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‘First Amendment Auditors’ Visit Ava Police Department

A video was recently posted on youtube of a visit to the Ava Police Department by a man who proclaimed himself a journalist and a First Amendment Auditor. He had a confrontational meeting with the police department when he walked into the police station filming.
Most Ava residents believe they have a great police force. The First Amendment auditor and his followers do not. The video shared on youtube proclaimed Ava as being the worst in the United States and threatened to sue the city.
The newspaper received an email link of the video and two letters to the two emails with thoughts from members of the group.
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 (a right normally covered by the First Amendment).
Auditors have tended to film or photograph government buildings, equipment, access control points as well as any personnel present.
The auditor who visited the Ava Police Department went into the office while running the video camera on his phone. He was told he could not film in the building. The “auditor” then asked for complaint forms. He then asked the dispatcher his name. At first, the dispatcher didn’t want to give out his name. Then, he gave his first name only.
The auditor then asked for a Sunshine Law (open records request) form and was told no form was available. He then asked for a blank piece of paper so he could write his request.
Since the dispatcher would not give out his last name, the “auditor” proceeded to write a request for the dispatcher’s name, salary, and length of employment with the Ava Police Department.
Eventually, an officer asked the man to leave the building. He stood outside the door, filled out his complaint forms and continued to film. He also yelled through the door at the officer and pronounced that his rights were being violated.
He handed his papers through the door and asked for a copy with a time-date stamp. He also asked for another complaint form to file a complaint againt the officer who made him leave the office lobby.
When he was finished, he said he was going to look at the cars. He walked around the Ava Police Department vehicles filming and looking into the windows. He then went to where employees’ personal vehicles were parked and was going to walk around them and film. Chief Overcast came out of the building at that time and told him he could not be around those vehicles.
Chief Overcast asked for the man’s name. The “auditor” would not give out his name. He said he had done nothing wrong. He kept his window partially rolled up while he communicated with Overcast.
Auditors believe that the movement promotes transparency and open government, while critics have argued that audits are typically confrontational, criticizing some tactics as forms of intimidation and harassment.
Auditors typically travel to places considered public property, such as sidewalks or public right-of-ways, or places open to the public, such as post offices, police stations, public librariesor other government buildings, and visibly and openly photograph and record buildings and persons in their view.
In the case of sidewalk or easement audits, the conflict arises when a property owner or manager states, in substance, that photography of their property is not allowed. Auditors of course have no official authority to “audit” anything, but do have theoretical constitutional rights to record from open public spaces. The laws regarding public forums come into play in these situations, and are often the flashpoint of contention. Sometimes, auditors will tell property owners upon questioning that they are photographing or recording for a story, they are photographing or recording for their “personal use”, or sometimes auditors do not answer questions. Frequently, local law enforcement is called and the auditor is sometimes reported as a suspicious person and are often also identified as having been on private property. Some officers will approach the auditors and request his or her identification and an explanation of their conduct. Auditors refusing to identify sometimes results in officers arresting auditors for obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct, or other potential or perceived crimes.
An auditor selects a public facility and then films the entire encounter with staff and customers alike. If no confrontation or attempt to stop the filming occurs, then the facility “passes” the audit;if an employee attempts to stop a filming event, it “fails” the audit.
In a 2019 Fox News article, one auditor stated that the goal of an audit is to “put yourself in places where you know chances are the cops are going to be called. Are they going to uphold the constitution, uphold the law … or break the law?” Auditors state that they seek to educate the public that photography is not a crime by publicizing cases where officers illegally stop what is perceived as illegal conduct.
In Ava, the auditor claimed he had a legal right to film inside the police station. Ava officers maintained on the video that state law allows them to prohibit filming inside their facility.
Online videos of audits can also generate income for auditors through advertising revenue and donations. Many critics of auditors point out that many auditors make substantial amounts of money from their channels on social media platforms such as Youtube and TikTok, with some of the more popular channels on YouTube making over $150,000.00 a year. Critics argue this provides a huge incentive for auditors to be confrontational and abusive, and is often the true motive for their activities rather than any free speech or other first amendment activism.