Greggory Moore, a Long Beach Post reporter who was detained for taking pictures last summer, has embarked on a mission to expose the unconstititional practices of local law enforcement agencies in how they deal with photographers.
His latest installment reveals that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies are trained to search photographers who are taking pictures in public, which is illegal (the patdown, not the photography).
Here is what Captain Steven Roller told Moore:
I’m going to make sure, just real quick, I’m going to do a non-invasive pat-down, okay? And now I’m sure this guy doesn’t have a weapon. Now I can kind of relax a bit and do the second part of this thing and find out why he’s taking pictures of the courthouse, okay? … If you ever read anything about training material, they always tell you after you make sure there’s no secreted weapons, then you always want to keep an eye on the hands. … But I know certainly that if I would have said, ‘Can I see some identification?’ that would have been too late. Because if I had said, ‘Can I see some identification?’ and you’re going to reach back and get your wallet out of your back pocket, that’s too late to suddenly say, ‘Oh, maybe I need to pat you down to make sure you don’t have a weapon,’ because you’re already going for the back pocket. That would have been too late.
First of all, there is no such thing as a “non-invasive patdown” when you have not committed a crime. In fact, there is no such thing as a non-invasive interrogation when you have not committed a crime.
The fact that the deputy wil insist on seeing your identification because you happen to be photographing a courthouse is a huge invasion of privacy.
The fact that he might think you will pull out a gun instead of a wallet is outright paranoia bordering on hysteria.
And paraoia is no excuse to commit illegal acts.
Peter Bibring, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, says that these practices by the Sheriff’s Department are illegal.
“The fact that [the Sheriff’s Department] might be following their training on counter-terrorism doesn’t give them license to violate the Constitution,” Bibring says. “Under the Fourth Amendment, police can only detain a person they have reason to believe is involved in criminal activity, and can only perform a pat-down on a person they have reason to believe is armed and dangerous. It’s ridiculous to think that merely taking photographs of a courthouse would give the police good reason to think you were involved in terrorism, much less or armed and dangerous. If deputies want to know more about why someone is taking pictures, they can always just walk up and ask. But they can’t detain or frisk the person without reason to believe there’s criminal activity involved.”
Like the Long Beach Police Chief Moore wrote about in August, the Los Angeles sheriff’s captain said his deputies are trained to judge the esthetic value of a photo before determining if the photographer is a potential terrorist.
Roller also confirmed that the aesthetics of the photographic subject is a criterion in determining whether a photographer’s activity is suspicious. “Look, I gotta tell you, [the current Long Beach] courthouse is not that attractive,” he said. “Now, the new one may be different; but the old one, it’s not attractive, okay? So, does that person [photographing the old courthouse] fit into the potential terrorist kind of thing? Well, let’s go check it out.”
You would hope that instead of sending officers and deputies to art appreciation classes as they are apparently doing, they should send them to classes in basic Constitutional law.