If you’re a street photography-loving New Yorker who’s worried about being stopped and harassed by the New York Police Department, check out this official memo that was sent out to officers back in 2009. The Operations Order, titled “Investigation of Individuals Engaged in Suspicious Photography and Video Surveillance”, states,
Members of the service are reminded that photography and the video taping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City… all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct. Given the City’s prominence as a tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct.
Members of the service may not demand to view photographs taken by a person absent consent […] When there is probable cause to believe that the camera, film or other media contains evidence of criminal activity, the item may be seized, and a search warrant must be obtained in order to view its contents.
Here’s a higher-res version of this image in case you’d like to print it out, laminate it, and carry it around in your photo bag. You can bust it out in the event that you do get stopped.
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. …
The New York Times has published a great interview with Michael H. Osterreicher, the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association and the editor of the organization’s advocacy blog. In it, NYT Lens Blog co-editor James Estrin asks Osterreicher about photographers’ rights and the trend of people being stopped while shooting public locations. Read more…
One of the common reasons given for being wary of photographers is that terrorists commonly use cameras as part of their information gathering tactics prior to devastating attacks.
The disconcerting video above is a terrorist prevention video that was funded by the Department of Homeland security and uploaded to Houston’s city website back in January 2011. Starting at 1:42, it attempts to convince people that photographers may be potential terrorists, and that the police should be called if one appears to “hang around for no apparent reason.” Read more…
After being arrested on October 1, 2007 for using his cell phone to film officers making an arrest, Boston lawyer Simon Glik sued the city for violating his civil rights. Late last year the court denied a motion to have the case dismissed, and just yesterday it was announced that the City of Boston had come to a settlement with Glik, agreeing to pay him $170,000 for damages and legal fees. The decision last year and the settlement yesterday both reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the right to photograph and film police officers carrying out their duties in a public place.
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania-based photographer Jason Macchioni was recently shooting a time-lapse project from an overpass at night when he was approached by police officers who demanded his ID and threatened to arrest him for wiretapping (Macchioni was recording video of the encounter). Macchioni tells us,
I was shooting a time-lapse which I’m still working on, I arrived at this site around 9 and was there for about 3 hours until these two cops rolled up! At first I was calm and refused to give ID, After the second cop was breathing down my neck and really threatening me. I gave in and tried to get them to leave. Then stuff got heated.
Macchioni has enlisted the help of the ACLU in filing a complaint with the police department. Want to learn more about your rights as a photographer in the US? Check out this short cartoon the ACLU released earlier this month.
Here’s a disturbing video called “If You See Something, Film Something” that shows why it’s important that citizens have the right to turn cameras on the activities of police officers without being stopped or harassed:
The United States has growing problem with police abuse, brutality, and corruption. It is essential for civilians to document their encounters with police officers to ensure transparency, accountability, and safety to all of those involved.
Police departments have, for too long, tried to bully, intimidate, threaten, arrest, or otherwise harass law abiding citizens from recording the activities of law enforcement in public. Enough is enough! It is time for all of us to take a stand and expose police brutality when we witness it.
Be warned: the video contains many graphic scenes of police brutality…
German satire program Extra 3 conducted a humorous — albeit disconcerting — experiment testing photographers’ (and videographers) rights in Germany. They had an actor use a camera at different “sensitive” government locations, doing the exact same things (e.g. film the locations of security cameras) but dressed in two different outfits — first as a European tourist and then as a Middle Eastern man. The result shows that how law enforcement deals with cameras is largely determined by common prejudices.
The Long Beach Police Department’s hunt for photos with “no apparent esthetic value” quickly became national news last week. Here’s a news segment in which Alyona Minkovski of RT speaks out against the erosion of photographers’ rights in the United States:
I understand that the Department of Homeland Security has a job to do, but we can’t just automatically assume that any photographer out there is a terrorist. At this rate I’m pretty sure that all the hipsters in LA will be locked up in no time.
Hopefully the publicity that these stories receive will make it easier for photo-enthusiasts to shoot in public without being harassed.