Hey LAPD, Photographing the Police is Not a Crime!

I was very disturbed watching the video above which documents an altercation between Discarted and an Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department as documented by Discarted here.

Our ability as citizens to document the police is extremely important. Historically, citizen photography has been instrumental in documenting police abuse cases from Rodney King to the recent shooting death of Oscar Grant. To wear a badge and a gun in our society is a privilege and ought to only be afforded to those willing to enforce actual laws and not intimidate citizens by making up illegal photography rules of their own.

Thanks to Discarted for continuing to fight for photographer’s rights.

To voice your concerns regarding this officer’s behavior, contact the following individuals and offices:

Internal Affairs – Los Angeles Police Department
304 South Broadway, Suite 215
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Office: 213-485-1486
Fax: 213-473-6420

Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles
Email: mayor@lacity.org

Eric Garcetti, City Council President
5500 Hollywood Blvd., 4th Floor
Hollywood, CA 90028
Phone: 323-957-4500
Email: councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org

Tom LaBonge, Councilmember, District 4
Hollywood Field Office
6501 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone: (323) 957-6415
Email: councilmember.labonge@lacity.org

Update: The Los Angeles Times is now reporting that an investigation has been launched by the LAPD into this officers conduct.

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  1. CB says:

    I’m a photographer but dude, come one. It looks like you were just trying to stir the pot. You must retain a release from individuals you photograph. Have some respect.

  2. Kelly Hofer says:

    Thomas, i have a question regarding crimes and photography. Technically when you assist in a crime or are present and don’t try stopping a criminal while in the act you can be detained for aiding a crime. But if you have a camera and you take photos are you then instantly immune to charges because you were photographing and that would qualify under some sort of exemption from arrest. Like does one have the right to be at a crime scene with a camera in hand, whereas they would be arrested if they had no camera in hand?

  3. MS says:

    Why would you just argue to argue ? What’s the point? Let him do his job and just leave.

  4. Jordan says:

    As a photographer, I completely understand and appreciate your efforts to maintain our rights. However, I get really annoyed by videos like this. I don’t think it’s appropriate, or necessary, to become a nuisance. From what I can tell, Discarted came upon a traffic stop and started taking photos for the purpose of starting an incident. That’s why he happened to have a video camera running. When the cop asks him to stop taking photos, he continues. I would also assume that if the average person asked him to not photograph them, he’d stop. But he continues to make a scene and a point.

    Again, I applaud the general effort and most situations you share are not this obvious. But I don’t think that being a pest is the way to solve a problem.

  5. TEH says:

    CB: Wrong, and false.

    “Stirring the pot” is not an arbitrary phrase, and not against the law.

    Anyone or anything in public has no expectation of privacy and can be photographed at any time by anyone without permission. Releases are only required to use a person’s likeness for commercial purposes such as a product endorsement.

  6. TEH says:

    Jordan: I am extremely sad to hear that that you think a person who is unwilling to accept an infringement of his first amendment rights is a nuisance.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Hey CB, this video is not me, it’s Discarted. And you are wrong about the law. There is no requirement that you obtain a release from individuals you photograph. It is this sort of uneducated comment that is part of the problem photographers face. The police should be more educated about these sorts of issues.

    Kelly, if you are not engaging in criminal activity yourself then you should not be considered to be committing a crime. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think photographing any police action would ever be considered aiding or abetting. I did hear of a recent case where a photographer was being charged for vandalism while shooting graffiti artists, but I haven’t followed that case as closely as I should.

    MS, if a police officer tells you that something that you are doing that is legal is in fact illegal, it is important for all photographers that he be educated. Our having the right to photograph the police is an important civil liberty. There are countless examples of police brutality and misconduct that have been captured by citizens on still and video cameras. These photographs and videos have been an important safeguard by citizens against police misconduct. If we can’t monitor the police then we lose an important civil liberty and safeguard against police abuse in our society.

  8. Ana says:

    This has very little to do with the history of photographers documenting police abuse cases.

