DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights

To settle a right-to-photograph lawsuit filed by an aspiring photojournalist and the ACLU, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has issued a general order stating that “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record [DC police officers] in the public discharge of their duties.”

The order instructs police not to interfere with anyone photographing police activity as long as the photographer is standing in a public setting or private facility where they have the right to be, and as long as they are not interfering with police activity.

The order also reminds police that still and video photography “of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities.” And it spells out the limited terms and conditions under which police can seize recordings for evidence.

For photographers and civil rights activists fighting what they perceive as a rising tide of police intimidation and interference against photographers nationwide, the order represents progress. It follows closely a blueprint for police policy to protect the rights of photographers that the US Department of Justice issued earlier this year.

The DOJ blueprint was directed at the Baltimore Police Department, which is being sued for unlawfully seizing, searching and deleting the contents of a citizen’s cell phone after he used it to record police officers making an arrest. The Baltimore Police Department subsequently issued an order declaring that citizens had the right to photograph police activity. But the DOJ said the Baltimore order didn’t go far enough to protect photographers’ (and citizens’) rights because it wasn’t specific enough.

The order issued last week by the Washington DC police department follows the DOJ blueprint almost to the letter, spelling out citizens’ constitutional rights, providing explanations and examples of legal activity and limited exceptions.

The lawsuit lodged against DC police was similar to the case in Baltimore. Jerome Vorus, a student and aspiring photojournalist, began photographing a traffic stop in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC in June, 2010. Police officers told him he was not allowed to photograph, and detained him for half an hour. With help from the ACLU, Vorus sued police for violating his rights. Vorus and the ACLU dropped the claim last week after police agreed to issue the order protecting the right of citizens who photograph the police.

The case in Baltimore, meanwhile, is still pending.

Related stories:
Department of Justice Warns Police Agains Violating Photographers’ Rights
Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest
Police Intimidation Watch: Photographer Sues Long Island Police Department
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer

Tags: , , , , ,

4 Responses to “DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights”

  1. Tek Says:

    What about in cases where a large amount of amateur (aka kids with SLRs) photographers actually contributes to unlawful behavior? I think the police should have the right to stop photography if it’s encouraging a kind of behavior. Take for example the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots. In any of the crowd footage of violence you can clearly see at least 1/3 of all those involved acting as “photographers” and those who were causing trouble were more than happy to pose for pictures. I’d venture to say that without the photography at that incident the level of damage would have decreased, since there would have been nobody to document their “achievements” in vandalism.

  2. Dave Says:

    Did you not read the article or it’s contents Tek? If you had, you would see where that issue is addressed.

    But, because we all know your a skimmer and won’t bother going back, the section that addresses your question is:

    “…and as long as they are not interfering with police activity.” What you describe is interfering with police activity.

  3. Oakley Gascan Sunglasses Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m an upcoming webdeveloper and I enjoy your posts but I still have a lot to learn

  4. Article: Blog Archive » DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights « I Am Locutus of Borg Says:

    […] Blog Archive » DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights http://pdnpulse.com/2012/07/dc-police-department-issues-order-affirming-photographers-rights.html#.U… […]