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No One Can Bait A Cop Into Doing Something He Didn't Already Want To Do, So Let's Stop Worrying About Activist Recorders

from the punch-UP,-officers dept

Cops and camera-wielding citizens are still getting to know each other and there’s been some… awkwardness. Hardly a day goes by that some peace officer isn’t caught doing something he or she shouldn’t be doing by a citizen armed with a camera. Certainly, hundreds of police officers all over the nation are “caught” doing their jobs professionally as well, but those videos rarely surface, largely because the market for non-outrage remains largely depressed. On top of that, we expect our public servants to behave professionally while on the clock, so video of someone doing their job competently is seldom interesting.

It does tend to present a very one-sided picture of law enforcement. (But, I would argue, not a wholly unrepresentative picture of law enforcement.) Bad behavior makes for more interesting viewing. That’s inarguable. This leads to recordings of officers who do their best to stay in control while a camera-wielding citizen does his or her best to push for a negative reaction.

An anonymous reader sent in this video along with the following commentary:

Here’s a video example of what police officers have to deal with. It’s clear this girl is filming the situation and trying VERY hard to bait the cop into saying or doing something untoward so she can get a viral video (and maybe settlement money).

Puts many of those videos you see into context. What level do people go to in order to get the cops to go off on them?


While I appreciate the point he’s making, an officer who “goes off” on someone for this sort of thing doesn’t deserve much sympathy. This example only makes the person recording it look like an idiot. The cop observed here is clearly annoyed but isn’t willing to lower himself to her level. Good for him. That’s how it should be handled, no matter how much “bait” is supplied.

There are a lot of videos of bad cop behavior that have an untold number of minutes excised by the uploader to make it look as though any negative reaction was unprovoked. That’s unfortunate, but it’s still no excuse for bad cop behavior.

Here are two instances covered previously at Techdirt where those recording did everything they could to generate some a negative response, and in both instances the officers refused to take the bait. These two videos do the same thing the above one does: make the person recording look like a tool.


The job of a law enforcement officer is generally unpleasant. Open-carry activists and “do-gooding” smartphone wielders shouting “brutality” at every slight use of force only make it worse. Because of the amount of power they wield, police officers are held to a higher standard. And they should be holding themselves to this higher standard. Part of that higher standard is not sinking to the level of camera-wielders who are hoping to generate controversy where none exists.

There will always be “trolls,” but cops should be able to handle them with a minimum of effort. The interactions between activists and police officers often show cops in the worst light, but that’s usually because responding officers can’t seem to prevent themselves from trying to seize control of a situation that doesn’t demand it.

Open-carry advocates do things like walk along busy thoroughfares with weapons hanging out everywhere. It’s perfectly legal. But cops don’t like it. So, they try to shut it down. And when they do, they’re just taking the bait. There’s no law to enforce here — just a desire to assert authority.

The same goes for the many officers captured trying to shut down First Amendment activity — like taking photos of government buildings from public streets. Carlos Miller at Photography Is Not A Crime has been arrested several times for this non-offense. So have many of his contributors. They call these events “audits:” checking to see whether local law enforcement and other government employees are aware of their constituents’ rights. They fail this simple audit far too often. To make it worse, they tend to get very defensive when informed of their ignorance. That’s when things get far uglier than they every should have been. This is “taking the bait” and it’s bait that isn’t even that attractive: just a person taking pictures of a public building.

So, the anonymous submitter’s rhetorical question about “baiting” cops for negative reactions should be answered with, “So what?” Officers should know — and do — better.

Look at it this way: would people “audit” local law enforcement if they didn’t have cameras rolling to document the outcome? Most likely not. A camera’s presence helps protect citizens from abuse or misconduct. It doesn’t always work but it’s far more protection (and power) than citizens had previous to the rise of camera-equipped cell phones.

Yes, there will always be some idiot who thinks he or she can capture the violence inherent in the system by parking in a fire lane, but there will be thousands more whose “bait” is nothing more than forcing officers to respect the rights of the citizens who pay their salaries.

Officers should be “better” than the people they’re policing. Let amateur trolls like this one make fools of themselves. Don’t feed into their perceptions by becoming the loud, violent jerk they so very badly want you to be.

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Comments on “No One Can Bait A Cop Into Doing Something He Didn't Already Want To Do, So Let's Stop Worrying About Activist Recorders”

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50 Comments
Village Idiot (profile) says:

Re: Re: In Dumbfuckistan, You Have A Constitutional Right To Bear Arms

This is a point I wish more people fully grasped. The Constitution protects rights, but does not give any. A preemptive to government overreach that is all but assured in any maturing society. It may be better to view it as a restriction on government powers, rather than protecting people’s rights.

