Growing in popularity across social media, “First Amendment audits” have become a source of worry and caution for local governments across the country.
First Amendment audits are conducted by members of the public who seek reassurance that their constitutional rights are respected while documenting their efforts by photographing, filming, or audio recording public employees in public buildings. The Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT) had previously issued a Risk Management Bulletin highlighting the potential issues and solutions posed by said audits.
Since that time, the issue has gained even more popularity with an entire website, FirstAmendmentAuditing.com, dedicated to providing auditors with resources and links to “auditor” videos on YouTube.com. As noted in LGIT’s Bulletin, problems arise when auditors seek to “provoke a reaction that could be viewed as a violation of the auditor’s First Amendment rights.”
Subsequently, LGIT has developed another Risk Management Bulletin featuring best practices for local government officials when confronted with an individual conducting a First Amendment audit. In these situations, LGIT advises officials to do the following:
- Stay calm – do not overact.
- Be patient and polite – do not be rude or dismissive.
- Do not attempt to take the auditor’s recording device or otherwise initiate physical contact with the auditor.
- Do not detain the auditor in any way.
- Let the auditor peacefully record as long as he or she is not committing a crime or disrupting the workplace or use of the property.
- To the extent possible, simply go about your regular duties – do not do anything to intimidate the auditor.
- If the auditor attempts to access a non-public part of the building, firmly and politely ask him or her to stop.
- If the auditor becomes threatening, abusive, creates a safety or security risk, or disrupts ordinary business operations contact law enforcement.
- Contact your immediate supervisor, director, or the head of your department at your earliest opportunity.
First Amendment audits will be the subject of discussion during the MACo Summer Conference session “Freedom Accountants: The Bottomline on ‘First Amendment Audits.'” The session will bring together experts in crisis communications and local government liability to discuss how counties can best prepare for an “audit” while preserving the rights of potential “auditors.”
The 2022 MACo Summer Conference will take place at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD, from August 17-22. This year’s theme is “Taking Care of Business.”
Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:
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- Exhibitor Details & Pricing
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- Questions? Contact Virginia White