Videotaping the police officer who pulled you over is legal, but is it a smart thing to do? (Alex Wong, Getty Images)

    by: Rex Roy | AOL Autos

    With the proliferation of video cameras in phones and MP3 players, capturing an event on video has never been easier.

    The tools are now pocket sized, creating a new wrinkle in how we're interacting with everything around us, including the police. While cops started arming themselves with vehicle-mounted cameras over a decade ago, only recently have we seen citizen-police interaction from this new perspective.

    Is it legal? The official answer is yes, but that doesn't mean it will win you any points with a police officer. Is it smart? Well, we'll get to that.

    No Expectation Of Privacy
    As for why it's legal to video your own traffic stop, the law focuses on the fact that it's happening in public. Joseph Ejbeh, a practicing attorney working in Rochester Hills, Michigan, explained the notion of assumed privacy.

    "When you're in a public place, there's no expectation of privacy," Ejbeh said. "It's public. It's out in the open. Anything happening in public is fair game to video. That includes a traffic stop."

    AOL Autos interviewed lawyers who explained to us that laws regulating the recording of video and audio in public places differ by state. Generally there are only narrow restrictions that can include, for example, when a videographer might be disturbing the peace or interfering with police activities.

    Taking Matters Into His Own Hands
    "No expectation of privacy" is exactly the phrase that ultimately led to Anthony Graber winning his a case brought by Maryland State Police. Graber was topped last year on his motorcycle for speeding. He was not stopped by a uniformed police officer in a cruiser, however. Instead, a plain-clothes off-duty officer saw the biker speeding and approached him with a gun. Graber's helmet camera recorded the incident.

    Graber still has to deal with the speeding violations in an upcoming court date, but the videotaping charge is no longer valid.

    Graber isn't alone in videotaping police during a traffic stop. When former Air Force flight officer Scott Colley drove through Lacrosse, Virginia on the night of January 15, 2010, he probably didn't realize how the events of that night would change his life and his view on law enforcement. Colley was pulled over for speeding on Highway 58, although he had his cruise control set at the posted speed limit of 50 MPH.

    When the officer claimed he "paced" him and determined he was going much faster than the speed limit, Colley pulled out his videocamera to get a record of the conversation.

    "Turn that off, sir," the officer said.

    Despite the officer's initial protests, Colley kept filming, capturing 19 minutes in total. Eventually he posted his videos on YouTube and started a website called Highway 58 Speed Trap to expose the trap to other motorists.

    "This stretch of Highway 58 is as notorious as the 'Bermuda Triangle,'" Colley wrote on his site. "But it's in our country, and now we have video evidence of the travesty! These Flip cameras are only 160 bucks. Never leave home without one."

    In the end, his diligence paid off. The attorney set to argue the case on behalf of the city was made aware of Colley's efforts to dig into the "pacing" issue that he had videotaped. Only a short time after these tapes hit the internet, his case was thrown out. Oddly, Colley says that attorney admitted she hadn't even seen the video evidence, but nevertheless the case went into the circular file.

    Police: On Video
    So what do the police think of camera-wielding citizens? Most police departments do not have official policies on the issue. This makes an officer's response to a video camera up to the discretion of the individual officer.

    "I've had several citizens video their traffic stops," said Los Angeles Police Department Officer Clarence Williams. "It hasn't been a problem for me except for when they shove the camera in my face. If they're respectful, everything goes fine.

    "I recently stopped a young man who was making a video for a film class at school. He [videotaped] the entire process. I understood what he was doing and that it wasn't a dangerous or adversarial situation."

    Others cite the need for officer safety. Cops don't like anything pointed directly at them, even if it's just a lens.

    What Do You Think?
    Videotaping police officers during traffic stops:

    "I don't mind if a citizen has a video camera, but for me it becomes an issue of officer safety," said Detroit area Officer Frank Zielinski. "I don't like to have a citizen with something in their hands that they're pointing at me. Officers are trained to be very wary about what a person has in their hands. If we let our guard down for a second, we could miss seeing a weapon."