    In this case, the officers were doing their job and the photographer literally asked to be stopped (not detained). He asked for trouble! It is not illegal to take pictures of police officers, but it is illegal to take a picture of someone without their consent… or at least after they asked you not to take the freaking picture. The officer was clear when he said that he did not want the photographer to take his picture and he actually said that he was asking as a citizen (it was not an order from a policeman).

    I do not advocate for the police, I obviously do not agree with police abuse, I am an amateur photographer, and I think photographers rock! BUT, like CB said in the previous comment: you have to have some respect.

  9. I’m not a photographer but the person taking these pictures was being a jerk. The cops didn’t appear to be doing anything out of the ordinary but he decided to start trouble by continually disobeying what started out as a respectful request by the police officer.

    What IS the actual law regarding photography anyway? If citizen A tries to take a picture of citizen B against B’s wishes, does B have any resourse? Does the law change when B is a public official?

    This is what’s irritating to me about people these days. Everyone is so concerned about their OWN rights, and less concerned about the rights of OTHER people. When your rights interfere with someone else’s who wins?

  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jordan, Discarted is a photographer’s rights advocate. He always has his video camera with him and running any time he is engaged. There is nothing wrong with this. This is his legal right in our society. The fact that he is doing something that a cop doesn’t like doesn’t give the cop the right to make up laws that don’t exist. Police are there to protect and to serve. They ought to expect that as part of their job there will be times when they are photographed. If they are camera shy, then perhaps being a cop is not the best job for them.

    I usually stick around and shoot almost every police action I see personally. I’ve got a large collection of images of the police. There is nothing wrong or illegal about this. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/sets/72157603768671288/

  11. Ray says:

    TEH – I agree, we can take pictures of anything and anybody, but if a person says, NOT to take pictures of them, you must stop… It is their right if they don’t want to be photograph.

    Now, in this case and in this case only, I actually don’t agree with the photographer. There was really nothing going on that scene to photograph, he was even shooting from the hip.

    I’m with Jordan on this one…

    Thomas – I’m a huge fan of your photography.. keep it up!

  12. Thomas Hawk says:

    Ray, I have to disagree with you. You say that “if a person says, NOT to take pictures of them, you must stop… It is their right if they don’t want to be photograph.”

    But this is actually incorrect. There is no right that prevents people from being photographed in public. There is no law whatsoever giving people this right. If our society wants to create laws supporting this right, it certainly can, but as of now we have a lot of rights and not having our photo taken is not one of them. An officer who is sworn to uphold the law and is there to serve and protect should know this.


    A lot of this comes down to what makes sense to do from a human courtesy perspective, and not a legal perspective. The vast majority of times when I’ve been asked nicely or politely not to photograph someone I will not personally photograph them. I’ve been asked hundreds of times not to photograph someone and have complied as the decent thing to do. It’s my intention when photographing people to upset them. And if somebody is uncomfortable then I generally always voluntarily stop shooting them.

    That said, sometimes you run across a prick. Someone who is in a position of authority and rather than asking you nicely not to photograph them for personal reasons will assert non-existent laws or just be a total dick to you trying to force you not to photograph them rather than asking nicely or politely. In these cases I believe in a measured response. That is, when they start trying to trample on my legal rights to photograph them through lies or force, I’m not so inclined to want to be a nice person to them and I may just keep on shooting them (as it is my legal right). If they physically assault me or resort to name calling or whatever, I just might make as big a deal as I can about it on the web.

    This officer

    1. Had no legal right to not being photographed.

    2. Made up laws that don’t really exist even though I’m sure he knows better.

    3. Resorted to rude name calling calling the photographer a “fruitcake,”

    4. Was a bully who misused his authority/badge.

    He deserves everything he gets in this case.

    Frequently I’m emailed by people who ask me to remove their photo from the web for whatever reason. Maybe it’s personal, maybe they are trying to be more private, maybe they just don’t like the photo. I always comply when the person asks nicely and is being respectful. If you want photographers to respect you, then I think you need to start by respecting the photographer in the first place.

  13. So just to clarify…you’re saying that the respectful thing to do would be to stop taking pictures of someone when they asked. Yet you still support Discarted’s “right” to take pictures of the office after repeated POLITE requests to move along, and to stop taking pictures of him?

