Nowadays with most of us having a camera on our mobile phones, more and more people are able to film the actions of the police during a stop and search and are choosing to do so.

However, there are a few basic suggestions that may help you to be better prepared, can ensure that deciding to film the police makes a difference and can mean any footage has genuine value as possible evidence.

Why stop and film?

Ordinary people stopping and filming the police can mean that officers behave differently than they would if no-one was watching and recording their actions. This might make the experience for the person who has been stopped far less intimidating or threatening.

The more often the police are filmed stopping people, the more officers may come to expect that they may be filmed in the future, which can influence the way they generally treat people and whether stop & search powers are routinely used indiscriminately.

If police officers have acted unlawfully, filming them can help provide evidence if there is a formal complaint or if someone is arrested.

Can I legally film the police?

There is no law stopping anyone filming in a public place, so if you are on the streets you can film without asking permission – the Metropolitan Police’s own guidelines (adopted by all police forces in Britain) make clear that “police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel”.

There is a law – Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 – that says police officers can stop you filming them if they believe that the video will be used for purposes of terrorism. However, police guidelines state that:

“it would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities… An arrest would only be lawful if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. 

This does not apply when you stop to film the police stopping and searching people.

What to remember when filming

 A stop & search is already a humiliating experience for the person who has been stopped, so it is worthwhile asking them if it’s OK to film and assuring them you are just filming the actions of the police. Sometimes the police will try and stop you filming by saying it ‘breaches the privacy’ of the person being searched.  You can get round this simply by asking the person who has been stopped, “I’m here to make sure the police don’t do anything to you they are not supposed to.  Is it OK if I film what the police are doing?”

If there are two people with cameras, it is worthwhile both of you filming. Either both film the officers conducting the stop & search, or one person can focus on filming the other person with a camera if the police are harassing them.

Remember, police officers don’t want incriminating footage of them if they are acting unlawfully. This can sometimes leave you as a target so be mindful of what this when you are recording in case they try to arrest you.

Keep calm and focus on recording what you see, rather than getting involved in what you are filming.

If police officers try and say you are obstructing them in their duties, simply step back but hold your ground and carry on filming. Remember that legally they have no power to stop you from doing so.

Focus on the actions of the officers. Your priority is to collect evidence. Make sure you record police abuse, threats or orders. If nothing interesting is happening, it might still be important to keep the camera rolling, but keep it focused on the police.

Film the officers’ numbers: police officers are supposed to wear numbers, which are usually on their shoulders and will help identify to them. As well as filming their numbers, you can also read out their numbers on camera, which can help pin officers down later.

Don’t film the person being stopped & searched unless it is absolutely necessary to show what officers are doing to them. You want to avoid becoming a police evidence-gatherer, even inadvertently. Even if the person being stopped & searched is happy for you to film them, it is best not to film their face or any identifiable clothing.   It may not be in that person’s interest to be identified on YouTube undergoing a stop & search.

Don’t film/upload anything that the police can use against the person being searched, such as swearing.

It’s important to try and film some sort of landmark, such as a street sign or major building after the event but before turning off the camera. This will prevent the police from saying that your video is of a different event.

Using your camera / camera phone

These are some really basic tips to remember that will help you capture better video footage:

  • Keep the camera still! Don’t move it around all the time, you need a clear and steady shot of important events. If you are having problems with this try focusing your eye on something in the top corner of the screen, this should help.
  • Don’t zoom in and out all the time. However when you have filmed something important (like police numbers) make sure you zoom out afterwards and film landmarks around the incident, this will help prove exactly where the incident took place.

After you’ve finished filming

Keep the footage safe and back it up as soon as you can.

When the person who has been stopped & searched is hopefully let go by the police, it’s worthwhile asking if they want to swap details so you can pass them the footage if they need it.

If you are uploading it to YouTube or Vimeo, then let us know. E-mail info@netpol.org