Monday, August 22, 2011


NEGATIVE CONTAGION: All's quiet on the southwestern front where Damon Tucker- the Big Island blogger-reporter who was apparently beaten by cops for taking video of a police action, breaking up a fight in Pahoa- has hired an attorney to sue the Hawai`i (Island) Police Department (HIPD) saying that "all future media inquires should be sent to him."

But on the mainland the fight to simply take photos in public places continues, this time in Long Beach California where a reporter for the Long Beach Post has taken up the cause after a couple of incidents of harassment of photographers by local police.

Seems that according to reporter Greggory Moore on June 2 he had stepped out of his house across the street from the courthouse and was trying to take photos of people "texting while driving" for a piece on Distracted Driving Month when no less than eight police officers descended on him.

But of course in the background was the courthouse and so, according to Moore, after fifteen minutes of questioning and threats:

To leave the scene, I was required to provide my name, address, phone number, driver's license number, the name of the publication for which I was writing and the publisher's name and contact information. To get my camera back, I was required to show one of the officers its contents.

Then, even though Moore had complained and was trying to get an explanation from the Long Beach Police, the department hadn't gotten the message that photography in public places is not a crime.

In July he wrote that:

June 30 was a beautiful summer Thursday. Just the kind of day that might tempt a photographer out to a refinery to capture some snaps of well illuminated rust and metal corrosion, colors that don't quite exist in the natural world.

But in Long Beach lately, it seems this is just the kind of action that will result in police detention.

For at least the second time in a month, police in Long Beach have detained a resident for the mere fact of taking pictures that are perfectly legal to take.

At a little before 10 a.m. on June 30, Sander Roscoe Wolff says he was on the south side of Artesia Boulevard taking photographs of the Edgington Oil Company when Officer Asif Kahn rolled up in a Long Beach Police Department patrol unit.

Wolff said that Kahn stated he had received a call that Wolff was taking pictures of the refinery. Wolff explained to Kahn that he was photographing the refinery for artistic reasons.

"I guess he had [been] observing me for at least a few minutes," recounts Wolff, "because he said, 'I saw you take a picture of [some nearby flora.] I saw you take a picture across the street.'"

Because he found Kahn's demeanor to be low-key and even friendly, Wolff was surprised when Kahn asked for Wolff's driver's license. "I asked him if I had to show him my driver's license," says Wolff. "He said 'yes.' And at that point I did feel detained. Because if he was demanding that I identify myself, then I couldn't just walk away."

Wolff says Kahn apparently ran a check on Wolff's driver's license, then came back and said that everything was okay. "He said because of Homeland Security and new laws, [the police] have the authority to ask for my driver's license and run it when they feel that there's cause."

While there was no police brutality in the Long Beach incident Moore, after talked to the National Press Photographer's Association, they wrote to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell expressing concern "about the misplaced beliefs that photography is in and of itself a suspicious activity."

But McDonnell tried to defend his officers and seemed to offer little sympathy or remorse. Not only that but they had some kind of cockamamie policy of what one can and can't take photos of, based on the content.

In a followup piece Moore wrote:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures "with no apparent esthetic value" is within Long Beach Police Department policy.

McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incident in which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of a North Long Beach Refinery.

"If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery," says McDonnell, "it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual." McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters...

This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD's "policy … to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism."

While some may have an "all's well that ends well" take on the incidents it is apparently only a matter of time before someone who knows, and is intent on defending, his or her rights refuses to stop taking pictures or show them to police when they make an illegal request based on "security," especially when the claim- and in the first case here the overreaction- is patently absurd.

Like Tucker's run-in with ill-informed cops on the Big Island these kinds of incidents show how they come about when police aren't trained in the rights of people with cameras.

And although the Long Beach and Hawai`i Island incidents have led to the increased awareness of their respective police chiefs until there is national pressure put on local police to acknowledge those rights, incidents Tucker's and those Moore described will remain all too common.

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