Confrontation Between a Police Officer and Photographer in Los Angeles

The above video was recorded by Shawn Nee for Discarted, a blog that fights for photographers’ rights to shoot in public locations. It shows Nee getting into a verbal exchange with a police officer over whether or not he can legally photograph the officer.

Opinion over this video — created in February but just released yesterday — is extremely divided. Photography blogger Thomas Hawk thanks Nee for “continuing to fight for photographer’s rights”:

Our ability as citizens to document the police is extremely important. Historically, citizen photography has been instrumental in documenting police abuse cases from Rodney King to the recent shooting death of Oscar Grant. To wear a badge and a gun in our society is a privilege and ought to only be afforded to those willing to enforce actual laws and not intimidate citizens by making up illegal photography rules of their own.

On the other hand, comments left in various places regarding the video argue that Nee was intentionally provoking the officer, “stirring the pot” for the purpose of producing this video. A commenter at the LAist writes,

Who is harassing who in this video? Clearly, the guy taking the video wanted this to happen. He had a video camera set up, to video himself taking picture of an officer making a traffic stop? The cop tells him to stop at the beginning, and that the the guy on the bike is making him nervous. The officer is making a traffic stop. Lord knows how tense a traffic stop can be. Then you have this kid pull up behind up, and stop, and start taking pictures.

What are your thoughts on this video?

  • Lee

    The guy with the video is an idiot. You don't approach an officer like that. Just bluntly taking a picture without asking is not right at least not in this setting. Thomas Hawk shouldn't praise a person for taking a picture of an officer to force him to do what the photog wants. This person is just wrong.

  • Steven

    I respect the Idea the guy has and he clearly has the same feeling on matter as the majority of photographers and thought he would try get some dirt on the police. However I feel in this instance he was just ended up looking a complete jerk. He instigated a conflict and he got it. I could go up to anyone on the street, take their picture and get the same reaction. It has nothing to do with him being a cop or not. And to keep taking pictures just made the situtation worse. All it did was put a bad light on photographers that will only ripple negatively onto all of us.

  • tage01

    The way I see it is that I can take pictures IN PUBLIC without anybody's permission. Press law does not forbid that. At least not in Poland. Simple way to portray it: I can stand on the sidewalk and take pictures of the inside of a shop but I can't be inside a shop and take pictures of the street. I'm okay with that.
    And since the guy was on the street he could shoot whatever he wanted. No matter if it was a police officer or a hobo.

  • Tim Niven

    I'd get annoyed too if I got the response “It's not against the law to” if I asked someone to not take my photo. That guy was just being a dick.

  • tage01

    But the guy with the camera is right – he CAN SHOOT them – it is not against the law. He just CAN'T PUBLISH any of these photos. That's it. No more to it.

  • At

    Pushing buttons that should not have been pushed.

    The end

  • Factoid

    In point of fact, he can publish the photos. There is clear case law supporting the right to take photos in public places.

  • Klwalton

    @tage01 – on the contrary, the officer is on a public street and he is a government employee. Those photos *can* be published. In California, the press shield laws are very clear, and a public employee in the process of doing the job the taxpayers pay him to do is more than fair game.

  • Claudeseymourphoto

    Sure he can publish the photos. They just have to be used editorially, not commercially.

  • Adam

    I have known police to be jerks, I have also met some very nice helpful police officers, and really believe that most of them are just trying to do their job well like anyone else. If this officer was seen beating someone senselessly or some kind of instance worth photographing was happening hell yeah photograph and stand your ground. But a routine traffic stop? Depending on your own set of rules, if you're a street photographer and you plan on not asking permission generally you try and be discreet. And if someone doesn't want their picture taken cop or not, we should try to respect that if there's no real reason to take it.
    This guy's just like Steven up there said, he's just trying to dig up dirt.

  • Arseny M

    Even though the photog did come off a wee bit abusive in the situation, he was doing what he legally can.
    Cop is a moron (which gets more and more common amongst them, sadly) and has no clue what the hell he is doing, obviously. “look it up”. I would tell him that my lawyers will be contacting his precinct.

    when you wear a badge, you have no right to get “upset” or “unhappy”.. you are there to SERVE the people.. this cretin is, obviously, isn't..

