My pet project involves making sure photographers in the DC area are free to shoot without idiotic restrictions imposed by a sometimes-security-crazed bureaucracy. So it’s with some interest and outrage that I came across this blog post by local photographer Jerome Vorus detailing an incident last Saturday in Georgetown. Vorus claims several MPD officers told him photographing people in public without their consent is illegal, said he was being detained, required his ID, and ran his name through a database before letting him go. Um, what?
I was told by 4 officers that it is “illegal” to take pictures of people without prior consent on a public street, and unlawful to take pictures of the police with authorization from the DCPD PIO. That of course is false, in public people do not have an expectation of privacy. I was also told that I could not “record people, you need permission first” and one officer was quick to say “you don’t have mine.”
If Vorus’ account is accurate, MPD is in need of some serious reeducation regarding what is and what is not illegal with photography. He’s right in pointing out that there is generally no expectation of privacy on a public street, and there is certainly nothing–NOTHING–in the law that would prohibit a photographer from taking shots of DC police officers going about their work.
Incidents like this are not rare, especially in DC where every government entitity seemingly has its own separate police force with an employee or two who just don’t get it, but honestly, I’d always figured MPD was one of the good ones. There are of course always two sides to every story, especially when tempers run hot, and I’m in the process of reaching out to the public affairs office to get their take on the incident. Vorus’ account is frustratingly short on things like names and ranks of the officers he dealt with, which makes a followup investigation difficult, and he doesn’t say whether he’s reported the incident to MPD officials or asked for any response from them. I’m a broken record on this stuff, photographers: always, always, always demand names and titles when someone stops you. Always.
How about you photographers out there? What’s your experience with MPD?
UPDATE: MPD Public Affairs Officer Eric Frost declined to comment on the incident Saturday afternoon.