Port of Long Beach Responds to Incident of Photographer Harassment

An Illegal Bridge?

I received an email this morning from Art Wong, the Assistant Director of Communications/PIO for the Port of Long Beach with regards to the recent case of photographer harassment by the Long Beach Harbor Patrol that I blogged about yesterday. I will print his email response to my request for clarification from their department as to what authority myself and photographer David Sommars were told we were not allowed to shoot from a public sidewalk in the Long Beach Harbor last Friday night and then respond to his email.

Here is his email response in full:

“Generally, we’ve asked our Harbor Patrol officers to tell photographers that for safety and security reasons they should come to our Admin Building, and present identification. When they come to our offices, usually I or someone in our Communications Division talks to the photographer about where they may safely shoot from the public right of ways. Our concern is for the safety of the photographers, so that they’re not run over by trucks. Also the security of the Port, especially in the years since 9/11, we tell photographers that they are only allowed in public areas. We need identification of the individuals and vehicles so we can keep track of who we’ve advised, and so we can communicate that info to our Harbor Patrol officers and the officers watching on our surveillance cameras. Commercial photographers, however, need a permit so our Harbor Patrol officers can secure the area in which they’re working, so that traffic can be re-routed. In the Sunday night it seems that the officer thought you were trying to enter a private area and you were a commercial photographer. You, and other photographers, have a right a take pictures from public right-aways. But for your own safety, and for the security of the Port, we have asked our officers to be as vigilant as possible. If they were too zealous, please accept our apologies and contact me to arrange another visit.”

My response:

This response from the Port of Long Beach is complete and utter BS.

David and I were nowhere near any private property whatsoever in fact when we were told to stop shooting by the Long Beach Harbor Patrol. The photo above is a clearer photo of the location we were at when we were confronted. We were clearly on a public sidewalk on an overpass — nowhere even remotely close to any private property entrance. We were more than 100 yards away from accessing any private areas whatsoever. The photography I published of their Officer clearly shows both the officer and his patrol car on the same overpass from where we were shooting. Here is a link to the overpass where we were shooting from on a Google Map to get a better perspective that we were nowhere remotely close to a private area when this confrontation took place.

The fact that the Officer would suggest that he forced us to stop shooting because he “thought we were trying to enter a private area,” is a bald faced lie. This Officer is a liar who is trying to justify his act of harassment in some way after the fact. I would encourage staff at the Port of Long Beach to examine the photograph of the Officer, the bridge above and the Google Map link. They should know the location where we were shooting and should also know that we were nowhere near any private areas whatsoever when this incident took place.

Secondly, the incident in question took place last Friday night, not Sunday night.

Finally, I think it is a huge stretch for the the Port of Long Beach to claim that the Officer who ejected us from the Port thought that we were “commercial” photographers. We were simply two guys with cameras who clearly explained to the officers that we were doing “art” photography. We were not impeding traffic in any way. We were not a professional film production crew. We were never told that we were being ejected because we were “commercial” photographers. We were no threat to ours or anyone elses personal safety. We were told we had to leave because we were not allowed to shoot the plant that we were shooting from a public sidewalk. This response is just even more CYA BS from the Port of Long Beach.

It is unfortunate that rather than take responsibility for their actions, apologize for violating our Constitutional rights, and offering to change how they enforce their anti-photography campaign, that they’d rather try to justify our eviction from public land that our taxes pay for and chalk it up to a “misunderstanding,” on the part of their officers.

The response of course wouldn’t be complete without at least one reference to 9/11 in it. This response from the Port of Long Beach is very, very disappointing.

If you think that this sort of response is unacceptable, please take a second and digg this story here.

77 Replies to “Port of Long Beach Responds to Incident of Photographer Harassment”

  1. “Generally, we’ve asked our Harbor Patrol officers to tell photographers that for safety and security reasons they should come to our Admin Building, and present identification.”

    This response just started out all wrong! Since when were US citizens required to “present identification” prior to walking down a public street or taking photos from a public location! This is total BS! His reference to 9/11 as some sort of excuse for this inane policy is ludicrous at best!

  2. Let me start out by saying I think you were wronged by the harbor police here.

    However, from their perspective, it can also be a safety issue for pedestrians as you are likely blocking a fair amount of the sidewalk with your tripods for extended shots.

    Also, in my opinion, “art” doesn’t necessarily mean non-commercial either. In that case, you would need a permit from what I saw on the flickr comments.

