A man who was taking pictures in a public park was confronted by police and told he was not allowed to take photos in the area.
The incident occurred last week in Mark O’Malley Park in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The man identified only as “Joe” in the Bostonist article said he spent ten minutes taking photos of the Tobin Bridge and the boats and docks in the area. When he stepped into his car to drive off, two police cars blocked him in.
Joe says that the two officers got out of their patrol cars and began questioning him aggressively about what he was doing. Joe explained the situation to the officers. The officer explained to him that he was being stopped for taking photos and that the area is “under heavy surveillance” and that “photographing was not allowed” since it is a “protected area.”
The Chelsea police officers asked for his ID and credentials to prove he was a photographer, as if the camera wasn’t proof enough. The only thing credentials prove is that you are affiliated with a media company. Credentials have no bearing on whether you are allowed to take photos in public.
The officers then told him he had to delete the photos, which he did because he felt he had no choice.
Afterwards, Joe filed a complaint with internal affairs who assured him they would look into it. And if you believe that, then I have a bridge in Chelsea I’d like to sell you. The Tobin Bridge. Just be sure you don’t photograph it.
Police also told him he should call the police department and obtain permission before taking pictures at the park.
I’m sure nobody asked Chelsea taxpayers permission to use their money to fund these cops’ salaries.
Meanwhile, Photographer is Not a Crime reader Jeff Furner came across the Bostonist story and was so enraged, he fired off an email to Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes. He even received a response. Of course the chief’s response was laden with references to photographers being terrorists.
Here is Furner’s email:
I read recent coverage where an photographer was told that he was not allowed to take pictures in Mary O’Malley Park (http://bostonist.com/2009/04/01/america_land_of_the_free.php) , and then was pressured into deleting photos from his camera. I am sure you are aware that there is no provision in the Patriot Act, and very few in other other statutes, that prohibits or limits photography while a public place. So, the report that a Chelsea LEO advised a
citizen that he was not allowed to photograph because the park is a “Protected area” was troubling to me. If this story is accurate, the LEO clearly violated the citizen photographer’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment. I would be curious to know if your LEO actually believed there is a law, Patriot Act or otherwise, that limits photography in such circumstances, or did he go too far in his command presence to get the outcome that he wanted, i.e. the photographer stopping his photography and deleting his pictures.
I am enclosing a PDF that outlines what is legal to photograph and where. I hope that this will encourage a better understanding of photographers and their rights under the law. I hope that it will also help to dispel the stereotype that photographers might be terrorists that has been perpetuated in our culture. Photography has not played a significant role in terrorism, and certainly any terrorist would not be using a large SLR camera. Instead, it seems to me they would likely get the information off the internet or use a cell phone or very small point and shoot camera to avoid detection. Indeed, terrorists have probably used cell phones more than cameras to facilitate their horrific crimes. So, perhaps we should be questioning people with cell phones instead. Of course, both scenarios equally absurd, as number of
photographers/cell phone users questioned/detained/arrested needed to prevent a crime, would be so great it would be wasting LE resources that could be used elsewhere.
I would suggest that your officers be briefed on a photographer’s constitutional rights and that the Patriot Act does not limit photography. Also, to let LEO’s know that photography alone should not be reason to suspect someone of a crime or planning one.
I thank you for your time in considering my opinion and concerns.
Jeff Furner, RN, EMT-P, BSHA
And here is Chief Kyes response:
Good Morning Jeffrey:
Thank you for taking the time to submit this important information. It appears to be extremely helpful.
We are certainly not in the practice of having photographers delete of destroy their pictures. Such a practice serves no legitimate purpose. As you know these are challenging times in which we live in our country. We as law enforcement officers are charged with the responsibility of balancing the rights of our citizens as guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights against being vigilant as it pertains to fortifying our homeland security especially as it pertains to vulnerable targets such as the LNG Tank docked in Everett off of the Chelsea Waterfront.
I appreciate you taking the time to express your concerns. Please rest assured that our Officers are updated on a continual basis on the importance of maintaining this balance.
Chief Brian Kyes