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Thread: How to deal with Police when out photographing (& Photographers Rights)

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    How to deal with Police when out photographing (& Photographers Rights)

    Increasingly people are becoming paranoid about photographers shooting in public places.

    As has already been stated elsewhere it is not illegal to be taking photographs in a public place of buildings or people.

    For buildings you need to be in a public place. Be sensible. I don't suggest trying to photograph nuclear reactors or functioning military grounds and buildings.

    For people apply common sense. Ask permission if there is an interesting shot, but of course you don't have to. Street photography doesn't always allow for this, but just use your brain. Don't take photos of kids if you can avoid it, that will just be a nightmare.

    For those that don't know I am a police officer. I offer the following advice with a disclaimer: Don't sue me if it goes pear-shaped!

    1) This can be applied to security guards too but bear in mind they have no legislative power to do pretty much anything different than an ordinary citizen.

    2) Shopping centres, sports grounds, community centres are public places MOST of the time for the purposes of 'public place' legislation - ie 'disorderly conduct'. HOWEVER they are actually privately or government owned and permission to be there can be withdrawn. The permission to withdraw the right to take photographs in such a place can also be withdrawn, as is happening in a lot of shopping centres these days.

    3) If approached by a police officer the first thing to do is BE NICE. If you don't pass the 'attitude test' you will not win. Ever.

    4) If they ask what you are doing be frank and open. Don't be smart. Say you are an amateur photographer or whatever, and that you are taking **insert genre here** photographs.

    5) Show them what you are taking and if they question the content (ie building or infrastrucure) explain why you took it. To a police officer the picture you took may be pointless (unless sinister). Let me explain. You take a picture of a boring everyday subject (say an electricity sub-station) with the intention of applying a brilliant photoshop effect to it to make it a work of art. All the police officer sees is a possible vandalism or terrorist target. SO upload some of your finished work covering all sorts of genres onto your mobile phone so you can show that you are serious. "See It IS art Officer!"

    6) If a police officer asks you to delete your photography, I would decline. THERE IS NO LEGISLATIVE POWER FOR A POLICE OFFICER TO DO THIS. Explain this very calmly and state why you want to keep it. If it really doesn't matter you can always do what they say of course (but I know I certainly wouldn't). If they do MAKE you do it then you have legitimate reason to complain about their actions.

    7) 99% of the time police are there because someone complained about what you are doing (usually they reckon that there is someone taking photos of kids). Remember this.

    8) Suggest a course of action politely (don't tell them how to do their job though - the difference is in your tone of voice). For example:
    "As you can see Officer I am not taking photos of kids/terrorist targets. Would you be able to let the person who complained know what I am up to so they can put their mind at rest. I'm sure they won't mind me continuing if they know what I am doing."

    9) All police are different. 90% are easy to get along with and quite sensible in how they deal with this sort of situation. About 10% can be quite cynical, impatient and/or arrogant. That is exactly the same as any profession, and like other professions they give everyone else a bad name. Also bear in mind very junior officers may make bad decisions and decisions outside legislation when put on the spot by an 'unusual' job. They are often the ones walking the beat that may deal with this sort of situation. Don't treat them with contempt though - you won't have passed the attitude test if you do.

    10) Police will often ask your name, date of birth and address. If you are not committing any offence generally you do not have to provide these. BUT you have nothing to hide so give them the details that they want so they can check you are not a criminal/terrorist/paeophile. It won't do any harm to you at all, and refusing might mean to the police that you have something to hide.

    11) If the situation starts turning bad for whatever reason do what you are told. It is better than having to deal with a much more serious situation if you don't, even if they are entirely in the wrong. You can always involve the media and complain about their behaviour to higher powers later.

    12) My gut feeling is that at least 95% of photographers that are put into this situation are male.

    13) It's not rocket science, but I see people that haven't done much (if anything) wrong, go completely down the 'wrong' line when dealing with myself and colleagues, and once tempers fray there are several legislative options available that can get you arrested. So - KEEP YOUR COOL!!

    Cheers!

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    Great thread. I think this subject has been on alot of photographers minds lately. Hopefully people can use some of your advice to help save them from being in deep water. I think the main point out of what you said is to KEEP YOUR COOL.
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    off topic but....

    I've always wondered, is it legal to take photos of the officer(s) and their equipment? like belt cars etc?

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    I think that was well written, and as you say we must use a bit of commom sence when takeing photo's. I myself had a small problem recently at a large b/ball sporting event I was at.
    It had kids ranging from the ages of 10 years old up to seniors. I was approched a number of times and asked many questions. After staying calm and explaining what I was doing I was then allowed to keep shooting, but I was restricted to what courts I was able to take shots from (mostly the senior teams)
    I just think as you said, a bit of common sence goes a long way.
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    Quote Originally Posted by trigger View Post
    off topic but....

    I've always wondered, is it legal to take photos of the officer(s) and their equipment? like belt cars etc?
    Yes but don't expect them to be friendly about it. If you really want to do this make sure it is in a crowd situation such as a protest. Then they won't see what you are doing and can't do anything about it anyway.

