Police: We can detain photographers if we feel their photographs have no aesthetic value

There is a war going on right now across the United States. We don’t hear much about it unless you follow people like Thomas Hawk or Carlos Miller, both of whom write about this subject a lot; but the war that is being waged is between the police and photographers; both professionals and amateurs alike.

The latest skirmish is happening in Long Beach, California, where police have decided that they are the only ones who can decide if your photographs are of “aesthetic value” or not.

Apparently the way it works is if a police officer sees you photographing something that they don’t think has any aesthetic value they can detain you.

Long Beach Post has the story of Sander Roscoe who was taking the picture you see above when he was detained by Officer Asif Kahn and was asked to produce his driver’s licence.

Officer Kahn did not reply to repeated attempts to contact him in order to determine what was in his mind when he allegedly detained Wolff; and the LBPD Public Information Office referred pertinent questions to Anderson.

According to Anderson, Kahn claims that Wolff complied with Kahn’s request to see his license, and that it was unnecessary for him to compel Wolff to do so — a version of events Wolff flatly contradicts. “I absolutely asked him if showing him my license was necessary,” Wolff says, “which is when he gave me his little spiel about Homeland Security [allowing Kahn to detain Wolff under the circumstances].”2

Anderson reports that Kahn asserts Wolff denied being a reporter, which Wolff says is untrue. “I never denied being a reporter,” Wolff says. “He never asked me about being a reporter. He asked me why I was taking pictures, and I told him that I was an artist.”

Regarding whether Kahn felt Wolff’s behavior gave him “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” Anderson initially replied, “I never asked [Kahn] that question.”

AS an update to the original story Police Chief Jim McDonnell was quoted as saying:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department policy.

Feel that shiver running up your spine?