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News & Insight

A Great Example Of How To Handle Police As A Photographer

By Kishore Sawh on June 26th 2014

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.

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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.

[REWIND: Videographer Arrested For Filming Police Awarded $200k In Settlement]

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.

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Thoughts

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

Source: PetaPixel

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Cesar Sanctis

    I am a photographer too and I agree the cops were wrong, but honestly, all this mess could have been avoided if he would just give his ID to the officer! Because of his “rights” he puts himself in a position where he has to keep proving he is right. Waste of time for everybody.
    Plus, if someone keeps taking pictures of a jail/prison, police may get suspicious about your real motives (It may be someone studying the building to try to help someone inside escape, for example).
    So, even though you have all the rights of the universe, I think it is much easier to just answer the cop’s questions…. WAY less hustle and trouble.

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  2. Tyler Friesen

    I like the way he handled this. I usually strongly disagree with people on here as they tend to be extremely rude to police officers. I have found if you show respect to officers in any situation they calm down immediately. I would hate to have their job dealing with snarky photographers as it usually does look suspicious to record in the middle of the night. There are always exceptions to power tripping law enforcement though, which happens far to often but luckily I have never encountered.

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  3. Jeff Lopez

    Good information to have just in case. Thanks!

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  4. R. Geise

    I have to agree with Ben Perrin – The photog seemed to be just asking for it. And once confronted, kept interrupting rather than calmly listening and replying. Yes, the first officer was a belligerent ass but if confronted by someone like him one needs to be even less confrontational and calm. Hopefully more officers are like the second guy who seemed much less a “thumper” type.

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  5. Ben Perrin

    I’m sorry but this is silly. What sort of reaction do you expect when you are standing around with a camera videoing police officers who are obviously in the middle of some sort of incident? Whilst I get that wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was trying to provoke an incident and was being very difficult when approached. There was terrible behaviour on both sides of the fence.

    As a side note, why can’t we just accept that not everyone wants to be recorded and respect their wishes? Why do we feel like our right to ‘art’ or whatever you want to call it, is greater that another’s right to privacy?

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    • Servando Miramontes

      Yes, not everyone likes to be recorded, but when police officers object it gives the wrong message to the American people…

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Ben. I find this sentence, ‘What sort of reaction do you expect when you are standing around with a camera videoing police officers who are obviously in the middle of some sort of incident?” perilous. I think so because in one respect you are all too correct, what WOULD one exepect? These days we expect to be reprimanded for it. But the larger overall question is…why? What is wrong with recording a traffic stop? Why can police abstain from abiding to certain laws the rest of us can’t?

      I think he was certainly pushing some buttons, and sure not everyone wants to be recorded. But these people, law enforcement are public servants, and you have a right to ensure they are doing what you’re paying them, and trusting them to do. Do you not? The authority given to law enforcement is just beyond my comprehension. Some handle it with class, but damn there are too many who don’t.

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    • Ben Perrin

      Kishore, to be honest I’ll start off by saying that I might have a different perspective on this because I live in Australia, not America. I have visited the USA on multiple occasions though so I’m not completely ignorant to your ways. It has been my perception that the attitude and behaviour towards law enforcement is completely different in the two countries. From what I’ve seen the American police have a lot more stress to deal with and more hostile situations that they are put in.

      Yes, in a way I agree with you that as public servants police have to make sure they are accountable at all times, just not at any cost. They may have felt that videoing the “crime scene” or whatever it was, would hinder or compromise their investigation. Once the first officer approached the scene (and was quite reasonable about it) the cameraman should’ve taken it as a hint to put down the camera. He didn’t, and got exactly the response he was hoping to capture. I still think that second officer was way over the top (to put it mildly) but the incident should’ve been avoided with a little common sense.

      I understand the arguments you and others are making and in part I do agree. But I still feel that the whole thing would’ve been avoided with some respect and common sense. This is just one outsiders view though and your mileage may vary.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Ben, indeed, and without doubt, there is a massive difference between the two countries in this respect, which I’m sure is part of the difference in mindset. I frequent the UK and Canada and in those places I hold much more of your opinion. Cheers

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  6. Servando Miramontes

    Its not illegal for peace officers to lie to citizens… They harped on that a lot in the academy… Even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, preventing people from recording you just sends the wrong message. And in this POLITICAL age full of RED TAPE, that doesn’t help. Transparency… Accept it, or kick rocks….

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    • Kishore Sawh

      That’s very true, that the moment you do not allow, or fight being recorded, is a moment when conflict will begin to heat up. There must be that transparency.

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    • Michael Chapman

      What Servando said. I am a law enforcement officer, and this could have been handled much better by the officer. Laws vary from State to State, and in mine LEO’s can ask for identification and it is illegal to NOT provide it. You can also lie about certain things. Put yourself in the Cop’s shoes…why are you filming me? Remember, we wear a vest and gun to work – how many of you have to do that. This year is a record year for cops killed in the line of duty…so give us a margin for suspicion. I would have gone to check out who it was filming me, but obviously knowing I was being filmed in the process, would have been conscious of that and tried to turn into a positive thing. I would definitely have asked for the videographer’s ID, and asked him why he was filming. If I ran his ID and he came back clean with no warrants, and he simply said, “It’s just a hobby and I thought filming a cop at work would be cool” (or similar) – I honestly would have said something like, “Hell, you need to come along for a ride sometime – with permission from my superiors – and you can get some much better shots than my ass.” :)

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  7. Jeff Gelzinis

    Nice job. I hope I can hold it together that well when it happens to me.

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  8. Matt Walsh

    He handled it very nicely. This is a good lesson on how not to lose your cool. If he had gotten angry I’m sure it would have gone south very quickly.

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  9. Steve Enoch

    Wow this is crazy! I applaud Andrew for his ability to keep a level head in this situation! I agree with you Kishore, need to spend some time getting more familiar with the laws in my area.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Indeed Steve, I’ll be spending some time this weekend. Photography Is Not A Crime (link above) is a great resource, but there are many others to choose. I think the difficulty is understanding the laws can shift from state to state. Best of luck.

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  10. Paul Faecks

    I think its a pity that police officers are unaware of the laws…
    But nice article! I totally agree with you.

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  11. chrys THOMAS

    I love watching videos like this.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I must say I hate that this happens, but i do find some joy in watching a civilian’s rights being upheld.

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