  • DwikoArie

    It's not against the law but not everybody likes their picture taken and we just have to respect that. Watching it annoyed me because the photographer was just being an idiot.

  • demosthien

    Police are in a position of authority and deserve the respect of the citizenry for doing the job they do. However, this position and the respect are both conditional on their appropriate and correct behaviour. Irrespective of how a citizen treats an officer they must hold themselves up to higher standards than those of a regular person. This is something which is expected of them as a result of their role in the community. In any given situation a regular person might be expected to react more quickly or in a less professional manner (this is something which is often tested in Court). So in this case (not including the fact that the officer was wrong in his interpretation of the Law), although the citizens actions would count as provocative if the target were another regular citizen, the officers words, actions and demeanour are at the very least unprofessional and demonstrate a lack of respect for his own responsibility.

  • christinielsen

    “Pick your battles” comes to mind. However, the photographer was absolutely in the right. You know you can get those tiny cards with the laws pertaining to photography in public printed on them, right? It's good to have those in your camera bag.

    In this situation, I would have just gotten the badge number, left, and reported it.

  • Keith Crusher

    The law – he can take a picture of someone in public, including police. He is breaking no laws. The police had absolutely nothing to support his argument. Whether or not the office liked it or not is the officers problem.

    The photographer may have been looking for confrontation, and he certainly found it, but the law was absolutely on his side. The officer gained nothing by this and could have just ignored the photographer. I think the photographer did an admirable job in exposing how inept and misinformed police can be – so it's best to know exactly what your rights are.

  • scpsresearch

    If it's true that the photographer was just exercising his right to photograph, then why the videotape? He was clearly expecting some altercation to take place. And that could only happen through his provocation.

  • James Greene

    I think the cop was wrong. If he was right, the other cops would have backed him up. I understand that he served his country but that doesn't give him the right to call the photographer names and and use profane language towards him. The cop has issues and maybe needs a vacation or some counseling.

  • tage01

    Well then – if he CAN PUBLISH them then there's no problem. In this case the police officer is being a jerk.

    Here in Poland I can take photos of anybody for my own use but I do have to have their permission to publish it.

  • Beau Toxx

    I honestly thought the officer was genuinely polite and kept his cool. Yes he was pissed and tried to make his point to a dickhead. Yes the dickhead is in 'the right' but, basic common sense would dictate that if someone, cop, or no cop, ask you to stop taking picture, you simply stop. It's basic human respect of privacy.

  • tage01

    It's not about what's polite and what's not. It's about what is allowed and what isn't. The police officer clearly doesn't want to be photographed but that doesn't mean that the photographer can't shoot him.

  • Jared

    For close up framing of people like that, you ask first shoot second. It's just unethical and unprofessional to snap away at people because it usually makes them feel at least uncomfortable.

    That said, the officer was a hot-headed moron. I don't live in the U.S. but I know many of the American officers are ridiculously brazen and self-glorified for being behind a badge.

  • nineninenine

    thomas hawk….yawn. a new outrage and ever so noble fight every week with that guy.

  • Matthew Blake

    But it is Right and we must, take photographs of police while they are working, It not only keeps them honest but It also makes for good photo-J Images. The photographer used the video camera to protect himself, I video tape when I photograph in Subways, because Its not against the law even though most cops think it is, video helps document police and shows how they take the power they are granted and abuse it.

  • Chris

    The photographer was being such an idiot the officer should arrest him for just that.

    Yes there is no law saying u cant photograph police in a public place but he still retains his human right to ask that he is not photographed and any decent person knows that and will respect that ( or at least ask first then shoot)

  • Photoblogger

    The police think they have the right to put up millions of video cameras on every street corner to spy on us without a warrant, yet they scream bloody murder when somebody takes their picture. They are supposed to “serve and protect”. Instead they seem to think they are above us.

