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.

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