Legally speaking, you're able to poke a camera at a cop. You (should) know this by now, and for sure cops (really should) know it by now. Carlos Miller, the blogger behind Photography Is Not a Crime, and his crew of activist shutterbugs are on a mission to hammer that point home by constantly testing law enforcement's response to filming.
Just this week, they scored a significant win when a PINAC staffer had a run-in with deputies from the Broward Sheriff's Office. The irony here: it was less than 24 hours after Miller himself sat on a panel with BSO's top attorney on a citizen's rights to photograph cops. How'd BSO do?
"They have more work to do," PINAC's Jeff Gray tells New Times
Gray, a PINAC contributor from St. Augustine, was in town for the National Press Photographers Association's "Rights, Camera, Action" panel held over the weekend. The event, sponsored by the ACLU and the SDX Foundation of Society of Professional Journalists, featured Miller alongside Ron Gunzburger, BSO's general counsel, as well as a Nova Southeastern University law professor.
At the event, Gunzburger defended his agency, pointing out BSO is taking a progressive stance on citizen photography. (Below is a PINAC video of the event, where you can see Gunzburger's comments).
"We believe you have a right to film," he said at the event. "We even have materials for our officers instruction them that people have a right to film them so long as you don't obstruct sidewalks and things like that. We don't have a problem with it."
When Gray woke up the next day, he decided to road test Gunzburger's assurances. He punched out a quick Google search, saw there was a BSO facility 13 miles from where he was staying, and headed over.
It turned out to be the Paul Rein Detention Facility in Pompano Beach. Shortly after Gray began filming with his Canon, a BSO cruiser pulled up.
"Why are you taking photographs of the jail?" the deputy asked Gray (also in the above clip). "You can't be taking pictures of the jail."
Gray identified himself as an investigative journalist. A second deputy was soon on the scene. Instead of telling Gray he couldn't film, this officer said he'd have to talk to his superior. Eventually the second cop admitted that yes, Gray could film the facility.
But for the photographer, the first deputy's knee-jerk reaction was a fumble, and all too symptomatic of police officers everywhere you still seem to not understand that you, I or anyone else can get them on film.
"If they had come out and said, 'Hey, this is suspicious,' okay. But he said I can't do it, I need permission, and he refused to ID himself," Gray says.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.