Finally! D.C. Police Announce a Sensible And Reasonable Cell Phone and Camera Policy

Finally! D.C. Police Announce a Sensible And Reasonable Cell Phone and Camera Policy

I've written a number of articles about how the police and other law enforcement agencies, both in the US and abroad, have been interfering with and hassling photographers and videographers who are only trying to document a scene that's in front of them. There have been multiple instances of people in power (such as Obama himself) saying that this is unconstitutional. And finally, it would seem, one police department has begun to realize that.

DCist, a Washington DC-area news website, was the first to report on a new legal directive in which DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier explains the constitutional rights of DC citizens. In the directive, Lanier instructs her officers with detailed directions and makes respecting them a priority. The directive, which can be seen here, also contains a number of case-study scenarios which have led to trouble of this sort in the last few years, and how they should be dealt with.

The first and second sections of the document clearly spells out the fact that members of the public have the right to record police officers through various mediums.

"The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity."

"A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media"

"If a person is taking photographs or recording from a place where he or she has a right to be, members are reminded that this activity by itself does not constitute suspicious conduct."

"A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where he or she is located."

The above quoted is great and all, but where it gets really interesting is in the second section of the document, where the law is stated explicitly:

"As long as the photographing or recording takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with a member’s safety, members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police action (such as a Terry stop or an arrest) is not allowed; requires a permit; or requires the member’s consent. Additionally, members shall not:
1. Order that person to cease such activity;
2. Demand that person's identification;
3. Demand that the person state a reason why he or she is taking
photographs or recording;
4. Detain that person;
5. Intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices; or
6. In any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual
from recording members’ enforcement activities."

At long last! It looks like amateur and professional photographers and videographs alike are gaining some ground in the uphill battle for respect from public officials. Hopefully, many other police stations and chiefs around the country (and world, for that matter, as this is not an issue for only the United States) will see the positive results from this mandate and follow suit.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. The icing on the cake? They can't ask or demand that content be deleted. Lanier states that officers "shall not, under any circumstances, erase or delete, or instruct or require any other person to erase or delete, any recorded images or sounds from any camera or other recording device. [Officers] shall maintain cameras and other recording devices that are in Department custody so that they can be returned to the owner intact with all images or recordings undisturbed."


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Michael Kelley ( is a Los Angeles-based architectural and fine art photographer with a background in digital art and sculpture. Using his backgrounds in the arts, he creates images that are surreal and otherworldly, yet lifelike and believable. A frequent traveler, Michael's personal work focuses on the built environment of unique

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Finally. I don't live in the States, but it is a good start!

There is light at the end of the tunnel!!!

I'm glad to read this. This is a problem in Sweden aswell, although it's not supposed to be.

EOS, the greek god of photography, have answered our prayers!!!

Hmmm, can´t help wondering how long (or how short) she´ll be in charge...

Hahah, just cause it's "official" in DC doesn't mean that law enforcement officers all over the rest of the US have received the memo.....DC is just one place....yes it's a good start, hopefully it'll catch on elsewhere....but i cant help but thinking, once this turns into "law", there are still cops out there who will tell you to stop shooting, you'll say sorry it's my right, and they say very well then....and then they'll stop you/detain/cite/arrest you for crossing the street at less than a 90 degree angle....

The law was always like that.  It doesn't mean that cops will respect it... That is way they take your cam and delete pics and arrest you for resisting arrest.

Why does a police department have to issue a policy letter when this was already a legal right. 

One of the biggest detriment of our first amendment freedoms are the lack of education of those entrusted to enforce it. 

Personally, I'm glad to see this.  I think it's worthwhile letting the Metro D.C. police chief know that we, as photographers, recognize her effort and appreciate it.  After all, a little fan mail never hurt anyone, right?   Let them know that you appreciate them clarifying the issue for their officers and taking a lead nationally. 

What about the person(s) being arrested - don't they have the right not to be photographed? Just saying.... I love my photographic freedoms but even I wouldn't shoot that, and I shoot everything, usually twice.

If they are being arrested in public space, we have the right to photograph that....

I think the point in case is like the code of Hamurabi, in Babylon: post the code of conduct in public, for everyone to see. So neither side can claim ignorance or misunderstanding...
BTW: cops are no lawyers, they follow orders. If given contadictionary orders, they may react like HAL.
(I'm not trying to excuse anyone, but we judge the behaviour of the cops with the leisure of endless replays in a stress- free environment. They had to make a call in a tight situation under an awfull amount of stress. Granted, they were bad calls. But now they have clear and definite orders: don't touch cameras, always act like grandma's gonna see you on youtube)

 Jet fighter pilots have to make a call under awful amount of stress to. That's why it's so hard to pass psychological test to become a pilot. Also pilots have to take the tests periodically.
It is hard job to be a cop and not everyone can handle that. Unfortunately nobody is sorting out the bad candidates...

Absolutely, but unfortunately we need a lot more cops than pilots, and the job is a lot less fun, so we can't be as selective.

HOLD THE PRESSES!!!! On the day after Washington D.C. police implemented a new general order stating they must respect the rights of citizens who record them in
public, an undercover cop snatched a cell phone from a man who was
recording an investigation in public.

Are you serious DC Police????

I live in the DC metro area. DC police may have their own mandate but federal LE still very different. I have been stopped 2 times this year by fed's while shooting architecture and told I could not photograph the buildings. During the 1st stop, he wanted to see the images and made me delete the files from the card.

Police are B.S.

A police state is a state where the police do not obey Laws they enforce.