some cases when they cross a line.

    The whole Furman-OJ-glove thing -- I suspect OJ was as guilty as sin. But the instant Furman f***ed with the evidence, the case deserved to be thrown out from that instant onward. Cops have to be absolutely, utterly terrified of getting caught fabricating evidence, of making things up rather than letting the truth speak for itself. They have a special privileged place when it comes to evidence. I don't care if you spent years collecting the data for a case. I don't care if you spent millions of man hours on the investigation. Once a cop taints it by fabricating something, that cop deserves to be strung up by their balls while their intended victim goes entirely free.

    "I fear, more than anything else, [he] reminds me of William Roper, Sir Thomas
    More's son-in-law, who in Robert Bolt's 'A Man for All Seasons', insists that
    the law of England be set aside to get at More's enemy, Thomas Cromwell. More,
    saying that it would make no difference if Cromwell were the Devil himself,
    asks Roper, 'What would you do? Cut a road through the law to get after the
    Devil?... and when the last law was down,... do you really think you could
    stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil the
    benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake.'"
    - Stephen L. Haynes -

    Cops need to grasp this so deeply in their souls that they never even think of fabricating evidence.

  16. O Bloody Hell:

    P.S. one of the real solutions to this is to make the populace fully aware of their Rights as member of a Jury. People fail to grasp what power they have as jurors, and the history of juries as a stopgap against unjust law and unjust prosecutions. And the fact is, that one smart idea would be the passage of laws which reaffirm these rights, requiring judges and courts to fully inform jurors about what power they have in the court.

    Judges and prosecutors hate this process, since it takes a lot of power away from them, but it has a reason and a purpose in the history of British common law, two notable examples being the notorious Zenger case in the UK and the failure of prosecutions in both fugitive slave cases and prohibition cases.

    Anyone unaware of their Rights and Responsibilities as a Juror should visit FIJA, particularly if they have been selected, or may be selected, as a member of a jury pool.

    Many of the current laws on the books would be moot, unused and unapplied except in very rare, blatantly obvious cases of wrongdoing, were juries doing their jobs of reflecting the proper application of the law. Most anti-smoking regulations (both tobacco and cannabis) would be rightly ignored by prosecutors aware that they could not get a conviction in a case. There are plenty of other instances where this sort of abuse would be nipped in the bud.

    A fully informed jury is one of the last lines of defense against the overreaching power of The State. Short of unarmed, then armed, resistance, it gives a good deal of power back to the people where it belongs. No wonder then that, since 1899, the courts have ignored these rights and responsibilities as best they could, as the people grow less and less aware of them with each passing generation.

    The laws, however, are still in effect -- and still represent the canon of American jurisprudence, even in challenges taken all the way to the SCotUS... It is only the ignorance of the populace which restricts their widespread application.

  17. roger the shrubber:

    problem with jury nullification is, i've read in several places that the mere *mention* of the initials F.I.J.A. will get you thrown off any jury in the country. nobody hates uppity jurors more than judges. so then, if you want to get on a jury and be a proud nullifier, you have to commit perjury by lying on the 'jury stacking' (voir dire) questionnaire.

    y'know, it might could be the whole damn system is rotten to the core.

  18. Jim Collins:

    My biggest concern when dealing with the Police is that there are usually more of them around than I have witnesses. The DUI checkpoints in my area are a form of Police welfare. These checkpoints are funded by grants from Government agencies and MADD. They are usually manned by part time, auxiliary and retired officers. The municipalities invloved don't care, because, they get the proceeds from any citations that are written. These grants are usually results driven, so they have to make so many arrests otherwise they lose their funding. One of the Police Chiefs has stated that he will NOT allow anybody to drive with any measurable alcohol in their blood. Since I know I am going to run into at least one of these checkpoints on the way home, I don't drink any alcohol at all that evening. One night the breathalyzer at one of these checkpoints registered me at .02 and I got to spend a couple of hours sitting in the back of a Police car, waiting to see if the amount went up. It didn't, but, I got a written warning for DUI. I started using the camera right after that. My main concern is being arrested on a bullshit charge, just so they can make their quota to keep their grant money. I have had requests to allow my car to be searched (I refused), I have been verbally provoked and I have been detained without cause. There was no sense in protesting these events when they happened, because I had no proof that they did happen. Who's going to get believed me or ten cops? When I do capture this on video then I will file a complaint complete with evidence.