New York City Police Department Issued Memo On Photographers Rights…Finally

Photography Is Not A Crime. Right?

Photography Is Not A Crime. Right?

In a memo handed down to New York City Police precincts on Wednesday, the Chief of Department, Philip Banks, reminded his staff that photographers do indeed have the right to photograph on duty police officers. This comes two long years after the Washington DC police force issued a strikingly similar notice to its officers. It also follows the tragic death of a Staten Island man that was killed after being placed in a chokehold by a member of the NYPD. The memo instructs police officers to not interfere or interrupt photographers unless the are explicitly interfering with operations being performed by the officers.

“Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment.”

Hopefully, the memo will help cut down on illegal and unconstitutional arrests and interventions of photographers. It’s not to say, however, that photographers have been given free rein over the city. Photographers are encouraged to be respectful when photographing officers and do not (unintentionally or otherwise) try to prevent the officers from performing their duties. It’s helpful to know what your rights are as a photographer to avoid unnecessary legal conflict.

The image above was taken in 2009 when NYC photographer Steven Kelley and a friend were practicing their street photography. The officer stopped the pair and they were asked to present the officers with ID before 6 additional NYPD seargants showed up. Kelley was asked to voluntarily go to the precint where he met a line of questioning from two detectives before being released a couple hours afterwards. Hopefully, the measure will also help to prevent these sorts of detainments.

Image credit: Photography Is Illegal by Steven Kelley on Flickr Creative Commons.

[ via SLR Lounge | New York Daily News ]

  • Shifty303

    You’d think an officer of the law would know the constitution and the rights of citizens…..

    • a person

      They do, they just find the Constitution to be an annoyance.

      • David Lewis

        Not all officers are jerks… In fact, I’ve found that most aren’t.

        If you find yourself in a situation like the one pictured above, it is a good idea to ask if you are free to go (this determines whether you are being seized or not which is governed by the 4th amendment) this will help the officer think about what he/she is doing. If you are being seized it is a good idea to ask why you are being seized (this establishes whether the police officer has probable cause or not). That being said, it is not a good idea to interfere regardless of whether the police officer is in the right or the wrong.

        We aren’t (for the most part) legal professionals here, and we don’t have all the time in the world to bring a complaint against the force through the legal system. That being said, your probably not going to end up in jail for taking pictures from the sidewalk, but you don’t want to stir up a hornets nest either.

        Edit: I should mention that I am not a lawyer and cite my source. the information contained it the second paragraph mostly came from the ACLU, who I don’t agree with politically, but they do give sound legal advise.
        My last paragraph is my personal observation and advise as a fellow photographer.

        • surferpl

          “the second paragraph mostly came from the ACLU, who I don’t agree with politically, but they do give sound legal advise (sic).” So, like Rush Limbaugh, you don’t like the ACLU but you *value* them and will turn to them as a source of help. And… Why don’t you like them again?