Agonistes says:

Re: Re: Re: In Dumbfuckistan, You Have A Constitutional Right To Bear Arms

No kidding, it sounds like a nitpick or just plain pretentious grammar nazism to most people. Most people basically say “whatever, man, its the same thing” but then continue on with facepalmn-worthy ignorance. I’m not sure whether they just think I’m a tea party wonk (one time a “Crypto-Marxist” which I had ZERO idea what it was before a Wiki lookup) trying to flim-flam them…I’m really not. The BoR “giving rights” is wrong; add that to “to the people” -which is just as wrong- leads to a big pile of steaming wrong. I’d argue that if they acted in the confines of what they say they think as if it were correct in certain circumstances, it could be dangerous for them and/or other people close to them.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Constitutional rights

We only get civil rights when the guys with guns say we do, e.g. law enforcement.

So when law enforcement shoots your dog, you obviously didn’t have a right to an unspoiled dog.

And when they beat the snot out of you for saying something they didn’t like or assembling with the wrong people, then obviously the First Amendment doesn’t matter since the infrastructure intended to enforce that right is instead doing something else.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Constitution does not bestow rights

how the declaration of independence and constitution are worded, are that we are imbued with ALL RIGHTS we freaking want, NOT explicitly the ones enumerated…

there was a big debate among the founding old property-owning white men that IF we explicitly enumerated SOME of the rights we do have that we wanted to ensure were not traduced, that would ‘imply’ that we were limited to those rights: NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH…

however, the crowd that wanted to list a number of bedrock rights explicitly eventually got a sop in the bill of rights… think of them as the bare minimum, with all other rights not stated…
again, BOTH sides were VERY CLEAR that ALL OTHER RIGHTS were ours as well, just not specified because that would be an endless tail-chasing game…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sounds like there's some confusion as to what rights we have versus what rights we deserve.

I’m pretty sure that the most expansive list of rights comes from the Geneva Convention charter regarding the treatment of displaced refuges, specifying things like (uncensored) internet access and knowledge enough to make informed decisions regarding their own destinies.

These are the minimum rights that everyone should have, but there are very few societies in which all such rights are afforded to the common citizen.

And the massacres of the 20th century demonstrate the true source of our rights and its arbitrary nature, which is to say from the barrel of a loaded gun. A Jew on a train to Auschwitz doesn’t even have right to dignity in death, nor an ordinary German in Dresden, Mid-February, 1945.

Rights are only as good as those who hold the guns, so long as they do not pull the trigger.

Ninja (profile) says:

Could this be the reason blue (one of TD trolls for those who haven’t met him) was absent for so long? I mean he threw the bait to a cop, the cop fell and blue took the beating of his life. Things make sense now!

Ahem.

I really like those two videos. The one where the girl is struggling clearly makes the person recording it look like an asshole but the second is pure gold. The officer conducts the entire encounter very, very gracefully and rightly. I do agree we see far too few videos of cops doing it right because it’s supposed to be the norm but in times like this where they seem to be more the exception than the norm it would be good to show cops all around how to bee a good one.

Steve Swafford (profile) says:

Thank you.

Thanks for this post. Truly. It’s another reason I find that this site does take view from all sides and posts what is right. Sure, we have a ton of asshat cops who shouldn’t be, but I would have to say there are way more asshat citizens trying to get away with anything and everything they can. I appreciated this point of view.

Quiet Lurcker says:

"Cop-baiting" as public service?

I’m not surprised there’s cop-baiting going on; it’s unregulated, and really more of a problem than not.

What if there were certified – authorized? recognized? – cop-baiters or more correctly cop-watchers. People who after jumping through appropriate hoops go out with the specific intention of baiting or at least monitoring the cops, and turning over reports of their experience to police brass?

The cops set up sting operations all the time. Why can’t we turn the tables on them, other than because the top brass and the justice system don’t want their collective short-comings exposed?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Cop-baiting" as public service?

Regulatory capture and purpose drift are problems to be solved.

Currently, the law enforcement internal affairs departments seem to be severely captured already, allowing for police to be abusive, brutal and sometimes murderous without accountability.

If we could fix that problem with a reform of internal affairs, that would be fine. If not, a third party oversight service seems in order, even at risk of eventual regulatory capture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "Cop-baiting" as public service?

It is everybody’s responsibility to call the police to order, and handing that responsibility over to a small group is abdicating that responsibility, and giving the police an excuse to shut down anybody recording them if they are not with the appointed body.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Tragedy of the Commons

That’s a good question.

Probably because bad press creeps towards a critical mass in which oversight will be demanded by the public.