  • MADinMelbourne

    so, as 'citizens' we have the right to decline having our photo's taken – handy to know, next time I'm at the train station I'll ask management to turn the surveillance cameras off, just until I leave the premises, the train and the station at the other end… oh and the street, at work, in public spaces. Gonna be busy next time I go out!

  • Paula Smith

    Yes, Shawn Nee was being a jerk, but being a jerk is not a crime. If the officer arrested him, the photographer could then sue the officer, the Police Department and the City for unlawful detainment. BP is trying to keep the press away from areas where dead wildlife has washed ashore, and they are no more entitled to do so than the officer is to demand that the photographer stop taking pictures.

  • Zarli Win

    yeah, it's not against the law to take pictures of the police on a public street, but it's also not against the law to be an ass. while i respect that he's trying to do, it also gives us photographers a bad name. he was practically baiting the cop to do something to him. if the police did that, it'd be called entrapment.

  • Adam @ Sit Down Disco

    There are two arguments. One is about whether the photography was lawful and the other is about whether it is moral. Yes it was lawful, no it was not moral. So what point did the photographer make? He's immoral, but law abiding? Some point to make!

  • QuBe

    Cops have real reasons to be afraid (and therefore intolerant) of being photographed:

    1. They don't want documentation of them making mistakes and being sued for it, or of them bending/breaking the law and being criminally prosecuted for it.

    2. There are many legitimate security issues regarding the collecting photographic documentation of law enforcement activities and personnel.

    This guy came to the scene already with a hostile and confrontational attitude towards the police. He surreptitiously took their photographs and further antagonized them, when all he had to do was simply ask if it was okay to take a photo.

    It showed ignorance on his part, and a lack of comprehension of the perpetually dangerous and threat filled occupation of law enforcement. Contemporary police officers have long left the role of 'constables on patrol', and are now effectively combat soldiers.
    (Only a damned idiot provokes someone with a job with the integral component of daily threat to life and limb.)

    It may indeed be legal to photograph police officers, but anyone with a lick of common sense about the nature of modern times knows the appropriate time to assert the letter of the law and their legal rights, and when to employ some common courtesy.

  • Stuart

    From what I can see, they're both in the wrong – the photographer is instantly aggressive to the police officer's request, while the police officer immediately falls on a false argument. The whole situation seems set up to force that reaction.

    I really don't see how this kind of thing helps anyone – there are legitimate issues surrounding this whole debate, and yes, there is no law against taking pictures of people in a public place, but there are ways to approach this do not alienate the people you want to take pictures of, and do not escalate into the ridicularity of the situation above.

  • david

    Even if the photographer was legally right, he was acting like a major douche.

    Can you really blame the officer for his reaction? I imagine his job is stressfull enough as it, then along comes some guy hovering practially over his shoulder, taking pictures and deliberatly starting an arguement. I know i wouldn't appreciate that, neither would anyone else. The officer's response was excessive indeed, but that doesn't is still no excuse for the photographer's poor behaviour.

    Imagine if i decided i did not like how this guy baits people (which i don't), and as result walk next to him holding up big screens preventing him from shooting photos and videos. Then when he asks me to stop, i just drone on and on about how “the sidewalk is open and that i'm allowed to carry anything i want while walking, it's the law”. Do you think he would be perfectly civil about that? Somehow i doubt it.

    Yes, police officers should know the law and should not stop photographers from taking pictures in public. I know it is important. But this is not the way to go about it. Respect works both ways, and you can not expect the police to respect photographers when they go around doing things like this.

    This video is an embarrassement, but not to the police… As i photographer, i would not wanted to be lumped togehter with the filmer's kind.

  • Palmilla

    David you said it correctly… “the video is an embarrassement but NOT THE POLICE”.. if you ack like this.. hang your camera up…you give us a bad name.

  • AmiiROARR

    i agree with that officer
    this has nothin to do with him being an officer of the law
    if a member of the public doesnt want their photo taken its their right to resquest it.
    Davids right that dude was just being a major douche

    was what the point of dragging that arguement out?
    just walk away idiot.