    If I didn't want my photo taken I'd ask for it to be deleted. If this was declined I would know to walk away. Others wouldn't...

    Remember that being a police officer can be dangerous. One thing that we don't want is photos of us passed on to gangs and criminals etc - it is unnerving and we are very protective of where we live and who our families are. I'm yet to meet a police officer that doesn't have a silent telephone number for example.

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    Being a devil's advocate for a moment, why do they respond in the first place about taking photos of kids ?

    It's not illegal it's not a problem and not the police's business, it's just fuelling suspicion.

    IF every complaint like this got 2 questions from the call centre?

    1/ is the kid dressed ?
    2/ is the kid in public ?

    if answer to both is yes, then why dont the police just say "nothing wrong here, thanks" and do not respond.

    When they respond then the public automatically SEE a problem.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post
    Being a devil's advocate for a moment, why do they respond in the first place about taking photos of kids ?

    It's not illegal it's not a problem and not the police's business, it's just fuelling suspicion.

    IF every complaint like this got 2 questions from the call centre?

    1/ is the kid dressed ?
    2/ is the kid in public ?

    if answer to both is yes, then why dont the police just say "nothing wrong here, thanks" and do not respond.

    When they respond then the public automatically SEE a problem.
    Good point.

    JJ

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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post
    Being a devil's advocate for a moment, why do they respond in the first place about taking photos of kids ?

    It's not illegal it's not a problem and not the police's business, it's just fuelling suspicion.

    IF every complaint like this got 2 questions from the call centre?

    1/ is the kid dressed ?
    2/ is the kid in public ?

    if answer to both is yes, then why dont the police just say "nothing wrong here, thanks" and do not respond.

    When they respond then the public automatically SEE a problem.
    I agree but.... The police are a public service and there is a duty of care to check these things out. A member of the public complains, we have to make sure that there is nothing wrong. Happens with a lot of different scenarios, not just suspicious photography. Classic one is the dodgy car that is 'casing' houses in the early hours of the morning. Turns out to be the newspaper deliverer every time

    For every 1000 suspicious photographers one might be a paedophile. So we have to go to all 1000 to find the crook.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NickMonk View Post
    ...Remember that being a police officer can be dangerous. One thing that we don't want is photos of us passed on to gangs and criminals etc - it is unnerving and we are very protective of where we live and who our families are. I'm yet to meet a police officer that doesn't have a silent telephone number for example.
    Nick, thanks very much for your post. Hope this can be stickied, if at all possible.

    Your point about keeping identities hidden is probably the most miss understood point about people taking pictures of Police. I think very few people understood this.

    JJ

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    I fact more often than not we aren't called about things that we should be called about because people don't trust their instinct enough or think they might waste our time. Unfortunately when it comes to photographers they tend to call more than they should really.

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    Thanks JJ

    Quote Originally Posted by jjphoto View Post
    Hope this can be stickied, if at all possible.JJ
    Rick? Maybe it should, took me long enough to write it

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    Great advice there and I think majority of people would act the right way.

    I never thought of what could be thought in taking certain structures, so cheers for the tip.
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    Thanks for the advice NickMonk. I spent 10 years working for WAPOL (not as a police officer), and I think your info is pretty spot on in terms of how to handle that sort of situation from what I saw and experienced.

    However, in general terms and from my experience of how things are done, I also think that sometimes too often someone who is incorrectly complained about is challenged and asked to move on just to keep the peace and make like easy for everyone concerned - except the person on the receiving end. In the context of this topic, I think it would be best if a balance was struck and the 'rights' of the photographer to go about their business were as valued as keeping busy-bodies and scare-mongers quiet. I think asking someone to move on for the sake of convenience runs the risk of actually confirming the worst fears of the person who complained, simply because the person's complaint was investigated and the 'offender' was dealt with. I would much rather the complainant was told that everything was OK and the photographer was entitled to be there. They would then be educated and 'their' inappropriate behaviour and concerns wouldn't be rewarded.

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    Thanks Nick!

    A very informative thread with sensible suggestions, points of view, attitude and responsible reaction. As seen from the police point of view.

    Cheers

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    I spend all day every day working very closely alongside the NSW police force, ranging from probationary constables right through to Local Area commanders .. and one thing I can tell you , is if you display any kind of arrogance or attitude towards them when they are trying to do their job, YOU WILL NOT WIN. So as Nick says, be smart, stay cool and most times common sense will prevail.
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    I have to say.. whilst Nick's post makes perfect sense, I'd be more inclined to tell them to arrest me and charge me with whatever offence they think I'm committing.

    This BS paranoia has to stop!... and if we(all photographers!!) all waste police resources by getting ourselves taken back to the station for these Moron Police to finally realise that they have no reason to be harassing innocent members of the public.. only then will they realise that they need to assess the situation more thoroughly before acting like Rambo's.