There’s no clarity as to when it will cause an insurmountable problem Baltimore indicates that Ferguson isn’t a one-time thing. Dunno how many more of such riots we will suffer before change is made. Dunno how many recorded incidents of brutality we will watch before the Department of Justice is held accountable by someone, or vigilante retaliation becomes a thing.

But I think we’re pretty sure that quantity is numbered.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Well, citizen's arrest is a thing.

We have trained and certified law enforcement and then we have citizen’s arrest which allows limited police powers to the ordinary citizen.

So it would make sense to create an institution that challenges the police to do its job properly, even in adverse circumstances, yet allow ordinary citizens to volunteer their own time and resources.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well, citizen's arrest is a thing.

And how often do citizens arrest cops? I assure you that if a citizen’s arrest was used against law enforcement, it would be under attack and fought against by law enforcement. And even assuming that institution doesn’t get just as corrupt as local IA divisions, you would still likely get the fight with police all over again. Its like the ‘press freedom’ laws that, rather than protect the press, define who the press is, and only protect those few. The “Cop Watch” organization would now ‘authorize’ some individuals, and those who aren’t authorized would have less protections then before.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well, citizen's arrest is a thing.

Since a citizen making an arrest is a lower level of responder to a police officer, I’d suspect that the number is zero.

But also cops don’t arrest cops. They’re allegedly overseen by an Internal Affairs department.

From how I was raised and from what I’ve seen in our (fictional) media, the notion of police corruption being pervasive is still kinda new.

As I mentioned elsewhere, even the GPD in Gotham and the precinct in The Shield are quaintly honest in comparison to the corruption stories we’ve seen coming out of NYC and Ferguson.

An example closer to reality would be the SS in Inglourious Basterds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Im with the above article. Baiters are not in the right, and forcing confrontations with law enforcement is like idiots posting to reddit about their robberies.

That said, bad behavior is STILL bad behavior even if baited. If i goad someone into punching me, it is STILL assault on their part. Police need to be held to a high standard because of the authority they weild. The job isnt about dealing withgood actors, and legal activity shouldnt act as ‘bait’.

Bergman (profile) says:

If baiting is bad, then so are sting operations

Police apologists regularly proclaim that because a police officer was ‘baited’ or ‘provoked’ into abusing his authority and/or breaking the law, he should be excused for it. But the thing is, police departments engage in sting operations every day, where they go a lot further than amateur photographers to bait people into committing a crime in their presence.

If ‘baiting’ someone by giving them an opportunity to choose to obey the law or to choose to break is invalidates the results of making that choice, then there are an awful lot of wrongfully arrested and wrongfully convicted ‘victims’ of sting operations behind bars.

Adam (profile) says:

Bad press.

No one takes a video of paint drying if it dries as they expect it to… but if it bursts into fire while drying then someones going to post that on youtube. It’s not a cop thing, it’s a behavior thing. The “people of walmart” isn’t a video about normal people buying asprin and shoes… why are we surprised that cops bad behavior is more prevalent online that their “good” behavior? After all, the baseline is the good stuff.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

The lady driver in this video is a freaking moron. First, “could you take your sunglasses off because I don’t feel safe. I want to see your eyes.” WTF? This is a true blonde lady. WTF. She needs to get a life. What’s she trying to do, pick up this cop for a romantic date?

Second, when it says “no parking, fire lane” it means just that, it’s a fire lane for emergency vehicles. Just because there isn’t a fire doesn’t mean you can park there. I bet this dumb lady parks in handicapped parking space because according to her, nobody was using it at the time she decided to park there.

LOLS Someone slapped that ignorant woman with a stupid stick.

Stupid people like her don’t deserve to be let loose in public.

Anonymous Coward says:

I disagree. Self-control is not a limitless resource

As attractive as it is to pretend that self-control is nothing more than, well…self-control, – you either have it or you don’t – in reality self-control has limits. The amount of self-control you can muster is affected by many factors, including something as simple as how recently you’ve eaten. http://psr.sagepub.com/content/11/4/303.abstract
Pushing a person’s limits repeatedly may cause them to do something they otherwise might not do, as anyone with experience dealing with people in stressful conditions will tell you.

Anonymous Coward says:

No One Can Bait A Cop Into Doing Something He Didn’t Already Want To Do

Your premise is incorrect. It is trivially easy to bait someone into doing something they don’t want to do. There isn’t a person on this planet who isn’t susceptible to this. We are all easy to manipulate and we all have buttons.

But rather than manipulating a police officer into doing something they don’t want to do, a much easier method is to manipulate them so they want to do it.

Again, everyone has buttons and it would be trivially easy to manipulate a cop into wanting to hurt or kill me.

This is the lesson of the movie Se7en.

So Let’s Stop Worrying About Activist Recorders

I was never worried about them.

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