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Why do police hate getting their picture taken?

Not long ago, I wrote a story about Anthony Graber, a Maryland resident who was arrested after videotaping a traffic stop by Maryland State Police. It is just one in a string of cases across the country of police arresting citizens for taping or photographing them while on duty.

State laws about photographing and taping police vary. The general rule that news photographers operate under is as long as you are in a public place -- on a public road or sidewalk -- you have the right to take pictures of whatever you want.

This past week, however, I heard of a case of an Alexandria man detained by D.C. police for taking pictures of a traffic stop in Georgetown. No matter what he said, the police appeared to be convinced it was illegal for him to photograph the scene, even though there does not appear to be any such law on the books. It also seems an odd stance given the high density of news organizations, tourists, and amateur photographers in and around Washington on a daily basis. This is one of the pictures he took:

dc traffic stop

The DMV is home to a large number of law enforcement agencies with varying policies and jurisdictions. I'd like to get a handle on their policies regarding citizens photographing officers while on duty, and I'm interested in learning what experiences amateur photographers have had--what's happened when you've filmed or taken pictures of police, government buildings, bridges, etc., in our area? I can be reached at shina AT And we'd love to see your photos of such moments....

By Annys Shin  | July 14, 2010; 12:09 PM ET
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I wish I could show you a photo. While visiting the area in May, I ran around taking pics of the sights. One I wanted to capture was the Metro station because of the ceiling arc and nice lines.

No chance. I was harassed by a security guard there who told me I couldn't take pictures. I told her that Metro policy allowed hand-held photography (no tripods without a permit) and that it was both legal and within policy. She wouldn't hear about it, threatened to call the police, etc. She said it was because of 9/11. I reminded her that those terrorists used planes, all I had was a camera. That's when she started calling the cops on me.

Since I was in town for business, I left without a picture because I didn't want to have to explain a possible arrest for taking a picture.

Posted by: wbeem | July 14, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

It's generally legal to photograph anyone -- including a cop -- in a public place.

But, by the time the police officer gets you to the station (and has perhaps received a little coaching from his more experienced "brothers in blue"), the charge will not be "illegal photography", but instead something a little less laughable. Maybe the ever-popular "obstructing" charge, compounded by "resisting arest" of course.

In America, *anybody* can be arrested by an officer who's willing to lie. And the fact that police officers routinely misrepresent the laws on photography shows that they ARE willing to lie.

Posted by: kcx7 | July 14, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

There are several reasons as to why Police do not like to have their photos taken. It's called PHOTO SHOP. It is a common incident for someone to take our picture, photo shop it to a fake photo of us doing thins we shouldn't and then posting it or sending it to a boss. I know a couple guys who had it done to make it look as though they were standing next to a couple criminal bikers who were watching a girl do things she shouldn't have been doing. They made it look like the two officers were watching with approval. They had to stand tall for that and defend themselves.
Last week I had a guy from France walk up and tell me that Police in France are not allowed to have tattoos and asked if he could take my picture. I said as long as he doesn't put it on the web, knowing he could do anything he wants with it. The picture was taken , we talked for a bit and he left happy.
Police are expected to be victims almost daily, it's part of our job. The problem is the courts go overboard with the constitutional violations we have to "except" as part of the job...
If you ask the police and the officer feels you have good intentions they will almost always help out with pictures. If he doesn't trust you he will avoid it..

24 years on the job

Posted by: Blacksheep327 | July 15, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

For more on this issue check out the "Photography is Not a Crime" website at

Posted by: LMarie1 | July 15, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Blacksheep327, after 27 years on the job as a policeman, you would think you would know that Photoshopped images can be easily detected and exposed as bogus. No matter how good the 'shop job, some pixels will not match in the cloned area, and can be seen upon close inspection.

If Photoshop is what DC cops are using as an excuse to harass citizen photographers, then they are basing it on a false premise. Even if this was true, it does not excuse an officer from fabricating laws on the spot to deal with his own insecurities.

Posted by: DixonMarshall | July 15, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

In case after case, police do not want any video or audio recorded because it will directly impeach their reports and sworn testimony. In nearly every case where police have objected to videotaping, the police have been caught breaking the law. Even dash-cam tapes "disappear" when the evidence involved is detrimental to the officer's case. When Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant III, his police buddies tried to confiscate every cell phone camera that had recorded it and threatened all those recording with arrest. Fortunately, their attempts to destroy evidence failed.

