Police Action in Petworth with Officer No-Photo

petworth police actionFor all the lead-foot morning commuters on New Hampshire Avenue NW, this is your final warning. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour, and no matter if you think that’s too slow or not, these two DC MPD will issue you a speeding ticket.

They were at Sherman Avenue this morning, promising also to be on New Hampshire above Grant Circle, and will be ready to ruin Speed Racer mornings all week long. The cops are more than happy to give speeding drivers a sloooow ticket writing experience, hefty fines, and points on a license.

I’m am happy for the police presence in Petworth, and I’m also happy they’re cracking down on the New Hampshire Avenue raceway, but I wasn’t happy with the response to photographing their speeding ticket sidewalk scene.

See the grinning on the officer in the florescent vest? The one on the right in the photo above? When I said I was going to photograph him pulling over a speeder, a celebration of good police work in my neighbourhood, he wasn’t happy any more. He said that the act of pulling a driver over was a “police action” and photography wasn’t allowed.

Whoa! Apparently Officer No-Photo didn’t know who he was talking to, and didn’t realize that photography in public, and especially photography of law enforcement officers in action, in public, is a well documented First Amendment right.

So while I love the police presence, and enjoy watching this police action every morning, Officer No-Photo needs to brush up on his 1st Amendment rights. Photography is free on our streets, nationwide.

If he’s there tomorrow, and I’m not in my own rush to work, I’ll stop and give him a photographer’s rights refresher.

18 Comments so far

  1. poo poo (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 9:28 pm

    dude, pick your battles.
    email commander groomes or someone, and instruct them to educate their officers.

    leave the pettiness to someone else.

    these folks are not officers because they dropped out of law school or some medical program.

    talk to someone that can actually educate officers on a mass level.

    arguing with the seemingly friendly officers when they don’t want to be photographed is just one big hassle.

    deal with their superiors, and cc the washingtonpost while your at it.

    just my two bits.

  2. wayan (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 10:00 pm


    I do pick my battles. The officer on the left had no issue with photography. In fact, he invited me to photograph all I wanted as long as I didn’t get in the way. A request that is not only respectful and one that I happily would obey, its also consistent with Supreme Court rulings on First Amendment rights.

    Its Officer No-Photo who doesn’t seem to understand what’s protected Free Speech and what’s not.

  3. DC Blonde (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 7:10 am

    What a great idea. Let’s all give them a refresher course on the laws of free photography. It doesn’t matter that we’ll be wasting the time that they could be using to catch someone speeding! I agree, pick your battles. Get that chip off your shoulder.

  4. xian (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 7:51 am

    Same here – is this a battle really worth fighting? Did you really feel oppressed? Should we hold a rally and hand out ribbons? Or, better yet, ribbon magnets! “I support my First Ammendment(tm) right to take pictures of inane crap whenever and wherever I want” Was it worth making what seems like an otherwise decent guy look like a dick on the Internet?

  5. wayan (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 8:13 am

    Xian & DC Blonde,

    So you’re against people photographing “police actions” in their own neighbourhood?

    If they were undercover cops, or if they were hiding and my shutter bugging would have exposed them, I would respect that. But traffic cops on a public street? Please!

    DC police CCTV us indiscriminately, yet you don’t think citizens should have the right to turn the cameras around?

    Maybe you should ask Rodney King or Carlos Miller about police photography censorship first.

  6. xian (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 8:31 am

    Wow, glad you didn’t fall on that slippery slope there, Wayan. Rodney King!? Wow. I totally see the similarities here. You’re so lucky they didn’t taze your ass you urban rebel you!

    And Carlos Miller was *arrested*. That’s oppression. Do you think this guy would have arrested you? It didn’t sound like it from your post. In fact, it sounded like his partner probably would have told him to lighten up if he tried. Remember, nobody is disagreeing with you that the cop was wrong – including his partner.

    So you wanted to take a picture of someone getting a speeding ticket. Why? For those of us who have never gotten one to see what it looks like? What’s the point? You said it yourself – two traffic cops on the street. Who Cares?

    Why didn’t you talk to the officer about Carlos Miller’s case? You were planning on waiting around for them to catch a speeder, so you apparently had time. Did you just assume he would have thrown you in jail for being educated, or did you just think ‘stupid cop oppressed me this morning’ was a better post topic than ‘cops cracking down on speeders in Petworth’. If so, I agree – if you had actually been oppressed. As it is, there’s the choice between ‘whiney guy w/ a camera has run-in w/ uninformed cop’ or ‘cops go after speeders’ – neither of which is very interesting.

