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. …
Some people who find themselves on hard times try to have themselves arrested so that they can eat for free in prison. It turns out that people in Southern California can do the same thing for a free studio-style headshot. Cat Cora, a chef on the Food Network show Iron Chef, recently got booked for a DUI after drinking three beers and getting behind the wheel. Her mugshot wasn’t taken until 11 days after her arrest, so Cora had time to have her hair and makeup done in order to pose for a picture-perfect mugshot. When the photo made its way onto the Internet, websites began to comment on how it looks more like a studio portrait than a police station mugshot. Read more…
DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier (left) and Earl Staley (right)
Well, that didn’t take long. Just one day after Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier issued a directive ordering officers to leave photographers alone (PDF here), a police officer reportedly snatched a man’s camera at a crime scene and later returned it without the memory card. My Fox DC writes,
Earl Staley says he considers what happened to him Friday, July 20, a robbery.
“I know that I could take these pictures of these guys,” Staley tells Fox 5 News. “I know it. Especially when they’re doing something wrong.”
Staley says his smartphone was snatched by a D.C. Police officer last Friday evening along Raleigh Place in Southeast D.C. Staley says he saw police punching a man they were arresting and another plain-clothes officer harassing the people watching.
“So I go and grab my phone and start trying to record it,” says Staley, a 26-year-old employee of a private, non-profit mental health agency in the District. “And once I do that, another vice cop reaches over my back and grabs my phone and tells me he’s not giving my phone back.”
One of the reasons photographers raise a fuss when their rights are infringed upon is to create awareness in the general public and among law enforcement. A recent lawsuit between a photojournalist and the Washington DC police department has done just that. The Washington Post reports:
District police cannot interfere with citizens as they photograph or videotape officers performing their jobs in public, according to a new directive issued by Chief Cathy L. Lanier as part of settlement in a civil lawsuit.
The six-page general order, similar to one published by police in Baltimore in November, warns officers that “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.”
[...] “It tells police to leave people alone,” Spitzer said. “It makes it clear that if a person is in a place that interferes with police operations, the officer can ask or tell them to move to another location, but they can’t tell them to stop taking pictures.”
When photographer Mannie Garcia — known best, perhaps, for his iconic photograph of President Obama — was arrested for disorderly conduct while recording Maryland police officers performing an arrest, he didn’t realize that it would mean the loss of his White House credentials. And although he was eventually acquitted and given back his camera (with the memory card missing), the damage had already been done and Garcia is looking to hold someone accountable. Read more…
In the past year — and especially with the growth of the “occupy” movement — police interfering with photographers or pedestrians trying to snap a photo of them has been in the news quite a lot. Just yesterday we reported on the Olympics’ security guards who landed in hot water after harassing photogs shooting from public land. In the past, this was no problem, as police officers had little to fear in way of personal liability when they interfered; however, a new Connecticut bill — the first of its kind — may soon change that. 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.
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.