Cops will always demand your identification, even when they have no reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime, but they really dislike providing you with their name and badge number.
However, there is no legal requirement for you to hand over your identification if they cannot articulate a specific crime they suspect you have committed.
And almost all law enforcement agencies have policies that require officers to identify themselves to citizens when asked.
Unfortunately, these realities are rarely played out on the streets when cops confront you for legally recording from a public sidewalk.
The latest example comes to us from Central Florida where Michael Burns stood outside the Polk County Detention Center video recording from a public sidewalk at around 5 a.m. earlier this week, only to be harassed by a group of detention officers, claiming he was somehow a safety threat.
When he started demanding their names and badge numbers, they huddled for a few seconds before one of them warned him against trespassing onto jail property, even though the area he was referring to was the visitor’s center, which is open to the public.
But the detention officer was not about to let this fact dissuade him from threatening Burns with arrest if he did step into that area.
Burns was careful not to step into the public area that was forbidden to him only and eventually a group of Bartow police officers arrived, claiming he was loitering and prowling and insisting he had stepped onto jail property, “based on testimony from official officers” – which we all know is about as credible as a sales pitch from a used car salesman.
Fortunately, Burns had four cameras recording, including one that was live streaming from his iPhone through the Bambuser app, so he already the evidence to shoot down any lying testimony from the detention officers.
But when Burns pointed this out to the officer, the cop still insisted he was being detained for “safety risks on the jail.”
When the cop demanded his identification, Burns responded by asking for his name and badge number.
The cop kept insisting he was being detained for loitering and prowling, a statute which reads pretty broadly in the state of Florida:
856.021 Loitering or prowling; penalty.—(1) It is unlawful for any person to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.(2) Among the circumstances which may be considered in determining whether such alarm or immediate concern is warranted is the fact that the person takes flight upon appearance of a law enforcement officer, refuses to identify himself or herself, or manifestly endeavors to conceal himself or herself or any object. Unless flight by the person or other circumstance makes it impracticable, a law enforcement officer shall, prior to any arrest for an offense under this section, afford the person an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern which would otherwise be warranted by requesting the person to identify himself or herself and explain his or her presence and conduct. No person shall be convicted of an offense under this section if the law enforcement officer did not comply with this procedure or if it appears at trial that the explanation given by the person is true and, if believed by the officer at the time, would have dispelled the alarm or immediate concern.
Note the “refuses to identify himself or herself” phrase in the law, which seemingly gives officers the right to use that as an excuse against citizens who refuse to identify themselves.
Eventually, a supervisor arrives and let’s him go without Burns having to identify himself, even going as far as identifying himself, which forces the other cops to do the same.
A solid victory for Burns, right?
The cops waited until he got into his car and began following him. When he noticed he was being followed, he pulled into a parking lot and turned on the video recorder on his iPhone, holding it up and pointing it behind him to capture the cop tailing him.
And that gave them the excuse to pull him over, claiming he was in violating the new law that forbids the use of wireless devices while driving.
However, the law requires them to pull you over for a primary traffic offense before they can cite you for the wireless devices violation.
Not to miss a beat, the cops accused him of careless driving, which on the surface would seem like a primary offense, except they describe the violation as “driving with one hand while using electronic device to film.”
Burns noticed the cop who pulled him over was typing on his dash-mounted laptop prior to turning on his emergency lights, so evidently, the law does not apply to them.
He plans on fighting the citation.
The top video is the shortened version of his experience, the bottom, the longer version.
Call the Bartow Police Department at (863) 534-5034.
Send stories, tips and videos to Carlos Miller.