War on Cameras

Lawsuit Declares War on the War on Photography

Philadelphia officers defied commissioner's orders to let citizens shoot police activity.

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One battle won, but the war wages on.
Reason

A Temple University student and his girlfriend are filing suit in Philadelphia in response to a completely inappropriate arrest in 2012 for photographing police. Police were arresting a neighbor, and Ian Van Kuyk, a photojournalism student, went over to take pictures. Police arrested him and Meghan Feighan for obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct.

The arrest became big news because a year before, the Philadelphia police commissioner, after these tactics were exposed by the media as common behavior, put out a memo that citizens were allowed to record the police. The couple was found not guilty of all charges and is now suing for assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that even though the police have gotten firm directives about the policy, there are still problems:

Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said some cops are not complying with the directive. The ACLU is suing the city in federal court for allegedly arresting people in retaliation for observing or photographing officers performing their duties.

In January, a police officer ordered a Daily News reporter to stop photographing an arrest outside a jewelry store at 8th and Chestnut streets. When asked for an explanation, the officer said that it was "police business" and that photos weren't allowed.

"We get those complaints," Roper said. "The department, I think, is slow to realize that just because they write something down doesn't mean all of the officers follow it."

As always, we recommend folks interested in these kinds of stories to follow the blog Photography Is Not a Crime. This month Carlos Miller has documented new incidents of police abusing citizens and journalists attempting to take pictures in Massachusetts and Baltimore. And for any newcomers who haven't yet read it, our Reason magazine feature on the War on Cameras from 2011 is available online here.

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