Cops Stop Photogs over Subjects of “No Apparent Esthetic Value”

When constabulary duty’s to be done in Long Beach, California, police officers have a lot on their plates: arresting robbers and cut-throats, ticketing speeders…and being art critics.

That’s right: according to the Long Beach Post, the city’s police chief has “confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures ‘with no apparent esthetic value’ is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.”

The issue arose after a Long Beach police officer detained Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident, artist and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, for taking pictures of a local oil refinery. Wolff was released after the officer ran a check on his driver’s license.

The Long Beach Post reported the incident on June 30, shortly after it happened. In a follow-up story that appeared today, the paper quoted the police chief explaining that when “an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery, it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.”

The protocol arises from the Los Angeles Police Department’s “Special Order No. 11″ from 2008, which spells out a policy for gathering information about activities–including non-criminal ones–that “could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism.”

Police are instructed under the policy to write up “suspicious activity reports” for a variety of activities, including taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent aesthetic value,” and taking notes.

The police chief told the Post that police judge aesthetic value of photographers’ subjects “based on their overall training and experience.” The police chief also said that officers will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

So if you’re committing art photography in Long Beach, you might try licking an ice cream cone while you’re at it.

22 Responses to “Cops Stop Photogs over Subjects of “No Apparent Esthetic Value””

  1. Cops Stop Photogs over Subjects of “No Apparent Esthetic Value” | Global Community of Photography Says:

    […] TweetCONTINUE READING TO SOURCE Cops Stop Photogs over Subjects of “No Apparent Esthetic Value” […]

  2. btezra Says:

    live by the golden rule, treat others ad you would want to be treated

    if other people, and I mean everyone, followed this rule things would be good, but on both sides there are people who’s mission is to simply provoke…and it’s those people who have prompted an overreaction.

    if asked simply explain, if you’ve got something to hide, well that’s on you, explain you’re simply making photographs…if you are on the other side of the camera, well, don’t be an ass an provoke an emotional response by a fotog, be respectful and vigillent against anyone who actually might be a threat

    I’m willing to give up a lil freedom, be questioned about my doings respectfully in return for treating me & my camera like we’re not a immediate threat

    You gotta give to get, right?

  3. Sjiloh Says:

    We do have people in our country that are not taking pictures for their artistic properties. If you were questioned and let go big deal. Let police offices do their job and quit complaining because you quiet possibly could have been a bad guy that he stopped. We can’t tell good from bad anymore which is very sad.

  4. m@ Says:

    Makes sense. It’s easy to read past the author’s emotional stance in this article and grab the actual facts. I could see how photographing a refinery could appear to be ‘casing out a job’. I think the article could have more of the reaction with readers like the writer intended if they had written it from an unbiased position. Then, you’d see readers choosing a side to the argument. Still, I like the last line…”if you’re committing art photography…” :)

  5. Jim Says:

    It all depends on how the police approach you. If they stop and ask what you’re doing with civility, then I doubt any reasonable photographer would have any problems explaining their project. If the police treat you as though you’re a criminal from the start and assume a stance of “guilty until proven innocent”, its another thing entirely.

  6. Scott Says:

    Photography is not a crime! Taking photographs from public places is not a suspicious activity or a crime period.

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  8. Jeff Says:

    Oh please, seriously now…. Taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” falling within order #blah blah blah. So I suppose if this person had been photographing a gal in a bikini [in front of the refinery] then there would have been an “esthetic” value? Seriously, as someone said above, we can’t seem to tell good from bad and this is indeed very sad.

  9. Gary Seven Says:

    It’s a shame that no one knows how to spell in the comments. They don’t even try.

  10. lara Says:

    i have to agree with scott, photography is not a crime. to give police the right to make aesthetic decisions because there just might be a nefarious reason for the photography is just another erosion of personal freedoms which can lead to more abuse of police power. what’s next? keeping me from photographing a beach because there might be an oil rig in the background? or the policeman doesn’t see the aesthetic value of people having fun? will i have to explain why i am photographing people on public property just in case of whatever? ridiculous.

