Thursday, June 5, 2008

We will see

Every photojournalist and street photographer has had both good and bad experiences with police, especially those photographing crimes, police investigations or civil events like protests. And the police in some cities are notorious for their aggressive behavior with photographers. Their actions are never aimed at tourists taking travel or casual photos of places, family, etc., but always against the professional photographers.

While I'm just an ordinary photographer, I've had my good and bad moments with police. And occasionally with government workers and people. Some folks just don't like a camera pointed at them or even in their direction, and they often express it verbally and sometimes physically. It's all part of street photography in all its flavors. So, why the post?

Well, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) will issue a new policy on the conduct of police with photographers who are not impeding their work or violating their space or a crime scene, see article. This stems from an incident in which the SPD unlawfully arrested an amateur photographer taking pictures arresting a suspect.

I haven't photographed events where the possibility existed of clashes with the police or photographed the police involved with suspects or other people in the performance of their job. At least not outside the routine stuff they do at event or situations where they're there to watch auto and pedestrian traffic, such as a parade, street work, etc. It's always when they've been very informal with the public so I've been given some leeway.

The ACLU in Seattle has assisted a number of photographers over the years who were falsely arrested or had their equipment illegally confiscated, and is involved in the new SPD policy.

What baffles me though is the shortsightedness and narrowmindedness in the arguments for threatening, hassling and arresting photographers, for a number of reasons.

First, almost everything visibly public has already been photographed and available through the Internet, the media or in books, so why bother photographers doing it again?

Second, photographers aren't terrorists. No photographer has been indicted and convicted for terrorism or providing material support to terrorists.

Third, police should ignore them and focus on their job. If they did, they wouldn't have to worry about photographers, except those who get inside crime scene areas or in the way of the police, then they're free to arrest them.

Fourth, more photos help. When police need help with a crime, they often ask the public and the media for information and photos of any crime or suspects. So why restrict photographers?

Fifth, surveillence cameras and Webcams already exist. So, while the government is photographing everything and everyone continuously, citizens can't? Kinda' seems illogical to me.

Anyway, that's my thoughts on the issue. And we'll wait to see what the SPD's policy actually says and then if it's actually used by the officers.

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