By Hazel Ford–
A pair of traveling “cop-watchers” recently set up outside the Citrus Heights Police Department, filming anything that moved and zooming in on police vehicles and license plates. An edited version of the footage was uploaded to YouTube last month and received over 10,000 views within the first 10 days.
The conclusion of the video? Citrus Heights police passed what the cameramen called a “First Amendment Audit.”
“It looks like Citrus Heights Police Department respected our first amendment rights,” says the main camera operator towards the end of the seven-minute video. “They left us alone for the most part — we had one officer that was kinda curious and that was about it.”
The two cameramen, only identified as “California Guardian” and “High Desert Community Watch” in the video, each have thousands of followers on their respective YouTube channels and regularly upload footage of their interaction with police while filming outside various law enforcement buildings. In videos, the pair say their purpose is to see whether law enforcement respect the right to “publicly film public officials in the performance of their duties.”
Compared to other “audits” performed by the California Guardian, the amateur film team received little attention from Citrus Heights police, with officers largely ignoring the two men standing on the sidewalk aiming cameras at them.
In contrast, a recent video filmed by the pair outside the Sacramento County Jail stirred the interest of seven officers. Other videos uploaded also show curious officers coming out to ask “can I help you?” to which the pair always reply “no.” When asked what the filming is about, the cameramen are always quick to answer with a somewhat vague reply: “just taking pictures,” and typically reply to other questions by answering that they don’t answer questions.
Comments posted on the videos are typically critical of police, but the video outside CHPD drew favorable reactions, like, “it was good to see them act professionally” and “a pass is always good.”
Asked about the video, Citrus Heights Police Sgt. Jason Baldwin told The Sentinel he wasn’t aware of the specific recording incident shown in the YouTube video, but he said local officers are used to being recorded while on duty.
“People have videotaped us quite frequently,” the sergeant said, noting past recordings have been made in front of the police department as well as of officers around town on the job. “As long as they’re not interfering, we don’t have a problem.”
“You can videotape all you want as long as you’re not invading someone’s privacy,” he said, describing an example of a potential invasion of privacy that might include video recording a private conversation between the police and a separate party.
In an article titled “filming and photographing the police,” attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union say “taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties.”
Attorney Michael Ehline also concurred in an article he authored on filming police in California, saying it’s legal to film police, “but you can only film the police while they are on duty, and you can’t interfere with their official duties.”
California Guardian and HDCW cameramen appear to be well-aware of this in their videos, typically filming from a public sidewalk.
Baldwin said as long as the filming takes place in a public location, it’s not a matter of concern for officers.
“We might go and ask somebody, hey what’s going on, what you up to,” the sergeant said. “But if you’re just videoing police, we really don’t care.”