Receive alerts from your local agencies
...or text your ZIP CODE to 888777 for mobile alerts

Full Notification

Ventura County Sheriff's Office
Wednesday December 23rd, 2020 :: 08:22 a.m. PST


First Amendment Auditors – Tips for Citizens, Businesses and Government Agencies

Nature of Incident: First Amendment Auditors – Tips for Citizens, Businesses and Government Agencies
Over the last few years, there has been a nationwide increase of activists and “citizen journalists,” who practice “First Amendment audits” by publicly filming law enforcement officers in order to provoke an illegal response. Most of these encounters involve some sort of confrontation on the part of the auditor and often involve the auditor’s use of degrading language toward the intended target. More recently, the county has seen a trend where auditors are intentionally targeting other public officials and private businesses in the hopes of inciting an inappropriate response.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office would like to provide information and tips on how to interact with First Amendment auditors who appear at private businesses and government buildings within the county.
In early December, two businesses in Camarillo were visited by two men who consider themselves First Amendment auditors. The “auditors” accessed outside common areas of the businesses like a sidewalk or roadway in front of the business. They used areas that would generally be open to the public and they began filming the businesses and their employees.  The behavior of the “auditors” drew the attention of employees of the businesses, and when asked about their reasons for being at the business, the “auditors” either remained silent or engaged in verbal confrontations with the employees, ultimately leading to a law enforcement response. The “auditors” recorded the entire event and later posted their videos on the Internet. In just one week, those videos were viewed more than 150,000 times. Many of the “auditors” have tens of thousands of subscribers to their channels and make money every time one of their videos is viewed. Essentially, the “auditors” generate income through the outrage generated from their videos, whether the outrage is at their behavior or the behavior of the people in the video. One business in Camarillo received dozens of threatening and vile phone calls for two days after the video was posted. Those calls are currently being investigated by the Camarillo Police Department.
The tactics used by “auditors” have been commonly experienced by law enforcement and other governmental agencies for several years, but the targeting of private businesses is new to the Ventura County area. 
The sheriff’s office would like to share the following tactics that are recommended when encountering First Amendment “auditors.”
First, “auditors” show up in a public area where filming is legal, but also where the filming is
unusual, and will draw the attention of the public. This first step is critical, because it may be out of the ordinary to see someone filming at a business or in a government building. It also makes business owners, employees or the public uncomfortable knowing they are being filmed, and the actions make it more likely that the “auditors” will be confronted.
Second, when the “auditors” are questioned by employees or owners, they either refuse to answer questions or hurl insults at people. The “auditors” know that as long as they are filming in a public place, they do not owe an explanation to anyone, but they also know that the behavior will likely result in the police being called to investigate. This serves to meet their goal of involving law enforcement in the incident and hoping for some sort of confrontation.
Third, when police respond to the scene, “auditors” employ the same tactics on law enforcement.  They either refuse to respond to questions about their activities or they begin to make offensive comments to the law enforcement officers or to the person who called police. The “auditors” are seeking a verbal confrontation or worse, a physical confrontation with law enforcement officers that they can record and post on the Internet. 
The sheriff’s office has several recommendations on how members of the public, private businesses and government employees should respond and react when coming into contact with the “auditors.” 
First, it is important to know that in general, a person who is in a public place does not have a legal expectation of privacy. That means any person who is recording something occurring in a public place or in view from the public place has a lawful right to record. There are some exceptions to this rule.
Second, the “auditors” are looking for a confrontation. Do not engage people who are filming unless they directly contact you.  If, for some reason, you must come into contact with an “auditor” be courteous and professional, and once it becomes clear they are not present for a legitimate reason, disengage from them.  If a confrontation does not occur, they will likely pack up their equipment and go somewhere else. 
Third, if you have any questions about the actions of the “auditors,” call your local law enforcement agency. We are trained to deal with these people, and have learned the best way to respond to them is to quickly determine whether or not a crime has occurred, and if not, disengage from the encounter with them.
Finally, we would like to remind the public that this is a money-making venture for these subjects. A sure way for them to make money is to record a confrontation and generate outrage. Outrage can take on many forms. When a member of the public watches one of these videos, it is very easy to become outraged at the rude, crude and demeaning comments the “auditors” make to unsuspecting citizens and government employees. Another form of outrage is generated when followers of the “auditors” see behavior they like or don’t like. All of these generate clicks on the “auditors” websites, which translate to income for them. A lack of confrontation leads to fewer videos of interest, fewer clicks on their pages and less income.
Our best advice is to simply disengage and walk away.
Prepared by: Commander Eric Tennessen  
News Release Date: Dec. 23, 2020  
Media Follow-Up Contact: Captain Eric Buschow
Approved by:
Sheriff Bill Ayub  

Ventura County Sheriff's Office
800 S Victoria Ave
Ventura, CA 93003

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 805-654-9511

Navigate & Discover