What if I See Officers Responding to an Incident or Crime Scene?

Image of police at crime scene

Please see the limitations for disclaimers and additional resources.

What do I do if I want to know what's happening in my neighborhood?

  • SPD updates its Twitter account (@seattlepd) and the Seattle Police Blotter website with information about major incidents.

  • Incident numbers, types, and approximate locations for more routine incidents are also published online through the "Tweets by Beat" program. You may also view police reports filed after an incident through the department's website.

  • You may ask the officers at the scene for information. If they are not able to give you information, you may request a business card with the incident number, which will assist you in filing a public disclosure request later.

Jump to examples >>

Am I allowed to approach/talk to the officers?

  • Generally, yes. This includes the right to make comments critical of the officers, so long as your actions do not obstruct the investigation, endanger the officers or others, or incite violence.

  • Officers have the legal right to keep people out of the area in and around a crime scene. In some cases, failure to leave an area after an officer orders you to do so can result in an arrest.

  • If officers advise you the scene is not safe, consider observing the incident from a safer location.

Am I allowed to film the officers?

  • Yes, any person has the right to audio and video record officers at the scene of an incident or elsewhere, so long as they are not interfering in the incident or placing others in danger. Officers may not prevent you from recording but may ask you to move.

  • Officers may request that you share video if you have recorded an incident. Third party video recordings can be helpful when investigating an incident. They are also very helpful for OPA. You have the right to refuse, but in major incidents (such as a homicide investigation) officers may seek a search warrant to access your recording.

What do I do if I see the officers doing something wrong?

  • Do not physically interfere with the officers. Doing so makes it very likely that you will be arrested and also runs the risk that you or someone else could be seriously injured.

  • Record the situation with your phone or camera. If you are willing to share it with OPA, this recording can be very helpful.

  • Officers are required to request a supervisor or otherwise assist you with filing a complaint if you say you wish to make one.

  • Seattle Police Officers are required to identify themselves with their name and badge number upon request. Officers are also required to wear visible nametags with their first initial and last name.

  • If you see a violent situation and are unsure if the individuals involved are actually police officers, call 911.


Blue circle with yellow number oneOBSERVING OFFICERS

Rachel is walking on Pike Street when she sees two SPD officers stopping a Black man. Rachel sees the officers frisking him for weapons, telling him to put his hands up against a wall, and making rude and disrespectful comments. She believes that what is happening is racial profiling. She stands on the sidewalk a few yards away and films the interaction. After the officers release him, she demands they provide their names and badge numbers, which they do. Rachel then contacts OPA via email and files a biased policing complaint against the officers.

Blue circle with yellow number twoCRIME SCENE TAPE

Rachel sees many police vehicles parked on the street by her house. When she approaches them, she sees that officers have taped off the entire street with yellow and red "crime scene" tape and it appears there are detectives looking for evidence inside the taped off area. Rachel can stand at the edge of the taped off area and film the scene, but if she enters the crime scene she could be ordered to leave and arrested if she refuses.

Blue circle with yellow number threeUNLAWFUL RETALIATION

Rachel is filming two officers who are stopping a man because she believes the detention is unlawful. She tells the officers she is filming them, and one of them orders her to stop filming. He says she is not allowed to record police officers under the state's privacy laws. When Rachel refuses to stop filming, the officers arrest her for obstruction. This arrest violates both law and SPD policy, because they give citizens the right to record police officers in public.

Back to the other scenarios >>

Limitations: This information applies to interactions with the Seattle Police Department, but not necessarily to other law enforcement agencies. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive and may overlap - for example, police might enter a residence based on exigent circumstances, and then detain the occupants of the residence based upon reasonable suspicion of a crime.
By providing this information, OPA is not giving legal advice. Most of these situations depend on specific facts and circumstances. It is always safest to ask a lawyer about specific issues. If you need legal assistance, please contact the King County Bar Association, or seek out free legal advice at a Neighborhood Legal Clinic

Office of Police Accountability

Gino Betts, Director
Address: 720 3rd Avenue, 18th Floor, Seattle, WA , 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA , 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 684-8797
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