    Someone posted in that news report web page that 'the police were only doing their job'.
    Rubbish! It's the Police's job to be fully aware of the law, and it's exact meaning.
    They should know better than to waste their time like that, and to ruin someone else's day(like that Michael chap in Mooloolaba).
    If they want to be litigated against for wrongful arrest or transgression of the rights of any person acting legally, they have to suffer the consequences.
    They'll only really ever fully understand their mistakes if it somehow comes back to haunt them.

    Not that I'm hoping to find myself in that situation, and it's one that's so far removed from where I prefer to be.... away from the crowds, but I think if a few points are made fully aware to the police that:

    * I'm only taking photographs, and
    * if it's illegal to take photographs here, or
    * if I'm not allowed on a particular part of public land with my camera, then
    * they must surely eject every other person with a camera(especially the pocketable, little discreet Point and Shoot models) on that same patch of land too.

    Would they be prepared to explain to everyone else on the beach, that cameras are not allowed? Or is there some weirdo banana republic law which states that you can have a camera on a beach, as long as you don't use it.
    (what worries me most is that the banana law would probably make sense for some police! )

    Another thing that I can't understand is why Nick(Police officer) knows how to interpret the law one way(probably the most correct way), and those two Banana Republic Security Guards didn't?
    Do they not teach cadets basic law at police academy/school?
    Or maybe the two BRSC's were too busy eating bananas to worry 'bout it?

    Anyhow.... I suppose I should just be content that I hate the beach.

    ps. I've never had any negative altercations with police, and in general I've only ever come across good cops. Except one real smart hero who tried to convince himself that I rode my bike illegally, when I know I didn't.
    I simply asked him(very calmly and politely) to give me the ticket, so I could be on my way promptly and that I will contest it in court, and probably see him there. He never gave me the ticket, and he probably thought that I'd seek costs too(correctly), in taking it to court. He took my rego plate down and had me 'on watch' .. I bet they got bored waiting for me to do something illegal.. for the next umpteen years.

    Apologies folks... just some musings I had.. and I'm curious now, about the workings of police stations and suchlike. Had I been the officer in charge of the station, and had these two idiots brought back this Michael in Mooloolaba fellow in for some stupid reason, I'd have the two cops sacked for impersonating police officers!
    Surely they must answer to someone??
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    you make a fair point Arthur .. I was merely saying this though, as Nick has pointed out, every complaint/report MUST be investigated. We can only hope if any of us ever find ourselves in the position of having to explain where /why/what were doing in response to a police officer investigating such a report/complaint , we will encounter a person with a cretain degree of common sense and said common sense will prevail. Moral , always stay cool regardless , resist arrest is a lot more serious than any so called photographic offence ..

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    Thanks Nick - very informative.
    As a newbie photographer I still haven't got the hang of going out in a public place and setting up my tripod and taking shots.
    I have only done it three times since I bought my camera:
    The first time I had to go to a local shopping centre at night for a homework assignment for a photography course I attended - that felt really wierd.
    The second time was a couple of nights after New Year's Eve - I went down to Kirribilli for some Harbour shots. That felt OK because I would have been the odd one out if I didn't have a camera.
    The third time was the other day when my hubby and I went to Freshwater Beach - the other half took a swim while I took some shots. I received a lot of looks as if to say "what do you think your'e doing" but luckily nobody challenged me.

    Anyway, your thread has helped me understand my legal rights a bit better and hopefully I won't feel so guilty about practicing my new hobby next time I decide to do a field trip.
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    Arthur - they do answer to Sergeants and then higher. Arrests are brought before a Sergeant. If the Sergeant deems it is unlawful then the person is not charged and the litigation begins.

    I agree all police officers SHOULD know the full law. But let me put it this way:

    'The Law' is a HUGE amount of legislation covering everything from boundary fences to fishing from jetties. No lawyer or police officer, when put on the spot about something a little bit more unusual than drunk idiots or speeding drivers, will know all the applicable law, common law, council by-laws and federal tax legislation.

    Most police know the legislation that affects them every day. I arrest people every now and again and not know what charge I have arrested them on - but I do know that I can arrest them, and I think about the applicable legislation on the way back to the station. A bit dangerous you might say but not really - if someone is behaving badly somewhere in public (in particular) there is an applicable charge somewhere.

    If it wasn't for my great interest in photography I wouldn't have a clue what the law is relating to photography in a public place. With all the paranoia going on I could be forgiven for thinking that it IS illegal if I didn't know better!

    Where police get into trouble is not asking advice from other police if they are not sure what to do - can look embarrasing for a police officer you know, really we should always emit an aura of control. They may assume that they have more legislative power than they do, that's where the trouble is. And I agree Arthur this isn't satifactory, but that's life. Remember most police had other careers before they became police. They were plumbers, bankers, mechanics, soldiers, students etc etc. Any one of you could become a police officer if you want - then YOU are the keeper of all this legislation and fast thinking!!

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    Thanks Nick,
    You have sure cleared up a few questions for me about public places. I also think this would make a great sticky!
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