    Discarted: How you doing?
    Cop: How you doing sir, everything okay?
    D: Yep
    C: You doing alright?
    D: Nah
    C: If you don’t mind could you move along? you’re making me nervous
    C: Thank you
    D: This sidewalk’s still open right?
    C: You’re not taking pictures of me, that’s not okay. If you don’t mind, move along please.

    It’s only after 3 requests from the cop to move along, and ONE request to stop taking pictures that Discarted yanks out his “right” to take pictures of anyone he damn well pleases.

    You’re probably correct that the cop needs to be more informed about the law, if you indeed correct regarding that. But it doesn’t change that fact that the photographer was being disrespectful. He’d probably be the first one to squeal if someone followed him around taking pictures without his permission.

  14. Ivan Makarov says:

    It is a disturbing video. While the guy can tell him to stop photographing, he could have done it in a more respectful manner and prevented the whole accident.

  15. Jordan says:

    Thomas: Again, I understand that you and Discarted are advocating for our rights. It’s certainly important. But it appears to me that he instigated this situation to make a point. I’m not suggesting that he did anything illegal or that the cop was doing the legal thing.

    Try to analyze this from the cop’s perspective. He’s in the middle of a traffic stop and a guy shows up and starts taking photos. Maybe he’s a bit annoyed before the camera shows up, so he asks Discarted to stop taking photos in a tone that could have been nicer. The guy disregards his request and continues taking them, which annoys him even more.

    I’m suggesting that if a non-cop asked in the same tone, he would have done the courteous thing and stopped. But he was there to make a point, so he continued. Cops shouldn’t abuse their authority, shouldn’t use the badge inappropriately, and should know the law better than we do. But we can be more courteous in the way that we prevent this from happening.

  16. SteelToad says:

    It’s so sad that this post went directly to crap. So many “I’m a photographer and …” yadda yadda yadda. People, please learn the law before posting what you “know” to be fact. It’s not against the law to be a nuissance, it is against the law to abuse police powers, or to assume them where they don’t exist. A valliant try Thomas, here’s to hoping your next post is read by better educated readers

  17. DWAnderson says:

    Being annoying is not a crime. The police are invested with a significant amount of power and should not use it to throw their weight around with respect to people who are obeying the law, no matter how “disrespectful” they happen to be. I’d cut the police officer more slack if he were dealing with someone who was actually violating the law, but here that obviously wasn’t the case.

    The right to photograph the police is an important check on government power. The police should just get used to it. It is part of living in the 21st century.

  18. […] February but just released yesterday — is extremely divided. Photography blogger Thomas Hawk thanks Nee for “continuing to fight for photographer’s rights”: Our ability as citizens to […]

  19. Marc Evans says:

    Cop: “…I was in the Marine Corp for two years getting shot at for you…” “…I spent my god dang ass two years in the fucking desert and I got to hear from you’re fruitcake ass?”

    I live and work in Los Angeles. My tax dollars fund this police officers salary and, from what is visible in this video, this cop is a problem waiting to happen.

  20. Vanessa says:

    This video is disturbing, and what is more disturbing is some of the comments that have already been posted. I fear that we are becoming a police state in this country. Everyone would do well to remember that the military, and public servants such as police officers, serve and protect us, not the other way around. We should have respect for them, but they also must have respect for the law. I think it’s clear that the police officer here was wrong and seemed to lose his temper with this photographer. I may not like everyone and everyone’s behavior, but I still must respect their rights to act within our laws. And in this case, the photographer was simply taking photos. That is still legal in this country.

    Thank you for posting the video.

  21. […] but just released on Tuesday (6/1) — is extremely divided. Photography blogger Thomas Hawk thanks Nee for “continuing to fight for photographer’s rights”: “Our ability as citizens to document […]

  22. TEH says:

    I am disturbed by the amount of people who are ignorant of the law. As long as you both are in a public space, which is where this incident ocurred, you do not have to stop photographing anyone or anything when they refuse to consent.

    What you or I might have done in this situation out of a notion of common sense, while it may be different, is completely and totally irrelevant. While I am a strong believe in common sense, it is a subjective term that cannot be defined and therefore has no bearing on the law.

