Yesterday, someone emailed me a link to the following article:
It outlines the Long Beach Police Department’s policy to detain or arrest photographers who are not exhibiting “regular tourist behavior”.
Excerpts follow for continuity, but please go to the above link and click an ad so they get paid:
Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department policy.
McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incident in which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of a North Long Beach refinery.
“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says 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.”
… (snip) …
Central to this policy is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), “a report used to document any reported or observed activity, or any criminal act or attempted criminal act, which an officer believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism”
Included among “[i]ncidents which shall be reported on a SAR” is “Tak[ing] pictures or video footage (with no apparent esthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.)”
Although Special Order No. 11 applies only to the LAPD, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, “Rather than criticize the LAPD efforts, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the LAPD program ‘should be a national model.’ Not surprisingly, in June 2008 the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security teamed with the Major City [sic] Chiefs Association to issue a report recommending expanding the LAPD SAR program to other U.S. cities.”
Apparently, this “Special Order No. 11″ is a precursor of things to come. It will be called something different in each city in which it is implemented, but the effect will be the same:
To detain photographers.
In a later comment, the Long Beach photographer in question stated that he was not free to go, and that the officer insisted on seeing his driver license because of, what else, 9/11.
Now, in order to detain someone, the law requires a police officer have reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime has occurred, or is about to occur. In order to arrest a person, an officer must have probable cause that a crime has occurred. In both cases, the officer must be able to articulate the crime. This means that the officer must be able to fluently and coherently describe the crime he/she thinks has been committed.
Since photography in public is perfectly legal, regardless of the subject, the officer in this case was able to articulate no crime. This means the officer unlawfully imprisoned the photographer.
Fortunately, the photographer was let go after surrendering his driver’s license and submitting to an NCIC (national crime database) check.
What would you do, though?
What would you do if you were innocently taking pictures, and a police officer demanded to see your ID for doing so?
Would you give it to him?
I can hear some of you now:
“Gee, Rex, I would give it to him! What’s the big deal? If an officer stops me because I am taking pictures, I would answer his questions, hand over my license, and get on with life. I’ll have no problems because I have nothing to hide!”
Here’s the thing — In the USA, when a police officer makes “contact” with you, that contact is documented, and is available to almost every other police officer in the country. Same goes for Canada. As a matter of fact, not long ago, a Canadian woman was denied entry to the USA for making “contact” with a police officer for a different non-crime:
If you are a well-meaning patriotic American, and you allow an officer to run your ID because you took a photograph of a traffic light, you may be setting yourself up for more problems down the road.
The next time an officer stops you for a traffic ticket, he will see your prior contact for “suspicious conduct”, and will treat you accordingly. The next time you make an airplane reservation, you may get flagged as well. When you go through customs, you’ll probably get extra scrutiny. If your company needs you to obtain a security clearance for a project, your brief detention for taking a photograph will mostly likely delay it.
The great irony in Special Order #11 is that the most obedient among us may soon find themselves on the same watch lists as the freedom-hating evildoers.
If you are ever approached for taking legal photographs, and you are asked to produce an ID, you might just want to think twice about handing it over. An arrest for “disorderly conduct” (or whatever they take you in for when you assert your constitutional right to remain silent) is probably better than a ding for “suspected terrorism”. At least you will have the benefit of council, will have a paper trail of your detention, and will be able to seek legal redress.
It’s something to think about it.