In July 2010, a young student and budding videographer named Jerome Versus was walking in Georgetown and saw some DC Police Officers conducting a traffic stop. So, he started taking pictures. Then, when police officers saw was doing, they confronted him and told him that he was not allowed to photograph them. Then, they detained him for about a half an hour after asking for his driver’s license.
We hear about photographers being stopped for taking photos on a regular basis, not only in private venues, but in public as well. But, in this case, Jerome stood up for his rights and they eventually gave him his license back and let him go. Jerome kept an audio recording of the incident and wrote a story on his blog about it. The ACLU saw a story he wrote about it and contacted him. You can see the Blog Post, titled “Detained for Photography” here.
The ACLU then wrote the Police Chief a letter indicating that the activity of stopping the photographer was improper. When they received no response, they filed a Lawsuit.
After some negotiation, the Washington, DC police department finally agreed to issue these ground breaking rules. This was in the forum of a General Order that was released on July 19th (2012) on “Video Recording, Photographing and Audio Recording of Metropolitan Police Members by the Public”, and was part of the settlement agreement of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
In part, this order reminds police officers in Washington of the following:
- Still and video photography “of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities.”
- A bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members [of the police force] in the public discharge of their duties.”
- A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make records as a member of the media” as long as the bystander has a right to be where he or she is.
The order also says “[An officer] shall not, under any circumstances, erase or delete, or instruct or require any other person to erase or delete, any recorded images or sounds from any camera or other recording device. [Officers] shall maintain cameras and other recording devices that are in Department custody so that they can be returned to the owner intact with all images or recordings undisturbed.” You can read the complete order here.
ACLU Attorney Mark Spiztzer wrote that what they were interested in is getting police to understand how they should behave, and basically, they should just smile when someone is taking their picture.
We at Steve’s hope that as cases like this one get more publicity, both the public and police will realize that photography is not a crime, and that photography also serves to keep the public informed about activities to insure the rights of citizens are not abused. We also suggest reading the ACLU’s page at http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers, which outlines both your rights and responsibilities as a Photographer.
(via: The ACLU Free Future Blog)