First Amendment Audits 101: Policing the Police

Whether you realize it or not… you have probably seen a first amendment audit video before.

At first glance, a first amendment audit may appear to be a pointless action.

However, there is much more beneath the surface!

Let’s dive in!

For starters, this video is the one that sent me down the 1st amendment audit trail…

*CAUTION: The videos in this article may contain “colorful” language.*

*DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in the videos in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Healing Law™, our authors, or sources.*

An Overview: The Basics of a First Amendment Audit

So what is a first amendment audit?

Simply put, an individual ‘armed’ with a camera will simply walk into a public space, and start recording.

That public space may be:

  • A police station
  • Sheriffs office
  • Post office
  • DMV
  • A sidewalk
  • The entrance of a military base
  • or other government facility or publicly owned space.

That’s it!

Well, at least sometimes, but frequently the simple act of walking into a space and filming causes people to act up.

And more often than not the activity of a first amendment audit involves an interaction with police, security, or other public officials. So needless to say, auditors often catch some heated encounters.

So, what is the point of a 1st amendment audit?

Let’s find out!

your rights to record in public spaces with first amentment audits

The Right to Record in Public Spaces

At the core of the first amendment audit is the right for anyone to film in a public space for non-commercial purposes.

That includes capturing and using people’s faces and confirmations, without their expressed consent.

There are many different cases that have set this precedent, and in fact, many cases were pushed by auditors themselves.

But there is more to it than that!

To learn more I reached out to investigative journalist and creator of the Audit the Audit Youtube channel, John Lang to get his opinions on first amendment audits.

While he may not be a legal expert, he has “audited” many 1st amendment audits and other police interactions on his channel.

This is what he had to say…

“There is evidence of the changes that First Amendment auditing has made both within the courtroom and on the street. Auditors are responsible for major legislation at the Circuit Court level, particularly in regards to filming the police and exercising First Amendment rights in public.”

For example: The 2017 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case of Turner v. Driver reaffirmed the right to record police within that district. Which essentially nullified any claim of qualified immunity for officers who detain or arrest individuals for filming police encounters. Many auditors have also changed antiquated departmental policies through lawsuits, including forcing departments to adopt body cameras and respect First Amendment rights.”

-John Lang, investigative journalist, and creator of Audit the Audit.

In this video from the Audit the Audit Youtube channel, you will see an interaction between the first amendment auditor and a police officer who misunderstands the law. The officer’s Sergent quickly corrected the other officer…

Learn more about stop and identify statutes.

Goals of a First Amendment Audit

The goals of a first amendment audit truly depend on the “auditor’s” themselves.

For some, it is about the views and being as abrasive as possible. For others, their aim is to actually make a difference, protect our rights, enforce the Constitution. And indeed, many do!

And with all things, the results speak for themselves, and time and time again, audits have proven to be valuable in police reform.

While some audits end in lawsuits, most accomplish more nuanced and self-less aims including:

  • Informing members of the public about their rights,
  • Making sure officers honor their oaths,
  • Making sure that police follow the law,
  • Educating officers on what the law is,
  • And holding government officials accountable.
The right to record

John Lang, Creator of Audit the Audit expands on some of the goals of a first amendment audit:

“The prevailing intents of a First Amendment audit are accountability and awareness. While the 1A community does seek to expose bad officers, express opinions of law enforcement freely, and ensure that civil rights are respected, the movement also aims to inform and educate other citizens of their constitutional rights and highlight the work of good police officers who respect those rights.”

–John Lang, investigative journalist, and creator of Audit the Audit.

Truly, audits can often have unpredictable results.

For example, in this specific 1st amendment audit by the Rowdy Podcast YouTube Channel results in the auditor having one officer give another a breathalyzer

The Future of First Amendment Audits

As simple as walking into a public space with a camera and recording may seem, it truly has an impact. Often, by improving public awareness and the officials who are being audited.

Nowadays cameras are everywhere. At stoplights, outside and inside government establishments, on police officers with body worn cameras, and of course the phone in your pocket.

One thing is for certain, first amendment audits are not going away…

But they are always evolving.

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First Amendment Audits in the Age of Covid-19

It’s no secret, now more than ever the Rights of the People are being squandered by the government.

And first amendment audits are an effective way to ensure that those rights are not lost forever.

For example: In a recent first amendment audit (video below) by Amagansett Press, the interaction begins with the 1st amendment auditor being asked to leave a public facility for not wearing a mask.

The police are called, and throughout the hour-long encounter, the auditor eventually gets the police to admit there is no way they can legally enforce the mask policy, or trespass him from the facility for refusing to wear one.

By the end of the video, the auditor re-enters the facility with the police officers, conducts his audit, and leaves.

1st Amendment Audits in a Nutshell

At the end of the day, as rough as first amendment auditing is, it does accomplish certain goals that may not other be achieved by other means.

As John Lang puts it:

“Auditing will likely always be rough around the edges because it involves boots-on-the-ground activism, and the movement’s funnel to change generally starts with a negative police encounter.”

“However, the effectiveness of auditing, both as a social movement and within the courtroom, should not be understated, as it has significantly contributed to the national realization that our current policing system is dysfunctional.”

–John Lang, investigative journalist, and creator of Audit the Audit.

Stay tuned for future articles on first amendment audits!