    Zielinski explained that some cameras have been known to conceal guns.

    "If somebody wants to video their traffic stop, that's totally within their rights," said Zielinkski. "The truth is that we're already on video. I've got a video camera running in the patrol car and I'm wired with a microphone. For a nominal fee, people can come to the station to request a video of their traffic stop, no problem. As for them holding their own camera, I'd rather they put it up on the dash so that their hands are empty."

    While more municipalities are deploying in-car camera systems for their police departments, budget constraints have prevented major cities such as Los Angeles and Detroit from having cameras in all patrol cars.

    Lawyers: On Video
    "While it is legal, to hold a camera in anybody's face — including a police officer's — could be construed as really offensive," said attorney Matt Walton of Mt. Clemens, Michigan. "I'd recommend people think about what they're doing and consider the police officer's point of view before they whip out a video camera."

    Walton brought up several points to ponder. While it is legal to record a traffic stop, the citizen must obey an officer's legitimate commands. If you are told to put the camera down, it's wise to follow that advice or you could be arrested for interfering with an officer in the line of duty.

    Walton further notes that if you hope to use your video to beat your ticket, you must have recorded the ticketable offense to prove your point. Just recording the stop won't help. "What matters to the judge is whether you did what you're accused of, not what happened after," said Walton.

    As a matter of act, videoing your traffic stop might make things worse for you. Walton opined, "Recording a police officer will not likely result in a 'Better slow it down and have a nice day' warning. The officer is likely to write you up for every possible infraction." The lawyer then referenced a recent incident in Michigan's Oakland Country where an officer gave a county executive a break during a traffic stop. The officer was subsequently disciplined for abusing his discretion when the details of the stop — and the breaks — were made public.

    Another suburban Detroit officer agreed to talk to AOL on the condition of anonymity due to a pending lawsuit that tangentially involves this issue. This 33-year veteran confirmed Walton's assumption. He told AOL, "If somebody is going to come at me with an attitude and a camera, I'm going to do everything exactly by the book. They won't get one single break. I've had it happen a few times and because I'm being [videotaped], I professionally follow the letter of the law."

    Remember: the letter of the law doesn't spell out giving breaks.

    Making The Decision
    "Over the years I've worked for government prosecutors and I've observed that police officers are overwhelmingly good people who follow the rules," said Walton. "But video can be used to document abuses that occur."

    Should you or shouldn't you? That's a judgment call you're going to have to make. But if you do, know that your chances of receiving a speeding warning drop significantly.

    If you do videotape the police publicly acting in an unlawful manner, it is not legal for those police officers to make you delete the files or confiscate your video device. If such a request or threat is made, you have a valid reason to make an official complaint against the officers involved.

    Lights! Camera! Action!

