Detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department policy

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“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.”

via Long Beach Post.

There Are 43 Comments On This Article.

  1. I am somewhat undecided about this one. On the one hand it’s an obvious violation of civil liberties but on the other hand…… it would be amusing to see people arrested for having no vision or taste.

  2. So, now do I not only get criticism from my peers but I also have to worry about appeasing the Long Beach police too?

  3. So, apparently, the only acceptable behavior is that of a tourist, and their, admitted, lack of training is the basis for this judgment. Classic.

  4. if there are no signs specifically saying NO PHOTOGRAPHY, then a police officer has no right to even make contact. if the person is acting in suspicious way about taking the pictures( constantly looking around to see if anybody is watching them, trying to get zoom in shots of specific areas i.e. guards& such)then they have a right to question the photographer. to me no sign posted means its free reign to take pictures.

  5. This is concerning. I have been stopped in New Haven, CT from shooting a sculpture in front of a courthouse. After giving them my business card, and trying to plead my case that this was public space, they took down my information, and directed me to shoot away from the courthouse. The courthouse in downtown Boston (where I live now) looks beautiful, and while I have really wanted to shoot it, I haven’t because I want to spend time with it, and not get hassled. sigh…

  6. They should become the fashion police too and arrest the pale bennys that wear the black tube socks up to their knees.

  7. It’s easy to comply. Just bring a hot girl/guy in a bikini/Speedo.

    I wonder how they could argue about aesthetics at that point.

    Oh, crap, then it’s “commercial”. They get you either way. :) Free country, after all, you know?

  8. So I supposed that the LB Police Dept. is now authorized to arrest Goggle Earth? Just went there and you can see just about every location you want to see in Long Beach on a street view. You can see people and cars, etc. This is such crap.

  9. I’m not sure I was fully “detained,” but I was questioned last week (Aug 12) by a police officer while doing some street photography on Park Avenue. He approached me, asked what I was doing, asked to see the picture I took of him, then said that “some people might consider that creepy” and that it might be considered “unlawful surveillance.”

    I didn’t argue, just fully complied and showed him a few pictures and said a few times that I was a professional photographer. He didn’t ask for any ID, just lectured me a bit and clearly tried to intimidate me into stopping.

    Would Bruce Gilden’s style now be considered assault? Am I delusional in thinking that we have freedom of photography? It’s not in the constitution…

    • “Would Bruce Gilden’s style now be considered assault?”

      Maybe not assault, but personally I would make an “issue” about it if a photographer got in my face like he does to take a picture. People have the right to a reason of privacy even if they are in a public place, unless, as the courts have decided, they are a “public figure”.

      I have been stopped, questioned and “written up” by the FBI while taking pictures once many years ago. It is a long story, best told over drinks but in my experience they were professional, polite and perfectly reasonable for stopping my wife and I. When we understood why we were stopped it all made sense but it was still kind of scary.

      The “state of terror” now regarding image making seems hysterical to me, but some recent examples of photographers “making a point” about their rights to make/take images wherever they want seems kind of the other side of the pendulum swing.

      • If you are on the street, you have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” as defined by the New York penal code as “a place and time when a reasonable person would believe that he or she could fully disrobe in privacy.”

        My argument remains that I am photographed/videoed probably 20 times a day without my consent (subway, stores, work, streets, etc), and if someone is walking down the street and I snap a picture of them, I haven’t broken any laws.

        Bridges and some buildings, I can understand being questioned briefly, in a post-9/11 world. However, at least here in NY, they seem to be taking things way too far.

        • You are correct!

          I am pretty up on the law/copyright with regards to photography and I failed here. Bruce Gilden could take my picture, and he could use it editorially and possibly/probably sell fine art prints (I am ugly, so probably not.) but not use my image in commercial situations.

          But, if I asked Mr. Gilden to not take my picture, again, or at all, if I saw him coming, the law would consider that harassment if he persisted.

          Thanks for the correction.

          • @ victor

            You’re right on the first part but paparazzis would not be in business if they got slapped with harassment everytime they went chasin’..

            Not sayimg its not harassment, but dont think the law sees it as such.

  10. Civil liberties seem to be policed more and more each and everyday in the ‘land of the free’ ; this happens at Grand Canyon ; and on the borderlands – what’s a photog to do when it’s our work and responsibility ? I personally don’t believe in paparazzi harassment – is it ethics? aesthetics? I do my best to identify myself and be respectful but sometimes one wonders if they can take your camera/ or your digi cards or put a ‘mark’ in some grand data base – big brother alive and well I am afraid; “they” watch but don’t like it when “they’re” watched back when everyday people or photographers share a different version of ‘truth’…. hmmm ….

  11. Hans Hansen

    COPS WILL BE COPS…

    Yeah, this is my town alright. The very scenario described in the Long Beach Post today happened to me two years ago tomorrow.