  3. Thanks Jokie. The overpass that we were shooting from had plenty of room for any pedestrian to get by us. David and I were shooting from two separate spots and anyone who wanted could easily pass. The fact of the matter was that in an industrial part of Long Beach at night in 45 degree weather there were no pedestrians there anyways. In the entire hour or so that we were on the bridge we did not see a single other person on that sidewalk other than the police. We were clearly not preventing people from passing the sidewalk and there was clearly no safety risk to either us or anyone else who might come upon us.

    In terms of the “commercial” excuse. We told the Officers that we were taking the photos for ourselves. The commercial prohibition by the Port is clearly not aimed at hobbyist photographers. It’s in place to prohibit larger scale and possibly disruptive filming. The fact that they try to use that as an excuse is ridiculous.

    The Officers never asked us whether or not our photography was commercial in nature. They simply maintained that a permit was required to shoot from that vantage point.

  4. Total security theater. Every time I read about an incident like this, it makes me feel less safe because I realize that the security officials are incompetent. They are making the country less safe. Their lazy, Pavlovian response to DSLR photographers simply provides a blueprint for any theoretical terrorist.

    These security officials are paranoid nincompoops, and these ports are made less safe by their pointless obsession with evicting artists.

    Photography is not a crime. Bullying is. The port officers are the ones that should be questioned. They have no more right to tell me what to do on the public street than a tourist. Bullies. Pure and simple.

  5. did he wrote this mail caused by the action on your blog/friendfeed/digg or did you just mailed him your blog?
    for the commercial thing, i am not sure about the laws in the us, but in germany your blog would be called commercial, cause you run ads on it and earn profit. even if its just a few cents.

  6. I would suggest printing out a copy of that letter and bringing that with you when you shoot LBH. It would be kind of funny to see the cops try and argue their way out of a letter from their superiors.

    Next time you both should wear Muslim hats and dresses when you shoot. When they ask why 2 white guys are dressed like middle easterns just be very vigilant about telling them that your acting under a strict order of Ala and his great prophet Mohammad.

  7. I think it would be great to have a big massive shoot out, (no pun intended, seriously). I’ll drive from San Diego for this. We all bring our cameras, stay out of the streets and private property, remain orderly and let’s see what happens.

  8. You realize that the area in which you were is a “terrorist spot”. As in any person going there to shot picture will get pulled off to the side. Think of how much petroleum is there and how much of a red zone that area actually is.

    Long Beach, Wilmington, and San Pedro. thats 3 cities in 1 shot. really think about what your doing before coming down saying, “they took away my rights wah wah wah” you should have just bit your tounge and bailed when you had the chance. You werent doing nothing wrong, but you were pretty much in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I’ve had to deal with the port police before, their not kool and jump the gun a LOT. like no kidding ive seen them step into private owned property without permit to kill of a ending party. If I were you, just do as they tell you and get your pictures. Who cares if they want an ID, what will that take you? a few seconds minutes probably. Seriously, unless they are asking for fee’s just do it and get your images.

    also remember you will be posting the images on an online source, that means that anybody planning an attack will no longer need somebody to get their images since you did the grunt work for them.

    True they came out bad by doing their stupid stuff, but you have to step back in think of the bigger picture and not your 8×10. 🙂 nice pics by the way.

  9. The really stupid part is that ejecting you with your files intact accomplishes nothing. If you were scouting for Al Qaeda, The Order, whoever, this mission was a success. (Not that blowing up something this inherently flammable seems like it would require much recon.)

    But that’s how security theater always works–harass the obviously innocent while providing no security at all against those whose evil you use as an excuse.

    Trading freedom for security is one thing, it’s an at least comprehensible if mostly bad idea. But this is just trading freedom for someone’s lawless power trip, and that’s repugnant.

  10. Please, for your own safety ask permision and hand in your goverment issued ID at the office BEFORE you take any pictures from public side walks.

    Yeah… I really don’t like the way this is going.

  11. @Anonymous who said he should just bite his tongue and bail. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Benjamin Franklin

  12. In the US, checks on executive branch authority are done by the judicial branch. While blogging about this issue may be therapeutic and offer at least a small amount of public embarrassment to some small minded civic officials, you would do everyone here a much greater service by pursuing legal action against the offenders. Until a judge (or the threat of having to go in front of one) intervenes and gets their policies and behaviors changed, the Port of Long Beach will continue harassing photographers (and probably all sorts of other generally law abiding citizens as well).

  13. Hello,

    The anonymous poster is right.

    I have had two incidents very similar to this in the Washington DC Area that I successfully challenged and won.

    It was a lot of work.

    In Silver Spring MD I had a publicly funded privately run shopping center declared as public space by the county attorney. And Jones Long LaSalle, the managers of Union Station in Washington DC were brought before a Congressional Sub Committee on Over site after they stoped us from photographing there.

