You will, very likely, get questioned by law enforcement at some point in your photography career, especially if you’re photographing anything in public. It actually happened to me this weekend. There’s just something about a visual recording device used by citizens (photographers) that seems to cause a general unrest among the widespread umbrella of ‘law enforcement.’
Why that is, one can really only speculate. Speaking of speculations, some of the more common suppositions are that many police officers are actually unaware of the real laws and fear being recorded to prove that, or that simply, they neither know nor care if they do, and don’t want their actions recorded. The list continues, but no need to dwell on it here. Suffice to say that interactions with police can often be jarring and unnerving, and there appears to be a fine line between nobly standing your ground, and being arrested or worse.
Andrew Wake posted a video to YouTube recently that’s certainly worth a watch for all photographers. In an interaction with Gray County Sheriff’s Deputies and Pampa Police Officers in Pampa, Texas, Andrew is seen (and heard) filming from a safe distance, a police traffic stop. As he is doing so he is narrating, and even supposes he’ll get questioned. Shortly after, he is approached by an officer, and he firmly states his rights while at the same time giving at least a little of what the officer requests. The interaction while odd, ends peacefully, but not long after, Andrew is questioned by another officer.
Deputy Stokes’ interaction is altogether different from the first, as he threatens arrest, refuses to give his name, his badge number, or a legitimate reason for arresting Andrew. He repeatedly tells him to stop recording, that it’s illegal, and goes so far as to try to physically grab the camera away from Wake. In the entirety of the encounter, Wake asserts his knowledge of the law (clearly well versed), over and over again, and each time it’s met with confrontation from Deputy Stokes. Stokes even says he’ll make things up for the record. More officers arrive on scene. Watch the video to see how well this was handled.
A phobia is essentially an irrational fear, and I’d once heard a policeman say that a fear of police is irrational. I think that’s bollocks, given situations like this. Now, it would be uneducated of me to say that all police are ignorant and power abusive, and to condemn the lot. So I won’t, and don’t. The fact is, like shooting some models this weekend and being questioned by an officer, I’ve had good and fair interactions with police forces that left me satisfied and with a feeling of security. I’ve also had, and seen the opposite.
I cringed in this video when 9/11 was brought up. What on earth does 9/11 have to do with any of this? Why is terrorism the go-to blanket excuse for rights violation? It also brought to mind the question of what would’ve happened had Andrew been, well, me? Without making this an issue of race, I don’t look like Andrew does, not at all like the typical All-American boy, and it does make me wonder if the scenario would’ve ended differently. (A scene from Harold and Kumar comes to mind). Either way, I have been inspired to be even more informed than I already am to the laws and rights I have as a photographer, and I think it’s a good idea for everyone to do the same. I think the whole thing was managed quite well by Wake. Kudos to him. What are your thoughts on the matter? Have a story to share?
For more information on your rights, see PhotographyIsNotACrime