    After shooting the picture below in 2009 the LB police followed me in my car for four miles before pulling me over and questioning me about walking around with a camera. Knowing what was coming, my response was that I was on public property and had every right to pursue photography as a free US citizen and resident of Long Beach,CA. He responded with a request to search my car which I immediately denied him. He then asked me to produce my camera now or wait until he procured a search warrant for my vehicle. To appease his curiosity which at this point was taking on a menacing tone I showed the officer how to chimp through the images on the camera.

    After conferring with his partner the officer comes back and asks why I’m taking pictures of shipping containers. I said as the truth was that I was working on a small personal project about living in Long Beach. His response was “This does not look like anything, what is this?” “Shipping containers.” I replied. “You’re not supposed to be taking pictures of this stuff.” he said and handed me back the camera (with all the images intact). And then the lecture came about port security, securing location permits from the city, the risk of getting a ticket without permits, the risk of having one’s vehicle impounded in conjunction with criminal trespass and on and on. The fact that I didn’t need a commercial permit, never trespassed let alone broke any laws federal, state or otherwise was something he was clearly not prepared to discuss any further. Parting words were: “If I do see you out there again today I will issue you a ticket. Consider yourself warned.”

    I’m somewhat dismayed but not at all surprised the Long Beach Police are still out there enforcing this doctrine from above. I do understand this is a contentious issue and a source of friction amongst photographers and people that don’t understand or care what their rights as citizens actually are. I suppose it boils down to my right to make a photograph and a citizens right to be anxious. This is the fearful american way after all. Shoot first, ask questions later…

    You can see an example of the stuff I’m not supposed to be shooting here:
    http://hanshansenphoto.com/?p=321

  12. I do a lot of Street Photography in souther California. The people and moments I find interesting are just a fraction of a second. By the time a person sees me that second has passed. Some approach and as what I am doing, which is a personal art project. Those I find very appealing I approach and ask if I can continue to shoot their image. A release, most often I don’t try to get one unless I see someone unusual, which is hard in LA.

    I think I want to try the LB PD and see it they are good critics. Maybe they can suggest some office building are where people work at night. I have a project that involves such subjects. If they have to ask what you are taking a photograph of then they will fail in their ability to provide a worthwhile critique. I do like the boys in blue most of the time, yet some are a bit….

    • Not really. But we LOVE to sensationalize. Every time one of these incidents happens, it reverberates through the Web so everyone can chime in about how awful things have become. As a percentage of all the photographs snapped on any given day these incidents are infinitesimally small. And I’ll bet many of the cases that do occur result from photographers doing things that invite harassment.

      The bottom line is there are two types of cops. The majority are good guys doing a very difficult job. The other group are professional bullies who got into law enforcement because it allows them to push people around legally. The sad thing is if you are a law-abiding citizen the only contact you’ll ever have with law enforcement is from the ones who fit into the latter category.

      • It’s always the few nasty individuals that taint the rest of the regular police. I’ve done quite a bit of work for various Police forces here in the UK, I must have been lucky as I worked with some real nice people.

        I’ve got one client with offices adjacent to a British Nuclear Fuels building, now that’s always interesting when I’m shooting exteriors, rent-a-cops come swarming out like flies around a turd, even though we inform them two weeks in advance of a shoot. Figure the muscle has trouble with reading.

      • Rudy Perpich

        Hi DD,
        I was detained by a very polite cop for taking photos near a mall near my home in Minneapolis. I’m just an amateur, and I was outdoors learning how to use my new camera. I had to explain why I taking pictures, and then I had to walk back to my car, a few blocks away, while the officer followed in her car. At my car she asked to look in the trunk and asked for my driver’s license and registration.

        She was a good cop following bad orders.

        Just like the people at the TSA. Israeli experts laugh at our airport security system, calling it unnecessary and intrusive.

        We’ve gone way too far in security measures in the US.

  13. And this was the response from the LBPD:

    In case you missed the part of the story that said the officer was flagged down regarding suspicious activity, let me remind you of that particular fact which led to the contact in the first place. Officers have an obligation to follow up on reports of suspicious activity and investigate. This officer did what he is suppose to do. The contact lasted no more than a few minutes and was a courteous and polite contact between the two (in case you overlooked that part of the story too) …. once the officer determined that there was no criminal activity, he left and even told the photographer that he can stay and take as many pictures as he wanted…. you clearly don’t have all the facts…

    I will keep my judgements of the writer to myself and allow you to form your own!

  14. Once upon a time, a photographer could wander the streets of an American city and shoot photos of anything in the public realm: schoolchildren playing, couples in the park, government buildings, oil refineries and subway riders.

    Some of the best work from this era coincided with the rise of Hitler, and continued through and after the Second World War.

    And nobody was worried if an old man with a camera snapped photographs of little girls riding a merry-go- round or if another photographer stood under the Brooklyn Bridge and shot its magnificent span and soaring arches.

    There was courage, true courage in the American people back then, because not only were they fighting a war but they were not consumed in the nonsensical fear of absolute security absolutely all the time.

    We live in an era when privacy is non-existent and idiots blather on their cellphones in public and others walk around with tattoos on their backsides and show it off; but the private work of photographer is considered subversive and somehow suspect and worthy of police inquiry.