  23. Pieter Damsteegt says:

    Crossed lines for sure yo… technically you would have to ask them first. When I do accident photos etc, I ask the officers first. Also when they asked to move, move for crying out loud. If you’re going to shoot this kind of thing, use telephoto and go voyeuristic. Technically an individual could get sued for this kind of stuff. Just sayin’

  24. Daniel says:

    If people keep doing this, you are all asking to get a law just like the UK where you can’t take photos of officers because you are a terrorist.

  25. […] Just another reminder: Photography is NOT a crime! […]

  26. […] another reminder: Photography is NOT a crime! AKPC_IDS += "2291,";Popularity: 1% […]

  27. Bo says:

    i don’t like cops but the photographer is just plain fuckin annoying like a 5 yearold referring on the law because he doesn’t get his candy.
    i don’t know what the law is in the USA, but it’s just pathetic what he pulls off there. seems like he just wants to provoke him, if it is not unlawful to take pictures of him it’s at least unpolite and annoying to do this without consent, especially that he KNOWS he doesn’t want to be photographed, even the 5yearold in mind should be aware of this, it was stated pretty convincingly and clearly. decency is not a crime.

  28. AFIII says:

    I find it interesting that the who people make the argument that photographers can’t photograph a person in a public space without their permission don’t mention that law enforcement agencies do this everyday to watch ordinary citizens go about their business.

    The small town of Hanford, California, where I live, has intersections with video cameras. The public pool and skateboard park next to it have video cameras, which the police say can be equipped with facial recognition software. I’m pretty sure larger cities have this in use as well. How many police car cams have you seen on Tru TV?

    Law enforcement argues they use these cameras to protect us from criminals. Then we should be able to use video and still cameras to protect ourselves from police officers who do not follow the law.

  29. keith says:

    such a bizzaro confrontation, as a former news photog i never had any problems with lapd but i was working on news story photos not traffic stop snaps.

    i can understand the officers initial “you’re making me nervous, please move on” comments to the photog but after that he reakkt goes nuts with war storys, name calling & that was unprofessional and uncalled for. at the rate he was getting carried away surprised he didn’t call in swat. surely when he & others review this video he’ll wonder what was he thinking.

    once the officer asked not to photograph him i would have stopped especially since the traffic stop scene wasn’t worth snapping in the first place.

    hopefully you’ll keep us posted on the investigation if there really is one.

  30. Mike says:

    Interesting… The post were more interesting than the video.
    I agree that in most situations, photographers can take photos of people in public.
    No release needed for photo journalism.

    Photographer looks like he went looking for trouble and apparently found it easily.

    You may find this interesting….
    In maryland during a traffic stop the person stopped video taped he officer that stopped him.
    Maryland is one of the states where you need two person consent to recording and the person was accused of violating the wire tap law.


  31. andy says:

    The photographer here is weak. The only reason he was doing what he was doing was to get a rise out of the cop. He was not reporting on anything important. Yes one has the right to photo and film cops…at a safe distance so as not to interfere with their business, but come this idiot is just like the idiots on copwatch who are trying to bait cops and get them pissed off. This chump got his 5 mins of fame and pissed off a cop…yaahoooo! I have no doubt he is proud of himself and he should pat himself on the back and order a couple of cookies for himself at the corner Star Bucks.

  32. bridget says:

    It really doesn’t matter why the photographer was taking the pictures. What he did was perfectly legal. The reaction of the cop was unprofessional at best and down right scary at worst. There is simply no excuse for this cop to have gone after the photographer this way. The cop was way out of line and his behavior is indicative of someone who is out of control and in need of a vacation at the very least. Counseling is also in order. This is not someone who should be wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

    His superiors should send him back to college for civil rights 101. Seems like he needs that.

    As for the LAPD launching an investigation.. what a joke!!!

    What did bug me about the photographer is the way he wimped out in the end when telling the cop to cancel the call for a Sup. I would have hung around and had a conversation with that Sup.

    Mark my words, in the end the cop will remain and LAPD will clear him. They usually do.

  33. […] You can read several recent accounts over at Thomas Hawk's blog: BP offices photographed, LAPD detain photographer, Long Beach refinery altercation, the list goes […]