Posted by: larry39 | July 15, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

"Police are expected to be victims almost daily..."

So are citizens, it seems. I am not anti-police by any means, but I am very pro Bill of Rights. In encounters I have had with police, I am respectful and courteous, but also very cautious. They represent the government, not me, and unless they're there at my request, they are probably not there to help me. It doesn't violate my First Amendment rights for a police officer to ask me to stop photographing in a public area, to ask to see my photos or even to ask or demand that I delete them. They can ask me and even tell me to do anything in the world. They can legally lie to me. (It would be a bad idea for me to lie to them--much better to say nothing.) It is my right, though, so long as I'm not under arrest or being detained to refuse an officer's requests. I can also refuse to answer any questions, except perhaps, if he asks me my name (laws vary from place to place on that one). I'll reiterate, it's always a good idea to be respectful and courteous, but in my opinion photographers (and everyone) should know their rights and not waive them without a very good reason.

Posted by: closer44 | July 15, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Also, the cops might get recognized later on if they go into undercover work.

Posted by: ronjaboy | July 15, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Besides why is it so important that you get the picture to which they're objecting? Why is it worth the hassle and argle-bargle?

Posted by: ronjaboy | July 15, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

First, it seems pretty unlikely anyone would have seen the photos if the cops hadn't made a big deal out of this. So that's on them.

Second, why is it important that you're allowed to post to a blog? That the Washington Post is allowed to publish a newspaper? That people are allowed to go to whatever church they want to go to? I dunno. Maybe it's not.

Posted by: closer44 | July 15, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Police do not like having their picture taken because:

(1) they are basically authoritarians (often but not always under-educated authoritarians) who get bent out of shape at any sign that their authority is not duly recognized. After all - along with their associate degree or BA in criminal justice - they have a uniform and deadly weapons. Doesn't that make them special?

(2) and here we are dealing with a distant second - the cops might be doing something wrong or worry that they will be accused of so doing and that might lead to them getting in trouble (after all the higher ups typically could care less about and particular underling) - on this score the problem si that nearly any situation they are dealing with might get out of hand and degenerate into mayhem; and that is due nearly as much to the fact that they are dealing with tense situations or sometimes actual criminals as to the authoritarianism of the cops themselves.

I feel like I owe the cops civility until they start to act like jerks. Then I owe them just as much respect as I owe a store clerk who acts like a jerk. And I owe them nothing when what they are imagine the law says is the opposite of what it actually says. Incompetence does not breed respect. And there is no reason to think it should.

Posted by: jdjohnson1 | July 15, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Reporter here. Some of you have asked for the name of the photographer who took the photo. It's Jerome Vorus of Alexandria, Va.

Posted by: shina1 | July 16, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Police officers are people and some people don't mind having their photo taken and some people do. They have an important job and probably don't need the added distraction of someone sticking a camera in their face. Yes, they are in public and are public servants but I can't imagine too many of us would want to be photographed by a stranger as we did our jobs.

Posted by: dubvee88 | July 17, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

A police officer's petty reasons for not wanting his picture taken count as nothing compared to his duty to be accountable to the public. We give the police weapons and the right to use force against us. It's not too much for us to require them to use force only as the law allows, and to be accountable to the public for their actions.

Police officers like Blacksheep327 need to be retrained so they know that citizens don't need to ask police for permission to act within the law.

Posted by: pundito | July 18, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Cops hate to be photographed because such can be used to charge them with crimes {Gee, same as politicians!} such as perjury and assault. Take the ongoing case in College Park; when multiple cops were videotaped beating a passerby; and others appear to have tried to destroy the evidence. Or the John Wynkoop case. Or several recent cases in NYC: The David London case where the victim disappeared before the trial, & Patrick Pogan, who was convicted in his unprovoked assault on a cyclist.

These are police who view themselves as above the law; and before citizen videos started catching them, routinely they were just that. They clearly resent being subject to the laws they've used against all of us. Their solution? Suppress the evidence.

The irony is, even when there *is* video evidence; cops seldom do any time. Pogan and London are walking away, the California officer who executed a prisoner in BART station got convicted on only manslaughter, and so forth.

Posted by: j_oper | July 18, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

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