    Mountains, molehills…

  7. Don (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 9:35 am

    I love it when people spend five minutes writing about how what you’re talking about doing is a waste of time.

  8. Wayan (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 9:46 am

    True that Don. Though Xian did make me laugh at his commentary, even if I disagree that this is a molehill.

    Its offhand arrogant comments like “this is a police action – no photography allowed” that can drive a wedge between the populace and the police.

  9. Chip Py (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

    I have to agree with Wayan. If he has time to let the cop know, then he should.

    But then what would I know about these things.

    Chip Py
    Silver Spring MD

  10. Mike Licht (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

    Wayan: Be sure to text us when you get pulled over for speeding –we’ll take your photo and run it on the web.

    I think the cop didn’t want to humiliate the speeders, just ticket ’em. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.

  11. Tiff (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

    That may be a fair point, Mike Licht, but if that’s the case, it’s not so hard for the officer to say in a conciliatory fashion, “Look, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take photos while we’re pulling people over… we’re not trying to publically embarass anyone here,” rather than trying to forbid something he has no right to forbid.

    At that point, Wayan could accept that explanation and agree not to take photos, he could position himself to capture the cops (which appears to be more or less the end result here), but not the motorist, or he could reject the request entirely and take his photos anyway (which comes back to the “within your rights, but still kind of a dick move” debate we had earlier this summer).

    But it doesn’t do anyone’s civil liberties any good when the man with the gun and the power to arrest you tells you that you can’t do something that is a constitutionally-protected right.

  12. Max Edison (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

    “Who cares?” I care, and so do all good Americans. If that cop doesn’t like it, he can go back to North Korea or Cuba or wherever he is from and intimidate people there. Not only is photographing a police action illegal, I would maintain that it is mandatory. What is he afraid of, except fear itself?

  13. Wayan (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 4:17 pm


    I assume you mean “photographing a police action legal” not illegal.

  14. Wayan (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 4:23 pm


    You’re right. Had the cop said “Look, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take photos while we’re pulling people over… we’re not trying to publically embarass anyone here,”

    I would have laughed, accepted his point, and skipped out on taking the photo of him pulling someone over. I didn’t care about the driver – its the action of pulling over a speeder that I wanted to celebrate.

    Wait, lets make that really clear I wanted to celebrate the traffic cops work.

    My goal was to have a big splashy photo of DC MPD pulling over a car so I could write a “Take That Petworth Lead Foot Drivers!”

    While that might not have excited Xian, it does excite those of us who dodge 45+ mph drag racers. But instead, I get an arrogant MPD response, tarnishing my impression of my city’s police.

  15. Mike Licht (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

    The policy for officers when dealing with credentialed members of the press is on the MPDC web site (sorry I don’t have the URL right now – it is a PDF). As you report it the officer followed the stated policy to the letter – he was a professional and treated you like one, even though you don’t mention displaying credentials.

  16. KCinDC (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 9:49 am

    The stated policy is to say that photographing police actions is not allowed, Mike?

  17. Wayan (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 10:18 am

    Now having a stated policy that photography is not allowed is even more troubling than an officer saying “no photography”, Mike. I sure hope you are referring to press trying to cover a crime scene and not the situation I am referring to – traffic police operating in a fully public area.

  18. Don (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 11:28 am

    I don’t know where Mike has been getting his information but he’s stating something in complete opposition to the department’s written policies, viewable here.

    There’s several sections that could apply but the likely section here is at the end. (p8 of link)

    (emphasis mine)

    VIDEO TAPING – News media members may photograph or videotape police officers performing their official duties. Officers will not physically block or cover the lenses of cameras or video taping equipment. Members in accordance with General Order 204.1 will not assist nor hinder camerapersons at scenes. Members will not bring the media into private residences as part of a crime scene or police raid. COURTS HAVE RULED THAT MEMBERS MAY BE HELD LIABLE TO CIVIL SUIT FOR SUCH ACTIONS.

    There’s several sections talking about the release of information to the press, and when that’s appropriate, however even then the only people who are spelled out to be shielded are victims (p4 of the above linked document). So if they stop someone who struck a pedestrian Wayan would be free to photograph anyone, including the victim, however the police guidelines may prevent them from telling Wayan any information they gather about the victim.

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