But police chiefs must discipline those who breach the rules or they will not be worth the paper they are written on, a lawyer who helped draw them up tells Amateur Photographer (AP).
Washington DC police recently became the latest to warn officers that the public have a right to photograph them under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of expression from government interference.
The new directive tells officers that ‘a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members [of the force] in the public discharge of their duties,’ reported the Washington Post last week.
Though the country’s National Press Photographers’ Association (NPPA) welcomed the move, it has called on police to ensure the rules are put into practice.
Mickey H Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA told AP: ‘While these written policies are an excellent start in establishing photographers’ rights, it is critical to remember that without continuing departmental training and discipline, where violations may occur, it is merely a piece of paper.’
Osterreicher added: ‘The new General Order, issued by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) chief Cathy L Lanier, is just one of a number of such guidelines being issued by various departments around the country.
‘NPPA greatly appreciates how responsive the MPD has been in this area and we have worked with them behind the scenes on this draft by providing them with similar model guidelines.
‘I also did a training [session] with about 40 of their officers in January regarding First and Fourth Amendment rights of the press and citizens to photograph and record police performing their official duties while in public.’
The Fourth Amendment protects a person’s rights concerning unreasonable searches and seizures.
The move came as freelance photojournalist Jerome Vorus reportedly won an undisclosed payout after suing Washington police.
Officers detained Vorus while he was photographing a traffic stop two years ago.
Commenting on the new guidelines, Arthus B Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on the photographer’s behalf, told the Washington Post: ‘It tells police to leave people alone. It makes it clear that if a person is in a place that interferes with police operations, the officer can ask or tell them to move to another location, but they can’t tell them to stop taking pictures.’
Meanwhile, Osterreicher tells AP that he has also taken part in training sessions with other US police forces – including Chicago police ahead of the NATO Summit in May – and that he plans to monitor developments.