Taking Pictures of Police Officers in Uniform

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by edchambers, Jun 16, 2010.

  1. Greetings All,
    A friend from Canada and I spoke this evening, and he raised an issue of concern that I was ignorant about. As I recall some one informed him that 12 US States have local statutes that prohibit Police in uniform from being photographed. Is this accurate? I did a Photo.net search and located this:

    Local and State Laws change so often that ignorance when dealing with someone who can arrest you at will is not a good thing for a street Photog to be ignorant about: especially if you are from Canada visiting . . . SO: Anyone know of such States Rights Laws we need to be aware of so as to prevent miscommunication from all concerned. Thanks in Advance for any and all lucid factual info.
  2. Out of curiosity, is your intention to travel about, photographing police officers on the job?
  3. Have not heard about any statutes prohibiting photography.

    Your friend could be talking about making audio recordings where the two party rule for consent is still
    required, even when one of the parties is a police officer.

    If in doubt, just ask...
  4. No, if that were the case I would be being paid, and I get paid to take pictures of some people who do not really exist unless you know what they do. I have a Canadian friend who is going to Massachusets for Holiday, and someone informed him he better not take any pictures of ANY Police Officer in any vacation picture when he goes out and about while he is on vacation. In the spirit of friendship to my Canadian photog friend, he asked me to find out, so I made this post.
    Matt on a related some what off topic note; it is good to see you again. The last time we communicated you were going to shoot a funeral @ The National Cemetary.
  5. No, if that were the case I would be being paid, and I sometimes get paid to take pictures of some people who do not really exist unless you know what they do and they ask me to take their picture as I endeavor to serve the Greater Good.
    I have a Canadian friend who is going to Massachusets for Holiday, and someone informed him he better not take any pictures of ANY Police Officer in any vacation picture when he goes out and about while he is on vacation. In the spirit of friendship to my Canadian photog friend, he asked me to find out, so I made this post. My friend Andre waas told that there were 12 US States that have a new ordinace since 9/11 that prohibits even inadvertant photgraphs and if you are found in violation of the ordinance; that an arrest is possible. I thought this was an urban internet obfuscation of reality; however I did want to verify since I reside in Maryland.

    Matt on a related some what off topic note; it is good to see you again. The last time we communicated you were going to shoot a funeral @ The National Cemetary.
  6. If the U.S. is becoming a "police state" as many people believe it is, why go out of your way to antagonize these authority figures? What are you trying to prove? Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
  7. Personally, I find cops in uniforms to be poor subjects. And they, if wanted to, can arrest you on any BS charges...like disorderly conduct. Of course, you may have legal "law book rights" on your side and fight it etc...but, then, your vacation is ruined. The ability to gauge their mannerism, interactions, gestures and their ego is as important as what the "law" says, if not more.
    What I would be worrying about more is plain clothes cops:))
  8. I photograph cops all the time. Zero problems. Then on the other hand, I don't start off with a bias based on others'
    preconceived notions. Attitude and behavior will carry you far. Or not...
  9. I agree with Brad:

    Attitude is almost everything, and how one postures themselves goes a long way to determining their future. There are bad apples everywhere; INCLUDING Photographers. Looking at Brad's portfolio illustrates the truth of his words. I think on occasion almost everything is worthy of a good subject. On the subject of plain clothes cops - I have found and witnessed - they are plain clothes for a reason - and if you do not give them one - you will be left to go as you please. my .02 namaste~
  10. I suspect that Brad is right, and that the issue being (badly) conveyed here is the recording of people. A recent local case, here in Maryland, brought that into the news. I suspect it won't ultimately go anywhere, because that law doesn't apply in public, per se. Maryland is a strange place.