  • guest

    I can see the arguments both ways. The cop may have responded excessively, however the photographer was acting like an idiot. Also, this was not an unlawful detainment, but that's a different story. But for those of you who say this cop is a moron for not knowing the law, do you know how big the California penal code really is? Yes I know it is his job to enforce the law, but I doubt there are very many people, including yourselves, who can memorize every single law in the code. If I were a cop, I think I would probably focus on the more important ones, such as those dealing with criminal activities, than where a photographer can and can't shoot. If this photographer was really shooting for photos instead of a confrontation, he should have brought a copy of the law with him.

  • bri

    the photographer was intentionally trying to antagonize the police officer.
    he took his photo, and the cop asked him to move along. He should have just moved along as asked. no reason to make an issue out of it

  • Jason Wittich

    Not at all impressed – he should have walked on when told to do so. I have been in that spot before and don't want someone standing behind me while trying to keep myself alive he can move where I can see him if anything. He is borderline disturbing the “peace” of the area as well by taking photos of a stop by lying on the ground and not listening to the officer direction. The other reason is pure ethics, if someone asks you not to take their picture than stop and move on – there are 6 billion+ people in the world to photograph and 5 billion of them will let you take their pictures with smiles. I understand the cop thing keeping them honest and stuff but he could have went down the street and put on a 70-200 and took the photos. No reason to be a jerk and disrespectful. The cop seemed tired and was not in the mood to explain himself to the guy being a pest.

    The cop needs to go back to law 101 and read about public vs private or he is going to be spending a long time in court explaining and losing a lot of cases.

  • wooac

    The Police Officer was wrong. The Photographer is on the sidewalk on a public street. The Photographer did not need to be as confrontational and could have just used a longer lens but he was still within his rights. He should sue the police officer and the city for wrongful arrest.

  • Jason Wittich

    He wasn't arrested, he was stopped after not following officer direction to move on. Unfortunately because of “terror” laws and someone using a camera or just being a tool you can be stopped and asked to identify yourself and some states/cities you may have show a valid ID. Yes you can refuse, it is your right, but they can also detain you until they are able to ID you. The officer's job is to control the scene and that is what any reasonable person (eg Jury) would deem a “scene”. Would it have been any different if 3 people were standing around a car and he started to take their pictures and they asked him to stop? Sure go ahead and keep on shooting…if he value his camera and/or life. A few people out there that would shove the camera up his butt, go home, eat dinner and get a great nights sleep. Try to sue them, if you can get a name or even the identity.

  • RCF

    Did anyone notice the badge number on the unformed officer coming at shawn was obscurred. Isn 't that a nono?

  • Lance Andrewes

    The photographer is fighting for photograher's rights? Our right to be a complete pillock? The officer was entirely reasonable. This sting operation was unsuccessful, and unhelpful to the cause.

  • Gwbush

    Yeah, the photographer is an asshole but he has rights. If you believe in the Constitution and the Rule of Law you can only support this little ass hat photographer. As much as we don't like him and think he's an ass, he is well within his right to take pictures of a cop.

    Also, this cop is not going to make it. This little dickweed can push his buttons like that? What's going to happen when some scumbag really does it? Is he going to beat the crap out of him and end up on Channel 7 news and get the department a $10 million lawsuit? The badge is not an ultimate form of power and he should know better that he was being baited. With camera watching every single thing the police do, you'd think they'd have better training but I guess it is LAPD.

  • nicci

    I think it's definitely important to be able to photograph on public streets. However, if someone displays upset at being photographed, a photographer has to make the decision for themselves whether to provoke the subject, whether a private citizen or public servant, or move on. Hiding behind a badge OR right to public property doesn't give anyone the right to be a jerk.

  • Bryansix

    Look, if you don't want your picture taken then crawl into a hole and never come out. Otherwise stop crying like a little baby. This Police officer who supposedly served in the military is a giant pansy cry baby. The First Amendment exists for a very good reason and yes, ALL police activity is noteworthy. If the officer had nothing to hide then why was he hiding?

  • MADinMelbourne

    Paula… exactly, take out the jerkfactor opinions and take a fresh look at this cowboy scene…. connect again with your weapon for mass destruction and start shooting.

