Over the past several years a new oversight of Law Enforcement has taken place by everyday citizens. They call themselves First Amendment Auditors, and they state their mission is to oversee public officials such as Law Enforcement to ensure people’s Constitutional Rights are protected.
According to Wikipedia: First Amendment audits are a largely American social movement that usually involves photographing or filming from a public space. It is often categorized by its practitioners, known as auditors, as activism and citizen journalism that tests constitutional rights; in particular, the right to photograph and video record in a public space. Auditors believe that the movement promotes transparency and open government. However, critics argue that audits are often confrontational in nature, as auditors often refuse to self-identify or explain their activities. Some auditors have also been known to enter public buildings asserting that they have a legal right to openly carry firearms, leading to accusations that auditors are engaged in intimidation, terrorism, and the sovereign citizen movement.
Many auditors have stated they are not part of the Sovereign Citizen Movement, but that they are simply wanting to guarantee that people’s Constitutional Rights are protected from infringements.
Many of the videos that can be found on YouTube or other social media outlets show law enforcement officers as retaliative to the auditors. But are the videos showing this behavior forced? Many auditors, simply want to ensure that law enforcement is properly trained in understanding a person’s rights.
The above video takes place in Columbia, South Carolina, and shows how the average law enforcement officer is unaware of an individual’s rights. This video is also an example of both good and bad ways for law enforcement to handle these sorts of audits. The Captain in this video is to be commended for his knowledge and his handling of the situation.
But another aspect of this video is the fact that South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers are not trained in when they can ask for an individual’s identification. South Carolina does not have a “Stop and Identify” statue, which means an individual does not have to provide Law Enforcement with any Identification. This being said, there are times when a person must provide identification to law enforcement with “Reasonable Suspicion”.
So, what is considered reasonable suspicion? According to Dale Savage Law Firm:
“Reasonable suspicion requires a particularized and objective basis that the suspect is involved in criminal activity. (United States v. Arvizu) It’s a common sense approach that is not defined by legal rules. This is determined by the “totality of the circumstances” test. (State v. Wallace) Basically, the police must be able to state the facts that led them to believe that the suspect had been involved in criminal activity.“
This is one reason why all First Amendment Auditors ask law enforcement in their videos “What crime did I commit?” or “Of what crime am I being suspected?”
Law Enforcement Officers are guided by what is known as “the Terry test”. This test came from Terry v. Ohio, a United States Supreme Court decision from 1968. What Terry says is that a police officer may stop and briefly detain and question a person for investigative purposes, without treading upon his 4th Amendment rights, when the officer has reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts, short of probable cause for arrest, that the person is engaged in criminal activity.
Law Enforcement Officers here in the South Carolina only receive 1 hour or training on First Amendment Audits at the State Police Academy. As a part of a law enforcements officers oath, he swears to uphold not only the State Constitution but also the Constitution of the United States which guarantees our liberties and rights.
This issue is more to the lack of education and training for law enforcement officers in South Carolina, and the nation. The officers in the above video are a good example of lack of training and education, as they were merely going by what they believed was procedure. Is is believed by many auditors that law enforcement officers should receive more training on Constitutional protected rights, whether by the academy or by the individual law enforcement departments.
Since the beginning of First Amendment Audits several law suits have been filed against City, County, and State Police agencies for violating Constitutional protected rights of individuals, and have cost these government agencies thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. Not to mention the lack of trust between the agencies and the community they swore to protect.