You could be reading this at your office, on the train, waiting for your movie to begin, or on a beautiful little Greek Island with beautiful little Greeks. And while you’re doing so, a man in a mask may be in your house helping himself to your iMac, and dipping the last of your quail’s eggs in your precious Himalayan salt.
But it could be worse, you could be home while he’s doing it. At which point you’d promptly call the police who’d likely, promptly be there. Unless you live somewhere like Italy, for example. When I’m there, and I love it there, I take a good look at the Polizia and realize if anything happened, I’d be on my own. The only thing they’ve done as far as one can tell, is buy some very cool sunglasses. In the US, the police are less stylish and approachable, but likely more powerful, and more likely to act.
This power is thought by some to be exceeding what’s necessary. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, as a photographer, you may be no stranger to the anxious feeling one gets when shooting anything and there’s police around. Altercations between police and photographers line column inches often here, and largely, the photographers are not in the wrong. Rarely however, and none else to my knowledge, does the police officer involved get more than a slap on the wrist, much less fired. But that’s just what’s happened in Seattle.
Last summer, a Seattle newspaper editor Dominic Holden, was threatened with arrest while standing on a sidewalk taking photos of a group of police. Though within his legal right to photograph police on duty, he was threatened to be arrested by Officer ‘K.C’ Saulet, and another, Officer Marion, threatened to hassle him at work. Holden was initially told he was on private property and asked to move to the sidewalk. Even though he wasn’t on private property, he complied with the request, and yet was again told he couldn’t be there either. The conflict did not escalate to violence, but you can read Holden’s more detailed account of events here.
The King County Sheriff’s Department has come to the decision and fired the once Officer, Sautlet. Apparently, Sautlet has had over a hundred allegations made against him and over twenty sustained. He has also led a less than exemplary relationship with the public he serves, and had been formerly told to mend it. Even though there was defiance from Sautlet and the union, The King County Police Officers’ Guild, the decision was final from King County Sheriff John Urqhart, who had some poignant choice words to say about the matter in a disciplinary letter. The following is an excerpt form the letter:
Your ill-advised actions also play to some of the most basic fears among some citizens, which is that a police officer may indiscriminately exercise his or her power in violation of their rights, because in the event of a complaint, the officer will just deny the allegations and ‘circle the wagons’ with his or her fellow officers on the expectation they will take care of their own.
In a matter of minutes, your actions violated the trust that we, as a department, spent years trying to build and maintain.
I’ve always had, knock on wood, rather pleasant and entirely cordial encounters with police. I’ve never been harassed, per say, but I’ve certainly been questioned. I love aviation, and at (FLL) Ft. Lauderdale Airport, there’s a lovely viewing area where anyone can pull up in a car, walk the dog, listen to tower traffic calls and get right up to the runway fence to see the aircraft as they go about their business. I also love photography. Suffice to say, I love aviation photography and the viewing area is a place I frequent. Once, years ago, I was standing on top of the car with my Nikon D300s, and a somewhat sizeable Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 AF-D trying to capture a particularly beautiful Gulfstream 450.
After a few minutes, I noticed a Sheriff’s car pulling up beside me. The officer wound down his window and called out to me. His tone was light and polite, but his questions had a more suspicious undertone. He said hello, and asked what I was doing. Clearly, I was making popcorn on top of the car with a big camera set-up, and certainly not taking photos of the planes. Right. So, I told him what I was doing. He then asked if I liked planes. I said, “Yes.” Then he asked if I liked photography. To which I said, “Yes.” A real sharp shooter, this guy.
The he asked why I did. At which point I got down off the roof and explained to him. He further asked if I was a pilot and where did I live. I understand I am of Indian descent, and being looked upon suspiciously at airports isn’t anything new. But, at this point, I was direct and looked him dead in the eye, and asked him if I was doing anything wrong. He said no, but that they were on high alert and he hadn’t seen me before so he stopped. Then I got on the roof again and he told me to have a good day. I don’t mind being questioned, but you have to think, it was a public viewing area, and my camera was just a bit bigger than the next guy’s. What is it about taking a photograph that seems so insidious?
Image credit via PetaPixel: Seattle Police Office by City of Seattle. Photos of officers Saulet and Marion by Dominic Holden.