Long Beach Police Chief: Officers Can Detain Individuals for Aesthetically Questionable Photography

Long Beach Police Chief: Officers Can Detain Individuals for Aesthetically Questionable Photography

Sep 7, 2011

On June 30th, Sander Roscoe Wolff was detained by Long Beach Police Officer Asif Khan for photographing a refinery. Under Long Beach law, it’s apparently legal for officers to approach and detain photographers for not engaging in usual tourist behavior.

longbeach Long Beach Police Chief: Officers Can Detain Individuals for Aesthetically Questionable Photography
One of the aesthetically-questionable photos taken by Sander Roscoe Wolff.

On June 30th, Sander Roscoe Wolff was detained by Long Beach Police Officer Asif Khan after taking photographs of an oil refinery. It seems that under Long Beach law, it’s apparently legal for officers to approach and detain individuals taking photographs of particular structures not deemed typical tourist spots and with questionable “aesthetic value.”

Wolff was taking photographs of the Edgington Oil Refinery when Officer Khan approached, noting the various objects he’d been photographing.

According to the Long Beach Post (for whom Wolff is a contributor), Khan then asked for Wolff’s driver’s license, to which Wolff asked if he was required to provide the license. Khan said yes.

Wolff said that Khan ran a check on Wolff and returned, saying everything checked out. “He said because of Homeland Security and new laws, [the police] have the authority to ask for my driver’s license and run it when they feel that there’s cause.”

When they feel?

Apparently, LAPD’s Special Order No. 11 (established March 2008 and lauded by the Department of Homeland Security) allows police officers “to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism” (p. 39).

Within Special Order No. 11 lies the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which allows police to “to document any reported or observed activity, or any criminal act or attempted criminal act, which an officer believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism,” which would include “Tak[ing] pictures or video footage (with no apparent esthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.).”

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell has affirmed the legitimacy of the power used by Khan to detain Wolff.

This is absurdity of the highest order and amounts to pre-crime activity on the part of the Long Beach Police. Indeed, its sounds rather like a lost Monty Python sketch—”Art Talk Hour With Police Chief McDonnell.” If taking photographs can be deemed suspicious, then nearly anything can be interpreted as suspicious, giving the police the right to detain individuals in the interest of national security.

We might be doing well crippling Al Qaeda, but their actions on 9/11 are still reverberating through the usurpation of our civil liberties to this day and into the future.

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