The Policeman as Art Critic

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Unbelievable:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.

McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incidentin which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of North Long Beach refinery.

“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says McDonnell, “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.

McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD’s “policy …  to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism.”

Among the non-criminal behaviors “which shall be reported on a SAR” are the usage of binoculars and cameras (presumably when observing a building, although this is not specified), asking about an establishment’s hours of operation, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” and taking notes.

Of course, taking photos with no aesthetic value usually does fall under “regular tourist behavior.” Also, this policy land everyone who uses Hipstamatic on death row.

Jokes, folks. From a guy who regularly takes photos as a tourist. Just lightening the mood. Because this has gotten so goddamned ridiculous.

(Link via commenter “Jay.”)

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

31 Responses to “The Policeman as Art Critic”

  1. #1 |  Mister DNA | 

    I have a friend who went to Trinity College in San Antonio, TX and for his photography class, he had to take a bunch of pictures of architectural structures. Since he knew all the other students would be taking photos in San Antonio, he decided to take his shots in Corpus Christi over the weekend.

    He pulled off Interstate 37 and was taking photos of one of the oil refineries (own by the Kochtopus, no less!) and the security guard at the gate called the cops on him. The cops didn’t make him delete the photos, but they told him he couldn’t take any more pictures.

    My friend’s dad is a lawyer and he was pissed. Not only at the cops, but at his son for not handling the situation properly.

    So, the moral of this story is… sometimes photographs of refineries do have aesthetic value… to people like college professors who teach photography.

  2. #2 |  Brian | 

    “The suspect made a furtive gesture, then took a photograph of several puppies dressed as sunflowers.”

  3. #3 |  Doctor Moreau | 

    Those puppies are likely being trained as part of a larger terrorist plot.
    They were all shot, and the officers given commendations for heroism.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I’m shocked, especially in light of the distinguished record that the Los Angeles police department has when it come to respecting people’s Constitutional rights. Hahaha! Just kidding.

  5. #5 |  Phelps | 

    Which part of the academy training covers art history?

    Because quite frankly, that’s an easy part of the budget to trim.

  6. #6 |  JS | 

    The local newspaper here sent out a reporter and cameraman to take a pic of the BP plant and not only the local cops came out but also the FBI.

  7. #7 |  karl | 

    Everyone’s a critic.

    The worst thing (for me) about this is the nagging suspicion that a good many people — though, I’m sure, nowhere near a majority — have no objections to the good chief’s policy.

  8. #8 |  MacGregory | 

    Cops as art critics. Why the hell not? They think they’re experts in everything else – psychiatry, medicine et al. Not to mention they are living, breathing lie detectors. Heard a WV State Trooper once say “just look at these people. They don’t need to be on pain killers.” Thank you Dr. Pig.

    I find the whole “we can tell when people are lying” thing to be comical as well, considering it’s being uttered by the biggest bunch of fucking liars on this planet.

  9. #9 |  Mister DNA | 

    As much as I wish harsh punishments on those who violate The Rule of Thirds, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s not the cop’s job.

  10. #10 |  Brandon | 

    You’re gonna feel like a dick when someone attacks a refinery with an RPG disguised as an SLR, Radley.

  11. #11 |  Donald | 

    I don’t line the idea of differing the the esthetic judgement of someone with a mustache who wears polyester costumes.

  12. #12 |  Jim March | 

    We ought to make the cops grab small stinging insects in their hands.

    After all, beauty is the in the eye of the bee holder.

    Ahem. Sorry.

    On a more serious note, what we have here is an extension of the “principle” that cops or other authorities can decide who is and is not a “journalist” worthy of full 1st Amendment press protections, including “edgy” stuff such as the protection of sources. We have, so far, let them get away with that. It’s only a small step from there to deciding who’s an “artist”.

  13. #13 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Seriously, did they even do this kind of shit back in the old Soviet Union?

  14. #14 |  FridayNext | 

    As someone involved with the field of public history, let me add that their are scholarly reasons to document architectural structures, even industrial ones. There is a whole field of industrial archeologists who are as dangerous as dancers at the Jefferson Memorial and just ripe for arrest.

  15. #15 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    I think you are all being too hard on the cops. They have a hard job to do – remember, they think everyone is out to kill them and make sure they don’t go home at the end of their shift, and people taking pictures are the worst of all.

  16. #16 |  Mister DNA | 

    Crap. I just went to the link and read the comments.

    There’s some hardcore bootlicking going on there.

  17. #17 |  croaker | 

    @13 Actually, they were much worse. Take a picture of the wrong thing (people standing in line for bread) and the Army would drag you off to prison.