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    1 - 20 of 258 Comments
    tectvguy Nov 21, 2010 5:04 PM
    I go with audio only recording.
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    vh00000026592964 Nov 01, 2010 4:23 AM
    I met with an individual running for superior court judge...they are well aware of the fact that these yahoos are in our law enforcement...VIDEO IT EVERY TIME YOU GET STOPPED.. These individuals at the most have a high school education, most are out there to get back at, what socitey has as they see it done to them...enough..Educated or not, we should not have to deal with these type of people...some are legit..most aren't! VIDEO IT EVERY TIME, EVERY TIME!
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    conic123 Oct 08, 2010 1:43 PM
    And, my apologies for the 'your' that got by me in the first sentence. It should read, 'you'. It appears the word 'Bu t' (when spelled with no space) gets blocked! I think it's funny because that is a proper conjunction. I could understand them blocking the word, 'Bu tt' (with no space) because that is a body part that some people misuse and others find offensive. Thanks for listening.
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    conic123 Oct 08, 2010 1:40 PM
    alynnlynn1, I hope you learn to spell before your graduate high school. Your spelling is atrocious! For starters, look up the difference between the words 'those' and 'though'. Check out the differences between the words 'to' and 'too'. Also, 'chainge' and 'change' and 'video'. I understand the thoughts you have in what you are trying to say. ************ was a challenge deciphering it! When you're trying to express your thoughts, especially while arguing a point, your arguments have more merit when your grammar and spelling are correct. Otherwise, they seem like ramblings by someone who is uneducated or that of a child. I'm just saying. Thanks for trying to contribute.
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    bearchica7 Sep 29, 2010 11:26 PM
    the other thing i would say to ANYONE who believes that "if you simply obey the law, no trouble will come to you" is this: I was pulled over after dropping my brother off at a school play. I was not speeding; I was actually driving under the speed limit. I was 20 at the time, home from college. The cop passed me in the oncoming lane, turned, pulled me over, and demanded that he see my license to "validate that I was old enough to be driving legally" (I'll grant that I look younger than I am, but really?). AFTER inspecting my license and berating me about how "unrealistic" it looked, he proceeded to look up my license plate and my VIN. Upon finding that they did not match, reading through the paperwork showing my RDA04 (license transfer paperwork) which indicated that I'd purchased the vehicle no more than 72 hours before the stop, AND reading the sales contract for the car, he threatened to impound my car and arrest me for "driving without the correct license plate on the correct vehicle". He demanded to know what had happened to the previous car. After I told him it had been hit by a DUMP TRUCK, he yelled at me again, gave me the ticket for the VIN and the plate, and told me to "get out of his sight". Needless to say, when I brought his bulls*** ticket in front of the judge, the brave little soldier was nowhere to be found. Even the judge was angry enough to request his presence in the court room to ask him what on earth he'd been smoking. Obey the law and no trouble will come to you? Wake up, people. The quotas are calling, and the Boys will be out there to harass that last ticket out of you, regardless of the legal status of your actions.
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    bearchica7 Sep 29, 2010 10:56 PM
    I saw a cop nearly hit two cars and a pedestrian (without his flashers on) after pulling into an intersection against the light at a major stop light. After he crossed the intersection, he momentarily turned on his sirens and flashers, but had them off again before the end of the block. I've had a cop take my statement as a witness to a bar fight, then threaten to charge me with public drunkenness after I told him I'd had nothing ********* and offered to take a breathalyzer test. But my uncle is one of the best, most upstanding detectives I've ever met. It really just depends on the cop. Of course, they really are the "law". Who polices the Police? Who can tell them, "dude, that's just not right"? No one, really, and that's how they manage to abuse all that power. Kinda sucks, but I don't think I'd want to live in a society where there are ZERO cops and I'm left to fend for myself. The fear of getting caught stops people from doing a lot of things, and we need cops to keep up that fear.
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    mybills2356 Sep 29, 2010 9:31 PM
    I dont know why he was so insistant on stating that he had his cruise set on 50 anyways. You can still speed b y pressing the pedal. I just could not believe how ignorant this cop was. I would have been a much better cop in this situation. I would have put this little lying sack of **** in the guilty box!!! Hell here in ohio a cop can give you a speeding ticket just by looking at your car and stating that you were going however fast. No pacing no radar no laser just his own eyes!!!! Some people will not believe that because there state is different so feel free to look it up. Its a new law they just came out with about 6 months ago. Its a total crock of sht but lets face it a cop knows when someone speeds. Its pretty obvious really. I know if you live on a street and the speed limit is 25 you probably yell at people to slow down all the time if you have kids anyhow. I know I do.
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    maphilgood Sep 28, 2010 10:08 PM