    In both of these instances we organized photographers and urged elected officials to hand down the law to those charged with managing these properties. At the shopping center we marched a 100 photographer through on the 4th of July made all of the papers and forced the issue onto our elected officials plates to deal with.

    The Long Beach Port Authority has a board of directors. That is who these guards report to The Board reports to the people or the local politicians who appointed them. Shit flows down hill and that is where I would proceed.

    The ACLU is very familiar with these situations and I would ally with them and let the board know that this is a serious violation that could land them in court and they have a responsibility to act on this.

    You will also need local press to make some noise so that these powers that be don’t try and duck this til it goes away.

    This isn’t easy. It almost became a full time job for me.

    But my best advice is to organize, photographers, get the media and ACLU behind you and pursue the members of the Authority Board.

    Chip Py
    Silver Spring, MD

  14. As a very amateur photographer I have not been faced with an incident like this but always take this document with me in the event that I have an issue. After seeing this story I googled some info and came across another great document to keep on hand. Sucks to see people abuse their authority and use 9/11 as an excuse for doing so. I enjoyed all the shots on your photostrem by the way.

  15. This is happening all over the country as we take photos on public and publicly accessible property.

    Amtrak was concerned about my safety in Penn Station NY when they arrested me for trespassing on the very platform the train dropped me on. I was doing just fine looking out for my own safety and well being until Officer James Rusbarsky intentionally put the handcuffs on my backwards and injured me.

    The photo police are everywhere. I wonder who’s security they are looking out for. Certainly not ours or the ports.

  16. While nowhere near as violent, I have a random security guard encounter that I need to email you some time that resulted in a call from the local police department 3 months later….all for taking pictures of a rusty water tank from a public park and ride.

  17. A city-wide shoot from the bridge day!

    I agree with PresRob! I would love to see 1 guy taking photos on a public area; (imagine) a police officer stops to illegally force the photographer to stop what WE ARE ALL FREE TO DO. Then I would like to see the same thing we are reading on this blog, just one exception… when this officer acts (wither he takes the camera, and doesn’t return it, or arrests the photographer) we all then take out our cameras and start shooting, land, bridge, building including the officer’s illegal acts! Anything we can see while standing on public ground! I would love to see this officer call backup just to see if someone with a badge has a sense of mind to use his power to confirm our rights to the idiot trying to stomp on them simply because he can pronounce “9/11”. At the same time I would love to see the opposite… I would want loads of backup officers arresting most of the photographers. In the meanwhile a few other groups could be “secretly” videotaping the situation, as others on the bridge can have microphones. All together we can show America what is really going on with power-hungry police officers who lack the wisdom to use this power rightfully. This is America and I am sure Americans will fight before this becomes a police state. Let me hear your shouts! “not random 1 @ gmail”

  18. Wow, I’ve read all of your posts related to this incident. One kept me chasing the next! I am sorry that you guys had to go through that. It’s sad to see that photographers, or anyone just trying to appreciate life a little more, can be penalized and harassed due to the miscommunication of departments and someone in blue trying to be a little bigger than they truly are. A city-wide shoot from the bridge day would be a sight to see.

  19. Am I to understand from this email that if I contact Art Wong, I’ll get a run down on all the public spots I can explore and shoot from, and that I’ll be left alone by police?

    Will he really make sure every cop and security guard knows to leave me alone? Or will he give me a letter that I can present to them upon request?

    I understand the principle of the matter, photographers shouldn’t be harassed on public property. But if my tax dollars are paying Art Wong to give me the low down on all the spots I can shoot from AND arrange it so that I will be completely free from harassment, I might just take him up on that.

  20. Fist, thank you for bringing light to this issue. What is even more surprising to me is not just the harassing from the cops, but the comments from moronic Hillbillies that support this cain of behavior. Keep it up Thomas.

  21. I don’t get it? just get the permit. Also, LB harbor is privately owned by a company out of Dubai, meaning that our taxes don’t pay for it. quite the contrary in fact, the harbor generates revenue; in other words, it pays taxes. Finally, until any of you have sat in on a homeland security intel briefing, then you have no right to criticize those officers for only doing their job. believe me, as an officer I would sleep much better knowing I’ve kept a possible target safe by just deterrence, than having possibly pissed off some wining bitches. just play the game and take your photos safely – its that simple.

  22. in the ’60s i heard a segregationist use the same argument, “…for their safety…”, when he tried to stop civil rights marchers from walking down an alabama highway. gee – it’s so nice to be protected.

  23. If you will just cooperate with the commands of the local storm troopers no one will be injured. This is for your protection and the security of the great federation of states. Please do not resist citizen. This is for your protection.

