Photo by JGrindal/Flickr

A Houston police officer ordered a photographer to delete his pictures or go to jail Tuesday afternoon.

But the photographer, who goes by JGrindal on Flickr, was not intimidated.

According to his Flickr post, he was waiting for his wife to leave work when he noticed three cop cars had pulled a blue Mustang over and had arrested its driver. He stood on the sidewalk and started taking photos.

Then an Officer Hudson told him he was not allowed to take photos.

I noted to him that I was in a public place and was simply photographing the scene, that if I was in any way impeding his work, I would be glad to comply with his orders, but otherwise I would continue about my business. He insisted that I was disrupting his work by taking photos as he “doesn’t want his picture taken.”

He noted that the scene was an active police investigation and that I would have to 1) stop taking photos and 2) delete the photos which I had taken. I politely refused, stating that I was in my full rights to take the photos, and that I intended to keep them, noting that there probably wouldn’t be any good ones anyway.

Officer Hudson then reached for his camera as if to pull it out of his hands.

I pulled back and again reiterated my point that I was in my rights to take the photos. He stated that I could either delete my photos or he would arrest me for obstruction of justice. Appalled, I informed Officer Hudson that arresting me and getting a warrant for the photos would be the only way to get me to delete them and that I wanted his full name and badge number. He refused to give it to me.

He told me that he was in a “generous mood” and would give me a chance to walk away. Noting that the situation could not end well for me, I noted that I intended to file a complaint against him, and headed on about my way.

As usual with these Flickr discussions, there was some idiot who sided with police on this matter. It turns out her father is a cop. In the United Kingdom.

Her username is Cerys Jones and while she does seem like a nice woman, it’s irritating to hear photographers misquote laws when it comes to photographing cops.

You are not alowed to take photographic evidence of a crime scene / police investigation unless you are given specific permission by the police, usually in writing.
While I am all for photographers rights, and I disagree with such action when the officers are not involved in investigations (ie, patroling, secirity, etc), you are in the wrong here. They are perfectly within their rights to confiscate your camera, ask you to delete the photographs, or – if you refuse to stop – arrest you.

Knowing your rights means not only being aware of when you do have a right to do something, but also of when you do not. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

And when she was berated for not knowing the law, she came up with the old moral argument against photographing public officials on a public street on public time against their will. She even called it harassment.

Still, I stand by my belief that if you have to argue a moral point with laws then you’re on the losing side – To me, this is a point of common courtesy on behalf of a photographer, to take their subjects feelings and point of view into account regardless of who the subject may be. Besides which, everyone has a right to not be harassed in their workplace.

It’s ironic that she lives in the United Kingdom where there are more than 4.2 million surveillance cameras recording every move civilians make. So much for common courtesy.


Photo by JGrindal/Flickr

Via War on Photography


I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar. And join my Facebook blog network to keep updated on the latest articles.