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    tomdebhub1 Sep 28, 2010 9:13 PM
    (my bills) Your dead on the money so I guess I was right when he started slowing down he reset the meter. Ask another question why was he recording this anyway?
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    mybills2356 Sep 28, 2010 9:04 PM
    listen to the 2nd clip and listen to 4:25. He clearly admits he sets his cruise control at 65!!!!!!! I left a comment on his youtube but im sure he will delete it because another guy brought it to my attention and he deleted his comment!!!! He cant delete it on here!!!!!!!!! Hahhahahah driver was guilty he just cried so much they let him go.
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    tomdebhub1 Sep 28, 2010 8:57 PM
    Hey I have just one thing to say about the cruise control tape. You can put your car on cruise control and still accelerate with the gas petal then let up and it will go back to the speed you have set. The other thing this guy could have done was when he got to 51 tapped his break and then reset the cruise control at that point. Either way pay the ticket.
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    mairjas Sep 28, 2010 8:44 PM
    I'm a woman but the BRAVE cops of my precinct don't stop harassing me. They drive by every time I'm running errands around my neighborhood. They obbey and follow instructions from my enemies who happen to be the landlords of NY. How brave is to intimidate and harass a woman in uniform. I wonder how would they feel if that woman was their mom.
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    xkageookamix Sep 28, 2010 8:24 PM
    Fact of the matter is, it only takes one cop.
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    mookeynutts Sep 28, 2010 8:22 PM
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    treese515 Sep 28, 2010 8:22 PM
    Believe me. We were actually pulled out of group of Virginia cars that were PASSING US because we had Maryland Tags, and they gave me a Reckless By Speed ticket! F*** Va Cops.
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    alynnlynn1 Sep 28, 2010 8:20 PM
    this is what amaricans want , they like to be controled and told what to do as if they have no chioce. amaricans like the thought of safty and security as false and hallow as it is.look at the twin towers nobody could beleve it happend on amarican soil? well why? were not invincable were not superman. cops are not the barny fife we think of . they are the kids that got beat up and picked on in high school for the most part.and the way cop testing is set up these days thats what they want . they brain wash these scrawny runts into beleaving that there robo cop once they have learend afew arm bars and had some side arm training. i dont hate cops my brother in law is one and my uncle was one. ******* clear as day to me what the isue is. abuse of power by thoughs that were abused. we live in a day and age of to many laws and to many hallway monitors but thats the price you have to pay for a false sence of security. so much for the free the proud and the brave. were now a country of ****** " protected " for the most part by bigger ****** so that we can all feel "safe" we have nobody to blame for any of this but thoughs who vote .and vote in dumb laws.and dumb shariff. and dumb judges. and dumb councelman and so on and so on. the answere is to all of this is . stand up be a responcable man dont call cops dont vote in taxs that keep them working. if your neighbor pisses you off then whip his ass ,and if he whips yours dont cry to the cops be a man and work it out. every one knows some one thats been wronged by a crook .lets say your neighbor gets robbed and shoots the guy robbing his house and the cops ask you what you saw and heard . the right answere is nothing ! cause this day and age the man that got robbed is the one going to jail cause he shot some one trying to protect what the cops are paid to protect. i think its to late to chainge anything and the whole vidio thing is nothing but a drop of water in a large pond.but if you think its going to chainge the world good luck
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    rodallen2020 Sep 28, 2010 8:20 PM
    Cops are power hungry uneducated bully wannabees, most of them don't do what the're paid to do which is to protect us, instead they spend most of their time harassing us, allowing the real criminals run free because getting them would be to much work.
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    cheeezzin Sep 28, 2010 8:19 PM
    Hey DICK, if you pull a gun on a citizen the first thing out of your mouth better be "state police" not "get off the motorcycle" You are going to get shot, and a good lawyer will make sure the citizen wins. No pity for a DICK cop waiving a gun like a thug gangster while barking orders.
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    fkurtin Sep 28, 2010 8:11 PM
    video the nazi's. Problem is most cops are AOK in my book but they still protect the nazi types when they do wrong, when they should just frickin report them and fire them, every time a cop covers up a problem on a police force it's the same as eating it, They continue to treat the public like trash and still demand respect ??? never gonna happen, not every pull over is a cop killing escaped convict that needs a gun stuck in his face while questioning, and not everyone needs to be insulted verbally nor slammed face down on the cement, or hand cuffed then have his arms jerked up backwards, and my god how uneducated some of these cops are
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    chasmaster4 Sep 28, 2010 8:11 PM
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    1 - 20 of 258 Comments
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