    Regardless, it really is all about how you come across. Confrontational? Furtive? Of course you'll piss off a cop (or anyone, for that matter). That doesn't mean you're in legal trouble, but it sets the stage for an unpleasant exchange. So, be pleasant, think about whether you're appearing deliberately shady/provocative or simply touristy, and don't sweat it otherwise.
  11. Matt, Well Said. Amen!
  12. "Of course you'll piss off a cop (or anyone, for that matter). That doesn't mean you're in legal trouble, but it sets the stage for an unpleasant exchange. "
    The difference is that a cop who is p'd off will likely say, "You can't do that; I'm a cop and that's against the law" versus what anyone else who's p'd off might say, such as, "I don't like you taking my picture; Why are you taking my picture you creep; do that again and I'll punch your lights out." They all mean the same thing... just different words depending upon if they tend to be confrontational, authoritarian, etc. by nature or by occupation.
    Dealing with strangers can be a crap shoot!
  13. Of course you'll piss off a cop (or anyone, for that matter). That doesn't mean you're in legal trouble, but it sets the stage for an unpleasant exchange.​
    You will never know when unpleasant exchange will lead to legal trouble. That is precisely my point. Be pleasant and act accordingly...but just realize they *can* arrest you for "disorderly conduct." at anytime. They'll probably drop charges if they have nothing on you.
  14. I live near Boston and, although cops don't like being photographed, they're not exempt by any means. Know the law... I've been questioned by the police on numerous occasions but always at the behest of some idiot (who, more often than not, wasn't even the subject I was going after). The police have to respond to all calls...
    Anyhow, my standard line is, "I'm well within my rights..." They know the law but you have to let them know that you know the law, too. So bring it up first so they know they're not dealing with a twit. Most of the police I've dealt with are, eventually, decent enough guys. When I got my Street Photographer's Membership kit there was a whole paragraph on how to deal with police, the public, and street vendors...
    Basically Dylan summed up the attitude of the average policeman: The cops don't need you and, man, they expect the same...
  15. Here is NYC, there are no rules prohibiting the photographing of police officers. In fact, most willingly agree to pose with tourists for photos upon request in the popular tourist areas like Times Square. If there is a police operation/investigation underway and you make a nuisance of yourself disrupting things, that is another story. Obviously, you never have to right to impede the police from carrying out their duties so you can snap a photo.
  16. Ed C, perhaps your friend read ...

  17. whooooooooaaaaa
    Parv, Could this be a double standard, and ALL Traffic Cameras in the States that take this viewpoint are now against their own laws and or prosecutions?
    The Rabbit Hole goes deeper . . .
    I wonder . . . Your thoughts???
    All I believe I know within certainty is my absolute ignorance.
    namaste - emc~
  18. I personally got rather hot & angry while reading. Arresting people, even if they go out of their way not to interfere, for the sole act of recording is too much. (In the cases noted on Gizmodo,) Use of wiretapping laws was really a stretch. I certainly do not see any fault in recording (still or movie) law enforcement structure at work (provided person recording is not breaking any other laws & such).

    I know that I will start giving money to ACLU & EFF in a few days.
  19. mountainvisions

    mountainvisions Moderator

    I just want to note, while laws do change frequently, police often don't understand or properly enforce the obscure stuff.
    For instance, police in NYC sometimes enforce non existent photography laws. These enforcements often lead to the photographer making about 10-20K$ from said non existent laws. If if you have the time to be arrested, and the desire to fight it, it's almost worth a run in with the wrong LEO.
    One of my favorite examples is the Amtrak photo contest that specifically asked for people to take photos of stations and on the train. People were arrested for this very thing by Amtrak Police (yes, Amtrak's own police), even though there was no law prohibiting it.
    Not at all picking on police, I have close family who are police, I am just noting that sometimes urban legend or even a little too overzealous LEO might make laws that don't really exist. This happened to me in Pittsburgh where I was told I couldn't photograph the worlds shortest underground subway line. I checked and there is no law on this. He created his own law, which is unacceptable. Honestly, does anyone really think the .6 mile Pittsburgh T will be on some terror list?
    As was noted above, in NYC there are no laws against photographing police officers. There are no laws against photographing bridges or subways either. However, there is still a rumor floating around that you cannot do such things because of either 9/11 legislation or the Patriot Act. Neither of which is true! I actually have the memo that tells NYPD to chill out on harassing photographers in the subways.
    As far as photographing the NYPD, most will happily pose for you. Most understand that NYC sees close to 30 million tourist a year, and the NYPD is one of the most respected and romanticized police departments in the world.
    The main reason I can think that these sorts of movements are underway to stop photographing police is because police in recent years have been caught doing a lot of very wrong things by public toting digital cameras and cell phones. In many cases they outright lied or even forged official reports to make their actions seem justified, only to have camera footage prove undeniably that they were lying.
    Imagine if there was a way for them to say beat a kid down in Maryland knowing they could arrest and delete anyone recording the incident? Imagine how many people would walk the other way. What if they could have deleted the videos of the BART rider who was shot to death instead of tased? These rumors are generally designed to either expand power or protect power. It's really that simple!
  20. >>> It seems on person could go to jail for photographing police officers.