  11. Don Says:

    The terrorists have won.

  12. Bo Says:

    treat others ad you would want to be treated

    Then I’d be giving blowjobs all day long.

  13. dbltapp Says:

    Hey – I’m a sleezy terrorist.
    And I ‘m tired of being treated like a photographer!!!

  14. shel Says:

    Cop: what are you doing photographing this refinery?
    Photog: photographing this refinery.
    Cop: why?
    Photog: because it’s interesting and photogenic . . . and because I simply can’t tell a lie, I’m casing the joint for stealing some piping later this week.
    Cop: that’s a lot of bother, why don’t you just go to Google Earth?
    Photog: why didn’t I think of that?
    Cop: that’s why I’m on the public payroll sir

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  16. Police Policy on ‘No Apparent Esthetic Value” Creates Concern Over Photographer’s Rights - UnBeige Says:

    […] the same “with no apparent esthetic value” line. And therein lies the rub. According to a post by PDN Pulse, they read this as another possibly front against photographer’s first amendment rights, by […]

  17. Jim M Says:

    The Supreme Court has extended first amendment rights to photography. It has also ruled that, except for very limited circumstances, you first amendment rights allow you to photograph anything that is publically visible as long as you are on public property. There is no criteria for aesthetic value of a photograph any more than there is for a newspaper article. The Long Beach police certainly know this or certainly should.

    Photography is not a threat to our freedoms and safety any more than a free press is. In fact, it helps protect our safety and freedom just as a free press does. People who do not understand this are ignorant of both history and of current events. Those who say they are willing to give up a little freedom to be safe are simply stupid.

  18. Jim M Says:


  19. Thom Gourley Says:

    What? WHAT??? This is simply outrageous! Aesthetics be damned! How dare anyone dicate to me how to make art.

  20. tim bell Says:

    One of my loves as a photographer is Urban Landscape. As such I am “checked on” often by police especially near infrastructure. 99% of the time the exchange is civil and pleasant and I appreciate the “eyes” (except when the light is rapidly shifting!). I understand and respect what they’re doing and they me.

  21. Danny Milktoast Says:

    “live by the golden rule, treat others ad you would want to be treated”

    I agree. I also like to be slapped, whipped, and stepped on by dominant people in leather.

    “if you’ve got something to hide, well that’s on you”

    Again, I agree. That’s why I believe warrantless late night searches of random homes—-including strip/body-cavitiy searches of the occupants is needed. This could reduce drug trafficking, stop terrorists cold, and make us all safer. What’s giving up a little freedom in exchange for theoretical security? Sure, it’s a little embarrassing, but if you have nothing to hide what’s a little discomfort in the name of safety. It’s for the children.

    Surely everyone knows by now that there is tons of evidence that terrorists photograph future targets. Just one reason is because they don’t have access to Google street view.

  22. lara Says:

    Some of you are just overreacting. In a post 9/11 world, things have changed. Deal with it.

    @ the blog author – your final sentence seems to show that you did no research for your post, you just reacted from your emotions, or you are trying to illicit a laugh.

    Let’s remember, it’s not all about my rights, it’s about protecting everyone’s freedom. Please wake up.

    @ Mr. Milktoast, your sarcasm resembles buffoonery.

    Long Beach is a very major port in the country, and as such, it is more vulnerable to suspicious activity. If the police find it useful to ask photographers what they are doing and to question it, there is probably a logical reason behind it. On the other hand, if they are harassing you, do something about it. Merely questioning someone is not harassment.

    Check out this article, which might help all of us understand the situation of our nations ports, and why it’s important to protect them. Yes, the police are part of the protection team. Get used to it. If you lived in other countries, you would soon see how many freedoms we take for granted, on a daily basis.