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…
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.
Last Friday, 45-year-old Chris White was at the Braehead shopping center near Glasgow, when he took a snapshot of his daughter Hazel eating some ice cream. He was then confronted by security guards — and later the police — who cited the Prevention of Terrorism Act to explain that it was in their rights to confiscate his phone. While they did allow him to keep the photos, they demanded his personal details. Afterward, White created a Facebook page titled “Boycott Braehead” in an effort to draw attention to the incident. Read more…
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.
Boston lawyer Simon Glik was arrested on October 1, 2007 when he used his cell phone to record officers making a drug arrest, and later sued the city and the officers for violating his rights. After the officers tried to having the lawsuit dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity, a Federal Appeals Court denied the motion last week and ruled that filming and photographing police is in fact protected by the First Amendment. They also note that the rights extend not just to professional news gatherers, but ordinary citizens as well:
[...] changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.
This is great news for photographers’ rights (in the United States, at least).
What do you think of this photo of a refinery by photographer Sander Roscoe Wolff? Apparently Long Beach police don’t think very highly of it. Wolff was detained after capturing it last month, and now the police chief is saying that stopping photographers for photos with “no apparent esthetic value” is part of department policy. The Long Beach Post writes,
“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says [Police Chief Jim McDonnell], “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.
McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”
Telling police officers to be the judge in determining whether a photograph has any artistic value doesn’t seem like a very good way of catching the bad guys… What if some terrorist is an awesome photographer?