Photographer Arrested for Taking Pictures of Cops

Radley Balko rounds up some links about a man who was arrested for taking photographs of police officers conducting their duties, including, amusingly, photographs of himself being harrased and arrested. (One wonders how he managed that, actually.)

Can someone explain to me how it can possibly be illegal to take photographs of police officers in public places? Certainly, it’s not illegal for police to take pictures of citizens in public places. Of the two, the latter strikes me as far more problematic.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. If they are uniformed cops, this will absolutely get thrown out of court. If he was endangering the life of an undercover cop, there might be a case, though even that is problematic. Maybe something like interfering with the police doing their duty.

  2. James Joyner says:


    The undercover thing had occurred to me but, frankly, if they’re so poorly under “cover” that yahoos with cameras know they’re cops, you’d think getting this pointed out to them by said yahoos would be a public service.

  3. Steve Verdon says:


    Follow the links please. He was taking pictures of uniformed cops. Unless the guy is lying through his teeth I can’t see how any of your scenarios apply. The only one that could hold out some possibility for the cops, maybe, is that the guy the cops were talking to was an undercover cop, but perhaps diplomacy would have been the better approach vs. goose-stepping all over this guys civil rights and person.

    This isn’t the only case of cops going after people publicly photographing/video taping them. And think about some of the things that have only been “caught and dealt with” because a citizen used a camera. The military polic officer who was shot by a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy in my neighborhood for….following the deputies commands. All caught and brought to light because of some concerned citizen’s video work.

  4. cirby says:

    Short summary?

    Those cops are screwed.

    Unless he was directly interfering with their duties, they can’t touch or threaten him for just taking photos.

    New Year’s Eve, 1999, I was out taking pictures, and a line of bicycle cops were waiting for things to start getting busy, so I got a neat shot of them leaning on their handlebars. A foot patrolman walked over to me and said, “you can’t take photos of police officers.”

    I informed him that he was wrong, and that he would probably get in trouble of he pushed things. So he got in my face. At about that point, his shift supervisor (someone I’d known for years) showed up and asked what the problem was. The officer said, “he’s taking pictures of policemen!”


    “So? So he can’t take pictures of cops! It’s against the law! Right?”

    The supervisor turned to me and told me he was sorry, and then turned and started telling the other guy, in no uncertain terms, what an idiot he was…

  5. Tano says:

    What I find of interest is how some conservatives can understand these issues on the personal level, but take the other side when the scale is larger.

    The police were exercising executive power. They feel an entitlement to exercise that power as they see fit, with concerns and laws regarding civil liberties as an annoyance to be ignored if at all possible.

    Standard operating procedure for the Bush administration over the past 6 years. The cops were just following their role model – one that so many conservatives spend a good chunk of their time apologizing for.

  6. Mikey NTH says:

    Tano, I see your point. It’s just like how the Bush Administration had the entire population of San Francisco arrested and roughed up for the crime of being liberal.

    They didn’t?

  7. legion says:

    It’s just like how the Bush Administration had the entire population of San Francisco arrested and roughed up for the crime of being liberal.

    You misspelled “New Orleans”….

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    The Bush Administration arrested all of New Orleans? Why how incompetent…they didn’t get Nagin. Sheesh.

  9. Sunhawk says:

    One thing to point out, the ‘journalist’ in question is a long standing member of Democratic Underground and is a known socialist agitator. I very much doubt that we are getting anywhere near the full story, just those bits and pieces that such an agitator and his friends are willing to release in an attempt to shape the reaction.

  10. Steve says:

    I have run into this situation many times for many years. Our company deals with organizations such as the NTSB and frequently photographs accident scenes for crash study purposes….ie, determining if the vehicles held up as per safety standards in crashes and determining structural integrity. Often, police will tell our photogs to leave, even when they are across the street and not within 500 feet. Tow truck drivers are bad about this also. Volunteer firemen seem to be the worst assuming they are the police and threatening with arrest. When are officials going to learn that it is perfectly legal to photograph anything that happens in public?