  • Everardo -Paco-

    Regardless of right or wrong, this photog is an a$$ for instigating a situation to fill his own agenda.

  • Bob

    Are you all crazy in the USA? If you knew your rights you wouldn't even have to debate this. The police have NO RIGHT to stop you taking photographs in a public place… end of story! Who cares if the policeman didn't want his photograph taken….he has absolutely no right to abuse his powers to intimidate a member of the public.
    The policeman was abusive and is obviously not aware of the law he is supposed to be upholding.
    In any civilized country he could, and should appear in a court to justify why HE committed the offenses of harassment, bullying and intimidation towards a member of the public going about his lawful business.
    ….And to call the photographer “you fruitcake” is reprehensible, and he should be sacked. The video evidence is there for all to see and no matter what interpretation some of you would like to attribute to this act…. the law is very clear on it.

    “Members of the public have a very
    limited scope of privacy rights when
    they are in public places. Basically,
    anyone can be photographed without
    their consent except when they have
    secluded themselves in places where
    they have a reasonable expectation of
    privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms,
    medical facilities, and inside
    their homes.”

    To conclude….why was the photographer calling the policeman SIR all the time?
    I know you Americans are always subservient to authority (can't understand why)….But it's not the right word to be using with your worst nightmare… an uneducated man in uniform.

  • Belle

    Even if that's the law, the people should be considerate and respectful enough not to photograph people who don't want to be photographed..

  • Munky

    A simple question… In a public space, who has the absolute protection of the law to prevent their photo from being taken??? Now, I DID NOT ask who has the right to ask that their photo be taken. The reason I did not ask is because of the First Amendment the freedom of speech is protected–that means any and everyone can ask that their photo not be taken.

    Many of you expressed that this photographer failed to observe what many of you believe to be a moral responsibility. Do not photograph a person who has asked you 'not to'… But, is it fair to force your moral beliefs onto any/everyone? That's the real debate here, isn't it?

    The right of law is what is important and should be understood and followed according to the ethical and moralistic beliefs the community at large. However, if you moral beliefs are contradicitve to what the law is, what should be done and do you then forfeit your rights to be protected by that/those law(s)??? Example… You're photographing outside of a train depot on a freelance gig on a rainy day. All of a sudden, the clouds break for just a few moments and you snap a photo of a lifetime (yeah, it's exaggerated on purpose). Seconds pass by when a security vehicle stops and grabs you and tries to take your camera, subsequently attempts to take your film/memory card. You ask why? And they say that you didn't ask to take their picture, you're on private property (when in fact you aren't), etc… Do you then go back to your moral views and say, that the security officer is right and that you did not ask them to take their photo. Thereby you go and delete said photo from your camera?!?! I challenge the fact that most of you would argue until you're blue in the face about your rights this, your rights that…

    Now, just becasuse this particular photog' was out looking for “trouble” it doesn't mean that he was outside of his rights to do just that. How many of you, complaining about his lack of moral fiber, have taken the time to ask why he was setup to do this in the first place? Do you believe he was tempting fait in order to cash in OR do you feel, especially with the large number of violations of photog rights in the recent years, that it's possible that he was attempting to document something in order to help support the cause that is the photographer's right to shoot where allowed by law?

    Yes, I think it's agreed that this photographer was attempting to bait the officer and thus caused some of the greif he himself was put through. No, this will not likely put other photographers into a kindly light when this officer (or possibly others) deals with them. However, what should be taken into consideration is that officers of the law should be held accountable for their actions and should also be held to a higher moral code than the rest of the population. I mean, how can we expect and underpaid, underfunded, easily antagonized public securities force to respect and KNOW the law if we don't expect them to live it/by it??? Police don't get a pass to act however they want simply because you're willing to give up your rights to the protections they themselves have PROMISED to give to the public.

    Trust me… Give up your rights during a relatively peaceful time and you're not likely to get them back during times of discord simply because you've asked they be given to you… You need to demand rights be given to you and when they finally are, you've got to fight to keep them…

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