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.
David Hobby has written up a great post over at Strobist on how he avoids shoot-ruining confrontations with police officers when shooting in public locations (we shared an example of a confrontation yesterday). His tricks include calling the police ahead of time and leaving notes on the doors of houses nearby:
Before I shoot (a couple hours, usually) I call into the duty officer of the local precinct. I tell them my name, that I am a photographer, and where/when I will be shooting. I explain that, just in case some overenthusiastic passerby calls me in as a suspicious person, I just want to save them a call. I offer them my cell number, and ask if they want my sosh or driver’s license number. I have never been taken up on this, but I would happily give it.
[…] I print up a sheet and stick it in everyone’s door who is within eyeshot of the shoot at night. Because believe-you-me, it you are popping flashes in the woods at 2am, some idiot will absolutely call your butt in. To them, it’s gotta look pretty much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Some of you might not like these tips because they appear to be the equivalent of putting up a white flag in the fight for photographers’ rights, but they may come in handy if one day you have a critical photo shoot that you can’t afford to have interrupted.
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.
Want to inform someone of their right to take pictures in the US? Just share this short cartoon created by the ACLU, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and The Gregory Brothers. It features Benjamin Franklin’s ghost, who sings about the various things you’re legally allowed to do without being harassed by law enforcement.
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…
A UK photographer who goes by the moniker Hamstify was documenting his town Scunthorpe late last year when he was confronted by security personel outside a Golden Wonder plant and ordered to stop photographing. He was shooting from a public location, so he decided to stand up for his rights and film the argument that transpired. On VisitScunthorpe.com, he writes,
What also aggrieves me is that someone in a uniform representing a company in an apparent position of authority can try and intimidate members of the public by making up laws that don’t exist. This seemed to be an attempt to subjugate a member of the public into accepting what was being told was to be true. Further more hurling offensive insults and puerile slander, like seen at the end of the video, surely isn’t something that someone in that position should resort to.
In general, for UK residents, photography from public places is perfectly legal. There are some exceptions (e.g. buildings critical to national security), but the general rule of thumb is that if you’re shooting from public property police and security guards don’t have the power to stop you.
16-year-old photographer Jules Mattsson has won a settlement from the London Metropolitan Police after being stopped and detained last year while photographing the Armed Forces Day parade. Here’s Mattsson’s account of what happened:
I was detained by Police in Romford after taking an image of a cadet unit who were about to march in a massive parade in front of thousands of people with cameras. I was told it was an offence to photograph a child, then an offence to photograph the military, then an offence to photograph the police then that I was a threat under the terrorism act. I was frog marched with my arm painfully twisted away from the public eye and any witnesses and pushed down a set of stairs. The police illegally tried to take my details on several occasions also. [#]
In addition to the financial settlement paid to Mattsson early last week, the police department has also apologized for its actions.
The New York Times has sent an angry letter to the New York Police Department after video emerged showing photojournalist Robert Stolarik being pushed around and then blocked while trying to photograph officers arresting Occupy Wall Street protestors. The memo itself hasn’t be published, but NYT VP and assistant general counsel George Freeman is quoted as saying,
It seemed pretty clear from the video that the Times freelance photographer was being intentionally blocked by the police officer who was kind of bobbing and weaving to keep him from taking photographs
The department has acknowledged receiving the note from the NYT, but has not issued a formal response yet. This incident comes just weeks after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered officers to avoid unreasonably interfering with media access during news coverage. Read more…
Three years ago, an Illinois man named Michael Allison was arrested for videotaping police in public in accordance with the state’s extremely strict wiretapping laws. He faced up to 75 years in prison for his crime, but a few months ago an Illinois judge ruled that the laws were unconstitutional and threw out the case. However, the State of Illinois is now appealing to the Supreme Court to have the dismissal overturned.