LAPD Terror Policy Once Again Identifies Photogs as Potential Terrorists

Bad news for photographers in Southern California: the Los Angeles Police Department issued a notice regarding its official terrorism handling policy earlier this week, and the document still identifies photographers as potential terrorists. The intradepartmental correspondence, sent out by the Chief of Police, warns officers about the following:

Photography. Taking pictures or videos of facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person. Examples include taking pictures or videos of ingress/egress, delivery locations, personnel performing security functions (e.g., patrol, badge/vehicle checking), security-related equipment (e.g., perimeter fencing, security cameras), etc.;

Observation/Surveillance. Demonstrating unusual interest in facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites beyond mere casual or professional (e.g., engineers) interest, such that a reasonable person would consider the activity suspicious. Examples include observations through binoculars, taking notes, attempting to measure distances, etc. …

Dennis Romero of L.A. Weekly writes that “the LAPD is now poised to detain and question half the L.A. Weekly staff.”

Here’s a copy of the document that was issued:

Romero reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned by this development, and quotes senior staff attorney Peter Bibring as saying,

The fundamental flaw in this program is that it labels as suspicious activity acts that are not only lawful but commonplace. It doesn’t help national security to fill counter-terrorism databases with information about people taking pictures in public.

The Los Angeles area has seen its share of confrontations between photographers and law enforcement in the past couple years. In 2010, the detention of photographer Shawn Nee by the Los Angeles Sheriffs department resulted in an ACLU lawsuit. In 2011, the Long Beach Police Department caused controversy after it was revealed that they had a policy of stopping photographers for taking pictures “of no apparent esthetic value.”

Thanks for sending in the tip, Adrian!

Image credit: LAPD Mobile Substation at LAPD West Valley Station by 888bailbond

  • gabe sturdevant

    The terrorists are laughing at us. Whatever can be photographed from public property can probably be seen on google maps anywhere in the world.

  • John R

    Who the hell designed that truck? Fred Flintstone? No wonder you are returning to the cold war, you are stuck in the paranoid 1950’s.

    Ever read 1984? You are in it. Anyway good luck, the Stazi are in charge in the UK too, trust no one, record everything.

  • slaves in the south

    america .. land of the free… ROTFL

  • judas

    not only the terrorists.. the whole world is laughing at america.
    frightened chicken.. running headless around the flag.

  • Erik Mullinix

    It is easy to read this and think they are talking about anyone taking pictures. Unfortunately the wording includes the term “reasonable person” which is very subjective. So when it comes to things like this I follow simple rules that I got via Peta Pixel user posts.
    1. If someone asks what I am doing, I tell them. My goal of getting, (insert creative idea) and include them in the idea. Let people know your there for artistic sake.
    2. When it comes to security/police personal. I always ask them if I may film them. Most often I get poses and explanations of what I am looking at rather than anger and or demands to stop. Remember they are people to and might just dislike having their picture taken rather than have the desire to appease a government official by subjugating one of the righteous photogs trying to give the masses evidence of wrong doing. That said, it’s what your going for that counts. You have the right to take pictures, it is clearly laid out but that doesn’t mean it cant hurt to take precautions. Having a sign on you clothing or otherwise stating your a photographer or videographer allows people to not have to wonder what your doing. Being polite should not require they be polite to you first (though it helps).
    3. That reminds me of a third notion, remember that if your filming a dangerous situation don’t get into the fray just to get a good shot. Unless your job is being right there you are just going to become another worry for those trying to protect you. If your filming security personal because they are doing the wrong thing or being to brutal, be aware they may come after you especially if they realize they did wrong. Talk to the internal affairs department in those cases. Try to get them to resolve the issue internally before you seek to embarrass them into submission. These videos and photographs help illustrate the bad that happen but also have the chance to highlight the good some of these officers do. Please remember they are people first and not enemies first.

    That said, I do recognize your going to have to deal with the nefarious as well. Be smart and stay calm. It will do more for you than becoming heated.

