How to Record Police and Save Lives: an Online Guide

Jacob Crawford

Do you know you rights when stopped by the police? Do you really know how to use your camera to keep other people safe?

During these uncertain times as Covid-19 and mass protests against police killings and abuse continue to spread across the nation, it’s imperative to know your rights, how to use video to document police injustice and how to use these recordings as evidence.

WeCopwatch (a national copwatch organization) has created an online guide “Video as Evidence during Pandemics, Hold in Place, and Impending Martial Law” that covers your rights when stopped by the police, how to safely and effectively be a witness and how to use video to advocate for others both in the moment, and after the fact.

This handbook can be utilized by ordinary people, copwatchers, legal observers, advocates and journalists and is broken down into several informative sections

1. Being Stopped

  • Consensual Encounters: A voluntary contact where people are free to leave at any time.
  • Detention: A police stop where an officer has reasonable suspicion (an articulable fact that links you to a crime that has, is, or is about to occur) to detain and conduct a mini investigation to substantiate their reasonable suspicion or develop probable cause to arrest you.
  • Arrest: A police stop where the officer has probable cause to arrest you because they have either witnessed you commit an arrestable offense, or have enough evidence to believe you did.

It's crucial to know that you have the right to remain silent during any of these interactions, how to refuse consent to searches of yourself or your property and different ways you can assert these rights.

We go through different things to document during a police stop such as the identity of the officer, the purpose for the stop, and you asserting your rights.

2. Copwatching

We have a section focused solely on Copwatching police encounters in the streets and during protests and police actions. Approaching stops slowly and making your presence known lets the cops know there is someone documenting their conduct and the person knows there is someone present to advocate for them. When advocating for people stopped we use tactics of de-escalation using our voice and body language in an attempt to be a deterrent to police misconduct. However, if police abuse does occur, we have the documentation to help the victim.

After the stop, you should try to contact the person stopped so you can give them a copy of the video.

3. Video as Evidence

There are baseline standards on how to document incidents in a manner where your video can be used for legal defense. We encourage people not to narrate what you think you are seeing or how you feel about it. Just things you are actually seeing.

There are also important things to document when Copwatching like the

  • Time
  • Date
  • Location
  • Identify of the officers
  • Vehicle and license plate numbers
  • Visible dash camera and body cameras
  • The conduct of the officers and the outcome of the stop


There are many dangers associated with live streaming protests. People streaming are often more loyal to their viewers than what they are filming and they actually carry out the function of informants and undercover cops by providing police real time intelligence that helps law enforcement execute crowd control maneuvers, carry out unlawful mass arrests, and target perceived leaders. These streams are also used by police later for arrests.

If you are streaming protests, film only people who want to be filmed, and perhaps consider just filming the police.

If you want to preserve evidence that can be used to help victims consider not live streaming all together or putting your videos online.

When you release videos publicly you allow the police to view them and you give them the opportunity to write their use of force reports around it.

Every police encounter is different. The information in this handbook comes from decades of Copwatch experience in the field and is intended simply to educate so you can make the best decisions when you stopped, or out documenting the police.

This handbook was created by WeCopwatch for Copwatch College, an online Copwatch / Know Your Rights curriculum and was created in collaboration with various groups and organizations.

Click here to sign up for an online training

Click here to download the handbook

Comments (2)
No. 1-1

What would it take for you people to understand...the police do not care about any of this. If they did, your small minded monitoring would make a difference. People are always going to die at the hands of the police, the agency best suited to deal with drug addicts and crazies. Embrace your fate social parasites. My only regret is not becoming one of them to gain access to beat the snot out of a few loose change hood rats.

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