do shutterbugs “bug” you?


This is a question for my brothers/sisters in blue. What is your opinion on photographers and their influence on the job?

More and more I am seeing stories on the net and in the news about cops and security guards confronting and arresting people taking photos/video of officers and things like buildings, bridges, airports, etc.

Some officers have been confiscating cameras or deleting photographs/videos themselves or they have been forcing/threatening civilians into deleting their own footage.

I know that in the post 9/11 age we have all heard that taking pictures of infrastructure is one of the signs of terrorist target selection, both as intelligence gathering and as a security probe to gauge police response. But that does not mean that the right to take pictures in a public place has changed. We use the rationale that we (LEO’s) can take photos or use as evidence that which we can see in “plain view” as long as we are viewing it from a place where we can legally stand; how can we then try to arrest a “civilian” for doing the same?

Now…granted. Some people with cameras in your face are simply trying to be assholes; implying that you are doing something wrong and that they now have your picture, they will have your badge, give it to the media, send it to the mayor etc. Believe you me I understand how that can piss you off. But, if you are in fact doing what you are supposed to be doing, let them film, as long as they are not physically interfering or escalating an encounter that is.

Then there are the “prove a point” photographers who say that they are simply “exercising their rights”. Which while true (they do have the right), this can also be code for “I’m out to get cops in trouble and I’m hoping to make an example out of YOU.” They are looking to get that next bit of “viral video” they hope gets a million hits on YouTube and a spot on MSNBC…don’t fall for it. This is in the same vein as these “right to carry” handgun types who walk around with a gun exposed waiting for someone to call the police on them. They are hoping for you to get yourself jammed up and put your job in jeopardy. You fight these people by knowing the law, knowing your departments policy and by knowing that you are doing whats right. Like this officer did.

This officer kept his cool, was educated about what these “open carry” types are trying to do and obviously thought about what his response would be if and when he ran into one. He didn’t fall for any of the photographers attempts to bait him no matter how hard “Jeremy” tried to be a dick. You would be wise learn from his example.

I also understand that there are some states that have laws stating that people cannot be filmed without their consent. If that is the case than I suggest that you get clarification from your department and/or your local DA regarding how exactly that applies to your job. In some cases this law only applies to audio recording. Rarely does it cover someone snapping still pictures. A poor understanding of law and a knee jerk reaction to someone baiting you is a recipe for a “jam up”. Figure out what you can do in a given situation BEFORE you find yourself in it whenever possible.

Along these lines, Miami Beach PD has recently implemented a department policy regarding interaction with camera wielders. Here’s an excerpt.

A. The Department recognizes that the taking of photographs and/or videos by private citizens and media personnel is permitted within areas open to general public access and occupancy.

B. A civilian may video record or photograph a police employee’s activities as long as they:

1. Remain at a reasonable distance;

2. Do not interfere with the employee’s duties and responsibilities;

3. Do not create a safety concern for the employee, person detained, or other persons.

X. Prohibited Actions

A. Employees shall not order or participate in the destruction of portable video and photo recording devices.

B. Employees shall not order or participate in the erasure, deletion or destruction of digital, analog or film evidence.

C. Employees shall not impede a person’s right to photograph or video record an event unless that person’s actions:

1. Endanger the safety of the public, employees, or property;

2. Interfere with an active crime scene; or

3. Create a reasonable safety concern.

XI. Statutory Limitations and Liability

A. Pursuant to federal statute, 42 USC Section 2000aa-6, it is unlawful for a sworn officer or employee, in connection with an investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize the work product of a media photographer/videographer, unless:

1. There is reason to believe that the immediate seizure of such materials is necessary to prevent the death of, or serious bodily injury to, a human being; or

2. There is probable cause to believe that the person possessing such materials has committed or is committing the criminal offense to which the materials relate.

a. A search or seizure of the work product is prohibited when the offense is merely the withholding of such material.

B. Sworn officers and employees may be held personally liable in an action for civil damages for violation of federal statute, 42 USC Section 2000aa-6.

So before you are the next cop being made an example of on the nightly news, it may be a good idea to see if your dept will issue a similar policy. At the very least think about what YOU will do the next time you see a person pull into a parking lot across the street from your car stop and begin setting up a video camera.

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6 thoughts on “do shutterbugs “bug” you?”

  1. I’m a British police officer working in London, have I understood that clip correctly in that the officer had to let that guy go without verifying his details? He had to just take his word that the weapon was legal?

  2. Thanks for the prompt reply, I find that absolutely incredible that there’s no requirement to prove legal right to carry, essentially that means a convicted criminal could openly carry a firearm and the police have no right to demand they prove the firearm is legal?

    1. In my NY opinion, the Ca. law appears to be similar in approach as to how we treat driving an automibile.

      Anybody driving past me could be unlicensed or have their license revoked, however I cannot just pull people over randomly and demand their identification. Legally I would need some sort reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a law of some sort had been violated to stop a driver and demand his/her identification.

      It looks like Calfornia law approcahes open carry of a pistol as legal, therefore carrying a pistol openly is not sufficient reasonable suspicion to stop and demand identification.

      I am not privy to the details of this particular encounter, but I would think that if this officer was responding to a complaint (911 call) he would have had more lattitude in demanding identification than he would if he himself initiated the contact.

  3. I’m not a cop. The only exposure to LEOs have been through speeding tickets and martial arts training by selected LEOs but as a “civilian”, I’d like to ask what is your take on excessive force?

    There’s been a lot of coverage regarding that coupled with people using personal recording devices to record said displays of excessive force. I know that a routine traffic stop/ticket/warranted search is not considered excessive force but say something like the recent incident in Fullerton, California where 6 LEOs tasered and struck a homeless man multiple times – his injuries resulted in his death days later.

    A loaded question yes, but perhaps you can put a post up or shed some light regarding this from an officer perspective. Thanks

    1. I’ll write more later, but IMO excessive force falls into two categories. Legitimate cases of excessive force and justified uses of force that people simply are shocked to see.

      While people may like to think that they would know what “excessive force” is when they see it, the truth of the matter is that many peoples experience with physical confrontation or knowledge of what it really takes to control a person is limited to what they saw on a television show or based on martial arts training that never exposed them to the realities of physical confrontation.

      Unfortunately, it’s the officers who use excessive force that make it more difficult for LEO’s who have to use lawful force.

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