    An amateur.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    You know that there’s something wrong when regular law-abiding citizens have more reason to worry about the police than the terrorists.

  • TedCrunch

    Yes, we must remember that Osama Bin Laden took photos of the twin towers before he ordered those planes in to destroy them. Didn’t he? He couldn’t have done it without photos! Those paranoid people in power are creating more problems than they are solving.

  • Sebastjan VoduĊĦek

    Everyone should watch TED talk on security..

  • erem

    america… laughing stock of the world


    So how about google maps?? Providing Terrorist the easy way out, they don’t even have to step foot outside to take a photo. They just search up the area and do a live street view. Pathetic!!!

  • JW

    I photograph random buildings around LA (using a tripod, usually during the day) on a fairly regular basis and feel somewhere between annoyed and completely unsettled about this whole thing. I’ve never been stopped by police for any reason but I’m thinking I might start to carry a mini portfolio of my work to help demonstrate the “aesthetic value” of what I’m doing so that this isn’t left up to the cops to decide. Side note: it’s always in white middle and upper middle class areas where I get harassed the most by residents, never in other parts. Expect them to be the first to report suspicious behavior.

  • James Bong

    It sounds like we need to mob all of the LA police department paparazi style in protest. Make it harder for them to do their job by being constantly surrounded by photographers and videographers.

  • Chris H.

    I’m going to give you all
    some perspective. Not only am I a photographer, but in addition to being
    a Fire Captain at a State facility as well as doing 9 years in 9-1-1,
    this subject is being overblown. You cannot have “safety” and “freedom”
    in the same sentence. The types of criminal activity that I have
    personally encountered that would be EASILY confused or associated with
    photographers ranges from people stealing fire engines with intent to
    use them in major criminal activities, to backpackers robbed at
    gunpoint, to random fire bombings, to snipers, to bomb threats. I have
    been involved first hand in people being checked out as suspicious. We
    had a bird watcher stopped because they were peering into houses with
    binoculars…a week after 4 blocks away someone fire bombed a house. A
    photographer was in a blind and was called in as a possible sniper in an
    area that had a car shot at randomly a month prior. Photographers who I
    personally have stopped and questioned because they just walked inside
    of the station without permission and GOT INSIDE THE TRUCK trying to
    take pics and almost released the parking brake. In every case, law
    enforcement was called and they arrived and questioned the people. After
    a simple explanation, all were let go without incident. Speaking as
    someone who works on the other side of these kinds of regulations, they
    are absolutely needed. If you want us to stop checking out
    photographers, then you ask us to stop investigating many suspicious
    people who are legitimately trying to do bad. Just because these
    regulations are in place doesn’t mean you can expect 6 cop cars to come
    and take your camera gear after roughing you up. The regulation doesn’t
    say “arrest first, ask questions later”. It just merely states any
    suspicious photographing should be investigated. If you have a business
    card with you, or you voluntarily show them your pics and tell them what
    you are doing, they simply leave you alone. But chastising a regulation
    that should be in place everywhere because you are thinking ONLY as a
    photographer, is definitely not thinking with perspective. Again, I say

  • Thomas

    They want to make sure they get you and seize evidence before you release any pictures of them breaking laws and beating the s**t out of people. Get real people!

  • Koke Momo

    “If you have a business card with you, or you voluntarily show them your pics and tell them what you are doing, they simply leave you alone. ”

    This is not always true. I assure you. Don’t be so naive that every police officer is as kindly as you Mr. Fire Captain.

  • PaulJay

    Just another excuse to crush liberties. And ofcourse to protect corrupt Police Officers. Now when someone is filming or taking pictures of a bad cop, he can arrest you for terrorist activity. You Americans should wake the f@#$ up.

