A cop's thoughts: Can police seize your camera?

Carlos Miller

A cop's thoughts: Can police seize your camera?

One of the most popular articles I’ve written on this blog was headlined “Do police have the right to confiscate your camera?” where I interviewed two lawyers who said that the only way police can legally confiscate your camera is with a court order unless the camera was used in the commission of a crime.

Naturally, the article prompted at least two police officers to comment that they are entitled to seize anybody’s camera without a court order at any time with the justification that it is considered evidence.

Now a Canadian police officer has written a post on his own blog titled “Can police seize your camera?”.

Mack Pettigrew, a sergeant with the Ontario Provincial Police Department who runs the blog “A Cop’s View”, comes across as a cop who would rather cooperate with a witness rather than intimidate him.

While he does believe that an officer is entitled to seize a camera without a court order if there is a chance he will never see that person again – such as if the person takes off running down the street – he believes it is preferable to obtain a search warrant in cases where the photographer provides his name and address.

I’ve always said that if I’m in a situation where a cop is ordering me to hand over my camera or memory card, I will refuse, but I will gladly provide him with my identification which would allow him to obtain the camera through a court order.

In fact, I would probably allow the officers to copy the memory card with the understanding that I maintain possession of it and will most likely publish the contents on my website.

Unfortunately, many cops would not agree to this and would just arrest me and take my camera anyway, forcing me to go through the whole legal process again, which is a risk I’m willing to take to protect my personal property.

It’s too bad more cops can’t be like Pettigrew, who states the following on his blog:

Officers must be sure of their powers, you can not just go and take a camera from someone because they are going to put the video on youtube or sell it to the media.
I was listening to the so called experts on the radio show and found it interesting how they talked about how officers are uncomfortable with the knowledge that their actions are being video taped or pictures taken of them. I for one have no problem with this as it works both ways. We use video tape evidence all the time and as long as you doing your job professionally out on the streets then officers have nothing to fear. Unfortunately we are human and have lapses in judgement at times and these seem to get caught on video and plastered all over the internet and media. One bad action can paint a bad picture for all of us. So be aware be professional and as a police officer know your powers when it comes to photos and video.


War on Photography