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Police Policy on ‘No Apparent Esthetic Value” Creates Concern Over Photographer’s Rights

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We’ve been on something of a crime bent all morning, so we’re going to keep the ball rolling in that direction. Hot off the heals of Grant Smith‘s protest for photographers’ rights back in May, and an increasingly heightened awareness of potential civil liberty issues over the harassment of photographers by government officials, the Long Beach Police Department has recently become the center of attention in this particular fight. Following a rather tame incident in the city in late June, wherein a photographer was questioned by a police officer over taking photos of an oil refinery, the Long Beach Post reports that a spokesman for the department told the paper that it is within their policy to detain photographers for taking photos “with no apparent esthetic value.” That policy has reportedly been adapted from the Los Angeles Police Department‘s 2008 explanation of their Special Order #11, which was set to prevent terrorist attacks in the compiling of “Suspicious Activity Reports” and includes the same “with no apparent esthetic value” line. And therein lies the rub. According to a post by PDN Pulse, they read this as another possibly front against photographer’s first amendment rights, by demanding that the police serve as art critics, profiling photographers as possible ne’er-do-wells based simply on their tastes in making a photo. The comments on PDN’s post are perhaps the most telling, with some saying it’s in the public’s best interest to have the police keep an eye on people photographing things that might be potential targets, and others arguing that if photograph what’s in public view gives authorities the right to not only question but detain, what’s to stop the line from getting redrawn again until you’re ultimately only able to photograph authorized things? Certainly an interesting new angle to this ongoing struggle.

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