  24. iam on public street and it so happens a post office was near doing my project for school lbcc pcc,i had to show my id and since iam a resident the police to know what kind of camera if it was dig camera, i was usinga film camera for my project then the police saying because of 9/11 and because the post office is near by the even wanted to know my social security num my prof name what class iam in so i told to visit my class he never came, haha.

  25. Actually….this just happened to me and 3 friends two nights back…. we were fishing and apparently were parked in a NO parking zone…so instead of asking us to move our vehicle…we get stopped… asked to put our hands were he can see them….and then “background checks” and then SEARCHED…and then questioned about our tattoos..eye color…All kind of IRRELEVANT Questions…for being in a parking spot that said “Parking from 8-11” and then..given a $50 ticket… I can understand the ticket….but the Questions…and the harassment.. and the searching??? how ridiculous!!!

  26. I am a retired police officer and did work in the areas mentioned above. If you are on public property, you are allowed to photograph any area, period. If you are a commercial photographer, a permit is required. It is not mandatory for you to identify yourself to the police station or headquarters involved. It is just you being courteous to local law enforcement so that when they stop you, they will quickly find out you already gave their station a “heads up”. Sometimes they will already know photographers are in the area, as this information will have been provided at roll call. If you do not report in advance that you will be taking pictures, you will be stopped. They treat photography as highly suspicious activity and if they see you or someone reports you, they will be all over you. It’s just that simple. The truth is that you are not even required to identify yourself if you are on public property and legally engaged in non-commercial photography. The police require reasonable suspicion or probable cause to demand id. This means that facts and circumstances must exist such that a reasonable officer believes that a crime was, is, or will be committed. A guy taking a photograph on a public sidewalk, barring other circumstances, will not likely rise to the level of reas. susp. or prob. cause. If you have highly technical equipment, legitimately fit some description, behave aggressively beyond mere annoyance at being stopped by police, run away, etc., then you are probably asking to be id’d. An arrest following a mere refusal to show id, absent other factors, will probably be voided at the station upon proper id, or dismissed, unless the officers make a case for disturbing the peace or something else. If you are arrested and that arrest is dismissed due to lack of evidence, you may have a good civil case against the department and/or officer(s) involved. The question is… do you want to be the test case? The civil trial judge will probably dismiss the case citing something along the lines of the officers having acted in good faith following 9/11. You will see things change when some young rookie beats the hell out of someone for photography and the agency has to pay out big following heavy media attention. Unfortunately, post 9/11, we have lost rights, no doubt about it. The laws protecting individuals have lost some of their strength. I really don’t like this situation either. I’d be the officer politely and professionally interviewing the photographers while using my experience and investigative skills to determine whether they were up to no good. Ask for, not demand ID, and explain the reasons why. I’m sure most people would understand and cooperate. The police just cannot come off as being arrogant bullies. Of course, all bets are off if the photographer’s behavior or evidence at the scene escalates the encounter. Protecting civil rights is just as important, if not more important than finding terrorists. We cannot let the fear of terrorism turn our country into a fascist state.

  27. I agree with the police officer. I’m sick and tired of people always claiming harrasement and violations of their constitutional rights.. and this is over taking artistic pictures?? if this was something more serious than this worthless non productive activity then I would maybe agree with the so called harrassed party.. but after reading this.. screw the dam photographer. If the police tell you, you cannot take pictures from there.. shut the hell up and go. It annoys me to think that a grown man is acting like some child just because he’s told he cannot take pictures. Sure, you have the constitutional rights that you say you do…… your just a bunch of hippies… Go to russia and try to do what you did here… you’ll never be seen again. You take what you got for granted and when somone tries to prevent you from doing something.. you complain and bitch about it. Screw you!!

  28. Now that I just left employment with the Port, I can freely comment on this incident. It is without a doubt that the officers involved were not trained in media law. It was to the majority of administrators (including the heads of security there) a travesty that the officers acted the way they did. Following this incident, the officers and the rest of the team received training on how to handle non-commercial photographers/artists. I have to thank you, Thomas, for doing what you did because it helped refine and refresh the security team there on how to properly act towards non-commercial photographers like yourself. The port of LB is a beautiful port and it deserves all the photos it can get.

    keep fighting the good fight.

  29. Hey POSTPort, thank you for that positive feedback. It’s nice to know that standing up for our rights to shoot made an impression on the Port. It is such a wonderful and beautiful place to shoot and I’m glad that they took steps to make it more accessible to other photographers. Thanks for taking the time after the fact to update me on that I really appreciate it. 🙂

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