  18. #18 |  Frank Hummel | 

    Warning, racist comment.

    Asif Kahn detains Sander Roscoe Wolff for suspicion of terrorist activities. How ironic is that?

  19. #19 |  Ben | 

    “Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Wolff. I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off photos, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?”

  20. #20 |  freebob | 

    “Sander Roscoe… regular contributor to Long Beach Post” “officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience””
    I’m sure as Roscoe was explaining to the officer that he’s a member of the press, the officer was using his ‘overall training and experience’ to explain he’s just following orders.

    @14: Don’t you know we are living in the End Times, we no longer need to document things for future generations.

  21. #21 |  Henry Bowman | 

    Seriously, did they even do this kind of shit back in the old Soviet Union?

    Yes, they did. I spent quite a bit of time in the old USSR, and I took a lot of photos. But, we were very explicitly warned not to take photos of military installations, etc. For the most part, though, those were moot points, as our travels were rather closely monitored: we didn’t come anywhere near anything that was sensitive.

    The fact that the US has morphed into the USSR does not make me happy.

  22. #22 |  smeghead | 

    Because this has gotten so goddamned ridiculous.
    No doubt!

  23. #23 |  Mister DNA | 

    “Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Wolff. I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off photos, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?”

    +1 Creedence tape

  24. #24 |  Bronwyn | 

    @ Mister DNA

    It’s Trinity University in San Antonio (class of ’99) :)

  25. #25 |  Maria | 

    Don’t tell Jim McDonnell about Google earth or Google street view… or telephoto lenses.

    I personally love the look of factories and industrial equipment, especially power generation. I guess my portfolio of industrial, wind, and oil and gas works is now aiding and abetting terrorism? Do I need to take my flickr account down in case some guy in a cave (in Afghanistan or in Utah, take your pick) decides to check them out?

    Also, why do these cops always think that the photographer strolling around the front gate with their obvious camera is the suspicious terrorist? It’s 2011, have they not heard of smart phones and pocket cameras? Hell, there are phones out there with higher resolution then my old Nikon.

    I’ve always thought that if someone really wanted to do surveillance for nefarious reasons they’d do it while strategically hidden and with something above a 300mm. Or pretend they are texting on their smart phone. I guess I have read too many spy novels and figure they wouldn’t want to be noticed. What the hell do I know about all this crazy, complex “protection biznes” stuff anyways, I just live here.

  26. #26 |  Mannie | 

    ” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

    In other words, based only on their general mood of thuggishness.

    #8 | MacGregory | August 14th, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    I find the whole “we can tell when people are lying” thing to be comical as well, considering it’s being uttered by the biggest bunch of fucking liars on this planet.

    It takes one to know one?

  27. #27 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    My buddy from the future says that the Camera Registration Act of Jan 2014 resulted in all photographs being instantly uploaded to the Homeland Security RaPicScan database. This prevents people from taking pics of naked kids or strategic buildings. In Feb 2014 a state agent was put on paid leave for downloading 13,000 pics of boobs.

    When does the state decide all people are threats and must be eliminated? Didn’t this plot happen like 1,000 times on Star Trek and other SciFi shows?

  28. #28 |  JS | 

    Maria “Also, why do these cops always think that the photographer strolling around the front gate with their obvious camera is the suspicious terrorist?”

    They don’t really. Terrorism is just an excuse. Since the Rodney King beating in the 80’s conventional wisdom among police has been that the guy with the camera is your enemy.

  29. #29 |  varmintito | 

    As an occasional industrial archaeologist (wow, that sounds so much fancier than “guy who thinks abandoned factories look interesting”), this approach to crime-fighting is absurd.

    1. Chemical plants, with their tangles of pipes, catwalks, and scale, have obvious aesthetic appeal, especially when a refinery running at full capacity burns off waste gas at night. I also offer the climactic scene in “White Heat” where Jimmy Cagney flees the cops at a refinery, then goes out in a blaze of glory.

    2. Most pictures tourists take have far more personal than aesthetic appeal. Not much market among the artsy-fartsy types for pictures of your kids eating cotton candy on the line for Space Mountain. Grandma likes them, though.

  30. #30 |  EJ | 

    Somebody should have told Ridley Scott that refinery had no aesthetic value before he went and used it for the opening shot of Blade Runner.

  31. #31 |  Steve | 

    Lots of bootlicking indeed over there. We can clearly see that some people actually believe the propaganda that says “there’s a terrorist hiding behind every dumpster.”

Leave a Reply