  • Mick

    You said: “you ask us to stop investigating many suspicious people who are legitimately trying to do bad”

    But, according to you, these policies for suspecting photographers have never, in your experience, ever led to a single instance of someone “legitimately trying to do bad” because you say “all were let go without incident”

    SO what was truly accomplished? Did you nab the sniper? Did you catch the firebomber? Your examples suggest that your fellow authorities spent much more time chasing wild geese. I have no doubt you mean well, but you’re not making a convincing argument that assuming people with cameras are criminals has helped keep anyone safe.

  • Chris H.

    To answer your question simply…yes. People called in multiple times on “suspicious people”. Probably well over 20 law abiding citizens went through mild hassling. But finally one call made had the actual guy stopped and arrested. He was found with 500 rounds and a converted automatic rifle. He had mental difficulties and was off his meds. He apparently was planning on killing some people and then suicide by cop. He was arrested without incident and last I heard, on court order to stay on his meds and had no further issues. Now compare that to the other side. We had 4 people call in worried about a guy who was “not acting right”. There wasn’t enough “evidence” to follow up on him. 4 days later he drove down a highway and started randomly shooting out his window at cars driving by. He shot 1 person then got into a major chase, crashed, and got into a big shootout where he shot a cop. This is what happens when you are “afraid to bother someone”. We also had a situation where someone was photographing a neighborhood for a week. No one questioned what he was doing. He ended up kidnapping 2 children a week later and no one had gotten his name, a description of his vehicle, nothing! The only report was, “a guy taking pictures”. I stopped following the case after awhile, but as far as I know they never found the kids. Until you work 9-1-1, you will have no idea what goes on in your own neighborhood. I worked Sheriffs SAR and Fire Dept for 10 years prior to working 9-1-1 and I had no comprehension the craziness that occurs. I wanted to actually be a cop once, but after a couple years at 9-1-1 it squashed that idea for me real fast! Puts a whole new perspective on public safety and what it takes.

  • Chris H.

    I agree, but my statements are not about
    the ABUSE of regulations by officers, which is clearly the case on occasions.
    There are MANY officers who do their job correctly and without egos or
    attitudes. Abuse by officers should not be lumped in with regulations.
    regulations on the public safety side come from what happens when
    either 1) something went wrong, or 2) a lawyer sued someone over it.
    Example: my department does not allow us to enter locked vehicles
    anymore unless there is a life in danger. A regulation was made on this.
    Why? Because one time a honest guy tried to help someone who locked his
    keys in his car with his dog inside. The windows were cracked and the
    dog was fine. He ended up setting off airbags inside the car, injuring
    the person’s dog and screwing up the car. Now we have a regulation in
    place that says the only way we enter a car is in the case of life
    threat and then we break the window as the only method. This regulation
    probably was created because (like I have experienced) someone was
    photographing something and was not investigated and it turned out the
    person did something bad. Do people really think they sat around
    saying, “hey, I am tired of photographers, lets make a regulation
    allowing them to be hassled by officers”? A regulation like this is
    serious and it means someone somewhere was killed, injured, or the city
    was sued because an officer didn’t investigate someone they should have. As for a$$hole officers? There are cops who abuse their power, I agree. I
    work with people in public safety who shouldn’t be. But I can’t control
    them, only try and do the best things to keep the public safe. My
    honest opinion of the situation in LA based on the comments, if it is so
    bad…set LAPD up. Do a photography sting operation documenting their
    violations and show their abuse. But the idea, both around this regulation and my comments, should be around focusing on cleaning up or stopping abuse, not eliminating regulations because of the FEAR of abuse.


    Most of this is to do with private security and filming in downtown LA, it prevents photographers from digitally photographing backgrounds without paying the exorbitant location fees that Film companies pay.
    If you have a professional camera and try to take a photo in a prime downtown location agressive private security guards with walkie talkies come out of the woodwork and threaten to call the police if you do not move on.
    Location fees for filming in LA is big business for the property owners and the police.

  • Domenico Foschi

    Chris H,
    you say that it would be best for photographers to show the police officer the pictures he/she just took. Last time I checked do do such a request was needed a court order. Should the police officer break the law and harass the photographer?