    No, from making an audio recording where both (or multiple) parties do not give consent. So-called wiretap
    laws that that falls under have been on the books for years in each state. Federal as well, but in that case
    only one party (presumably the person recording) needs to give consent.
  21. No, from making an audio recording where both (or multiple) parties do not give consent.​
    If you read the Gizmodo article about the guy in motorcycle, he had his house searched because his was video taping and posted it on youtube. This has nothing to due with audio records and it seems on the face the police are abusing the sprirt of the law here.
    On the other hand I do not know if Gizmodo could be trusted as an accurate source of news of this type.
  22. The Maryland motorcyclist's case, referred to in several posts above, was the subject of a front page article in yesterday's "Washington Post."
    Bill from NYC is mistaken. The only basis for the criminal charge relating to the cyclist's posted video is the audio recording. He has been charged under Maryland's wiretapping statute.
    (And here I agree with Bill that the charge is not well founded.)
    Here is the article from the Post:
  23. >>> This has nothing to due with audio records and it seems on the face the police are abusing the sprirt
    of the law here.

    No, it has everything to do with audio recording. There is no law prohibiting making images. BTW, you
    enjoy the same benefits of "anti-wiretapping" statutes requiring both (or multiple) parties to consent to
    audio recording.
  24. Hi, Brad. Hey, I was going to post a link to your blog after some of the early messages, but then you popped in yourself. ;)
    Did anyone see the recent video of the girl who got punched by the cop in Seattle? Toward the end of the video, you see the cop *surrounded* by people shooting video of him. It was kind of hilarious in a macabre way.
  25. I specialize in photographing police and prisons for big national US book publishers. I'm also in law enforcement. I've never had a problem photographing a cop in uniform doing their job. This includes anything from traffic stops to high-risk drug search warrants. Check out the photo galleries on my site to have a look at what I'm talking about.

    As previous posters have mentioned, attitude goes a long way. Be nice, be open to communication, and be willing to listen - this normally does the trick. If you are treated poorly, remain polite, note the officers badge #, the time and place and walk away if possible. Never disobey a legally given order/instruction by a LEO. Most cops are pretty straightforward and will treat you the way you treat them.
  26. jtk


    Idea: Many/most police depts allow, even encourage, ride-alongs... call the local community relations officer, ask to ride along. Tell them you want to see what a cop's day or night is like. Don't babble hostile theories or bad attitudes ...and especially, don't tell them you're asking because a Canadian told you something absurd he'd read about on the Internet :)
  27. Actually, it is only illegal if you photograph 7 or more.
  28. John is absolutely right. Most PD's and SO's are more than willing to accommodate ride-alongs. Many will ask that you sign a liability waiver but that's standard and varies from agency to agency. Make sure you ask ahead of time what the policies are for if something serious happens (you might be asked to step off). We really appreciate it if you ask about what's OK and what isn't as far as photographing arrests, how to stay out of the way if things get hairy etc since this too varies from agency to agency. The more people that go on ride-alongs the more people will actually know what reality looks like from a law enforcement perspective and I think that's great.
  29. Lots of interesting info and perspectives in this thread, but I'm afraid no one has answered the OPs original question clearly. There is absolutely no law, anywhere in the United States, that prohibits taking still pictures of police officers, or anyone else for that matter, when they have no reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e. not in a bathroom, locker room, etc.) When you are in a private space, the property owner can ask you to leave, but cannot confiscate your camera, film, or stop you from taking pictures as you are leaving. In a public space, you can take a picture of anything you can see. Only on a US military base or on certain Department of Energy sites (i.e. nuclear power plants) is it illegal to take photos without permission.
    That said, you will sometimes encounter police officers who object to their photos being taken. It has happened to me, but it's rare. Most police officers won't even bat an eye if they're photographed. Any person is allowed to ask you not to take their photo; you don't have to listen to them. Police officers are not within their rights to order you to stop taking their photo, although not all of them know that. However, if you are ordered not to take a photo by a police officer, I'd think very carefully before going ahead and taking it anyway. Unless a crime was being committed that I felt a duty to document, it's easier to comply and take photos another day.
  30. In the USA, things are about the same as they have always been - i.e. most cops are OK but one bad apple can ruin your day or even kill you if they feel like it (especially if you are a member of a visible minority). But that's how it's always been - look at the old KKK photos where half the people have reflective pinstiping on their cuffs...
    The biggest problem is that the people with the most discretion have the least knowledge of the law, and vice versa. Most cops have a very poor understanding of the actual statutes as case history - they just memorize some 'rules of thumb' and try not to screw it up. Appallingly, these are the very same people who decide 1) who to detain 2) how detain them and 3) how the arrest occurs, if any. The judges, on the other hand, have the greatest knowledge of the law, but by the time the case gets to them, everything has been plea-bargained by the attorneys, and even then they are subject to minimum / maximum sentencing rules.
    With all that in mind, the best thing you can do with cops is: be nice and be respectful. Being a cop is a tough job, and they have to deal with some crazy stuff. To them, people who are friendly, courteous, and honest are the exception, not the norm. If you happen to get an egomaniacal officer Farva, try to be especially respectful and nonconfrontational, because if he decides to shoot/taze/beat you up, yeah, he's going to have to take a paid leave of absence, but you're going to be in the hospital or in a coffin. You can file a complaint or lawsuit LATER.
  31. Left:

    I respectfully disagree about cops not having knowledge of the law. Please understand that almost everything a PO or Deputy does as far as detaining as well as arresting an individual comes down to policy dictated by superiors. I might know a lot more than my superiors about any given thing but I still have to do things by the book. Since this is also true for things I might know exceptionally little about, having strict policy can also be a very good thing.
    I absolutely agree though that there are "bad apples" in law enforcement. Just as there are in any other profession. But boy do they stand out - which they should. The faster these people find other employment, the better for everyone.
  32. If I understand the Maryland law correctly, Maryland's courts have found violations of the statute in question when the recordings were made in a context where the person recorded has a "reasonable expectation of privacy."

    There is also element of the offense requiring that the event be done "knowingly." I suppose that it could be that all one needs to do is know that the recording device is on. It is also possible that "knowingly" means that one intends to violate someone's privacy or has some reason to know that Maryland forbids the act.

    Anyway, it seems that the full letter and application of the law is not contained in the words of the statute. However, as others have said, police in public do not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" but that doesn't mean that an officer that takes offense won't give you a hard time.
  33. The faster these people find other employment, the better for everyone.​
    Except their future employers!
  34. OK, I am the OP here - - -

    Here is s new aspect speaking of Maryland -This was not my original reason for the Post, however this has got me thinking about PO's and Prudent Photographers rights:
    Here is a link to a letter I received from a University in Maryland. Easter Morning I was taking pictures from a Public County Road, and was confronted. I felt fear for my bodily safety and threat of being arrested; so I left immediately - even though I knew where I was standing is a public county specified space, (I went to the County Office to confirm before I went there) . . . Then I received this letter LINK HERE . . . Your Thoughts . . .

    There seems to be some animosity or fear from the University, since they admit to commandeering, (using without permission), this Protected Photo of mine and further admit to using it even after I sent a cease and desist demand letter. PHOTO HERE:
    I have long since given up and wasting my time as to their collective motivations; however I do love this place that I now do not go to for fear of my own safety.

    What is this World doing as we witness reality and perceived reality? Furthermore; I believe we as Photographers have a responsibility to act responsibly and be and act as good ambassadors for the other photogs who act as the PO's we complain about. Your thoughts? Care to share?
  35. Ed:

    Kind of hard to make any comments really since we only have your side of the story as to the fact that the university seems to not want you on their property. That would very likely be within their rights. If you were in fact on public property, that is a different matter. I would suggest you talk to maybe the Sheriff's Office (you mentioned County so I'm guessing we're talking county property?) and get very exact and specific information on where the lines are drawn. Not saying this is what is going on in your case, but often there are misunderstandings about where the lines between public and private property goes. We've had many dealings for instance with one individual (an ex-employee of a business) who was standing on the side-walk by the business in question not understanding that in this specific case, the business owned the side-walk. Just mentioning that as an example of what might look like public might indeed be private. Next time you're at the county office, make a copy of the map showing the boundaries of public/private land.

    I would hold it for extremely unlikely that any LEO would cause you any "bodily harm" if all they need to do is to get you to leave university property and you don't start actively resisting or fighting. When you were confronted, was it by University police, Deputy Sheriff's, the local PD, state police?

    If the university is using one of your images without permission, I'd hire a local attorney (see if you have a local Attorneys for the Arts chapter in your area) and have him/her drawn up a letter. I'd also invoice the university for any usage they did not have permission for and in that invoice I'd add on the legal fees.

    IANAL, and talking to a local attorney knowledgeable in IP rights would not be a bad idea in your situation.
  36. I don't know of restrictions in Canukistan. Here are couple posing for the camera.

Share This Page