Observing and documenting police conduct

Help reduce police discrimination by observing officers on the street and filming incidents to hold police accountable.

Cop Watch could change the NYPD

Police officers should be aware that in the State of New York everyone has the right to document and film police activity in public spaces as long as they are not physically interfering with the police activity. This right becomes critical when filming innocent folks that are stopped because of the color of their skin. Cop Watch can have a lasting impact on policing in our communities. After all, it was a video recording of the brutal Rodney King beating that led to reforms of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Cop Watch tips

Here are some tips to help you conduct Cop Watch safely and effectively:

  • Carry several copies of the "Know Your Rights" guide with you so that you can share information with people who experience police abuse and their friends and family.
  • If it seems like it will not escalate the situation, ask the police officer for their name, badge number, and precinct. Write this down along with any other identifying information whenever you can. You will need this information later if you or the person who was stopped decides to file a complaint.
  • If it seems like it will not escalate the situation, ask the person being stopped for their name. Ask if they would like you to call someone for them, get a phone number, and do so.
  • If it seems like it will not escalate the situation, remind the person being stopped or arrested that they have the right to remain silent.
  • If you have footage, make sure you exchange contact information with the person being stopped (if they are not arrested), or their friends or family, so that you can make it available to them or get their consent to share it on the Cop Watch NYC site.
  • Make sure to file complaints and follow through on paperwork if there is a serious incident, and encourage the person being stopped or arrested to do so as well. You can file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The National Police Accountability Project is also a good resource for legal support. If you file a complaint against an officer, it may not get him or her fired, but it will go on his or her record.

Filming tips

Cop Watchers use a variety of filming devices. We cannot teach you how to be a skilled videographer, but here are some points to keep in mind when filming:

  • Don't film people who obviously don’t want to be filmed.
  • Try to film location markers, street signs, and badges to verify the location and the officer(s) involved.
  • You should never interfere in police activity. But you do have to right to film the cops, despite what they may tell you.

Using your phone for transparency & accountability

The use of handheld recording devices like phones has had a powerful impact on police accountability in recent years, including the firing of an NYPD officer who tackled a moving cyclist during a 2008 Critical Mass ride, and the dropping of charges against Jateik Reed, the teenager whose assault by police officers in the Bronx was documented and put on YouTube.


Your phone can be used as a powerful tool for holding police accountable.


Sharing video from your phone


Mobile devices (like iPhones, iPads or Android devices), can be used to film police encounters. You should consider downloading a video-sharing app to protect yourself, others and your footage. Once you've filmed a police encounter you can upload your footage or images to sites like Youtube, Vimeo, or Flickr. Your uploaded footage should remain private until you have received consent to share from the person being stopped by police. And after you've acquired consent and uploaded your footage, file a report with us.


Here are a few apps other Cop Watchers are using while on patrol:


  • Bambuser
  • Qik
  • Stop and Frisk watch
  • UStream

  • Vimeo

  • Youtube
  • Flickr


Always passcode protect your phone


You'll want to make sure that your device is always passcode protected. If your phone is confiscated, this will make it extremely difficult for anyone to simply delete your videos.