War on Cameras

Cops Detain Photographer Until They Realize the Incident Is Being Recorded


No, this isn't a photo shoot for Men's Combat Wear Daily.

When it comes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, this is not Shawn Nee's first rodeo. The Los Angeles Times reports that he is one of three photographers, along with the National Press Photographers Association, represented by the ACLU of Southern California in a lawsuit against the department over the detention and harassment of people taking pictures in public places. Now he has yet another opportunity to let deputies make themselves look foolish, having recorded an incident in which he was detained, accused of a shifting litany of crimes, and released only after officers discovered his camera was recording the encounter.

In an earlier incident, says the Times of the West:

Professional photographer Shawn Nee was detained and searched Oct. 31, 2009, for shooting images at newly installed turnstiles at the Metro Red Line's Hollywood and Western station. Nee told the deputy he was not doing anything illegal, but the deputy said the station was a terrorist target and that it was against Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules to take pictures there.

A video shows Deputy Richard Gylfie telling Nee: "Al Qaeda would love to buy your pictures, so I want to know if you are in cahoots with Al Qaeda to sell these pictures to them for terrorist purposes."

The deputy pushed Nee against a wall and lectured him about terrorism, the lawsuit alleges. He also told Nee that his name could be added to an FBI "hit list."

This time, in February 2012, Nee captures two deputies chatting up a couple of girls along Hollywood Boulevard. Perhaps having acquired a little hard-won cynicism from his earlier experiences, he had a camera clipped to his camera bag capturing video and audio independently of the device in his hand. That backup camera recorded the officers first ordering him to stop filming them. When he calmly declines, they switch tracks, telling him the girls they's talking to are minors and that he's being detained "because you're taking pictures of minors."

After that, in this game of legal multiple-choice, his crime becomes "you're supposed to carry ID at all times" — not true, in California, although police have been known to insist otherwise.

Anyway, Nee ends up in the back of a squad car as the deputies first describe him as a "retard," and then discuss taking and running his fingerprints — just moments before discovering his recording device clipped to the bag.

Asks a deputy, "it's like, recording or what?"

Why, yes. Yes it is. And off Nee goes, free after being held for 25 minutes.

Interestingly, Carlos Miller of Photography Is Not a Crime reports that Nee's backup camera was a Vievu. That's a wearable camera developed for law-enforcement agencies that "utilizes a Digital Signature process that marks each video with a digital hash certificate to prove that the video has not been altered. The Digital Signature process is FIPS 140-2 compliant. VidLock security prevents unauthorized access if the camera is lost or stolen."

Hmmm … Sounds handy, and unerasable.

Incidentally, Reason has thoroughly covered the thin blue line's war on cameras in a cover story as well as the video below. We've also offered guidance on technology that can ease the process of recording the police.

Update: And, of course, "7 Rules for Recording the Police."

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  1. This guy is my hero. And he’s probably going to be endlessly harassed by cops. Keep that camera runnin!

    1. And he’s probably going to be endlessly harassed killed by cops.


  2. How many of us know people, whose response to this will be, “He was asking for it, taking pictures of those cops when they told him not to.”?

    1. *Raises hand in disgust*

    2. I know at least two – both cops.

    3. Reminds me of the story my friend told me about how they were told to be careful taking pictures in East Germany. I’m so glad the right side won the Cold War.

    4. Me. Same bunch of people that said, when a bystander was killed when cops opened fire on a DUI suspect, that said bystander deserved to die because he was too stupid to duck.

  3. In the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck?”

  4. Keystone Kops, but dangerous in so many ways.

  5. You can’t take pictures of minors. But we can hit on them. These people are fighting a losing battle. The upside of everything being recorded is everything is recorded. Sorry assholes, your days of doing what you want and then lying about it later are over. The digital camera doesn’t recognize the blue wall of silence. Sucks to be you.

    1. But we can hit on them.

      John, they weren’t hitting on them, they were simply ‘questioning’ them, asking if they had seen anything ‘suspicious.’ Like someone taking pictures.

      1. And they took down their phone numbers just so they could reach them you know in case something comes up.

        1. See something, say something??

    2. I was riding Metro one evening and heard plainclothes Metro cops (I knew they were cops cause they had those nerd-ass badges on lanyards around their necks) bragging about frisking a 13-year-old girl. Not whispering, not talking in code – just out-and-out bragging about it in public. That’s how arrogant and sociopathic cops are.

      1. That is where you flip on your iphone and record it, without them knowing about it. Youtube is a wonderful thing.

      2. (DC Metro, not LA)

  6. One of the funny things is the idea that the LA Subway would be a target.

    1. Well if you are terrorist who wants to make a point but doesn’t want to hurt anyone, blowing up the LA Subway is really the perfect target.

  7. Whoa. $900 for that super secure cam. No wonder they market heavily to govt agencies.

    1. How long before people just record their every move via a tiny camera and thumb drive in your pocket? People are such exhibitionists these days. And certainly every helicopter parent would like to have a live feed of every place their little snowflake is. These guys are fucked. Every move they make is going to be recorded before very long. And the whole world will know what corrupt bastards they are.

      1. John, you might have a great new business opportunity.

        Put a camera on your kid, have it upload automatically to your servers, and then you can show the parents everything that happened.

        1. I would be surprised if that hasn’t already happened. Memory is so cheap these days. Put it on your kid and then check out what is happening at school or day care on a special website, like people do with those home cams on their dogs. All it would take is a small camera and a wireless internet connection.

          1. Wasn’t something similar in David Brin’s Earth? Old people wore glasses which recorded an image which was uploaded to a server in their home.

      2. If Youtube is any indicator, the Russkies all drive around with GoPros (or the Russkie counterfeit alternative) in their cars, recording every drive. From what I’ve read, it’s protection against the corrupt cops and obviously, eliminates the game about who hit who and whose fault it is.

  8. Next time I rob a bank, I’m going to get a cameraman to stand outside and film the nearby buildings. That ought to hold the cops off for a good 25 minutes.

    When DHS first sent out those memos stating filming in public is suspicious activity, how many cops at the morning meet up got that light bulb going off in their heads screaming, ‘hey, I’ve got a brand new reason to be an asshole!’

    All of them.

  9. These guys really seem to know what is going on, wow.


  10. Cops demonstrate on a daily basis that there is indeed a maximum IQ limit on recruitment.

    1. Sure, though in most cases it’s like munchkins doing the limbo under a 6m pole vault bar.

  11. I once was walking downtown and I saw a cop had pulled over this twenty-something chick, sounded like he had pulled her over for drunk driving or something. Anyway, I leaned against the building to watch what happened, and he started yelling at me that I was not allowed to stand there, it constituted loitering. So I left. Looking back on it, I wonder what would have happened if I refused to leave and kept watching him?

  12. When the police departments do the research they will find this product.
    Police body worn camera. http://www.martelelectronics.c…..amera.html

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