Police Investigation Launched After Man Caught Taking Photos of Child at Starbucks

Police Investigation Launched After Man Caught Taking Photos of Child at Starbucks

A debate about the morality of taking a photo of a child in public has been ignited online after a customer reported a stranger taking pictures of her son without permission at a branch of Starbucks.

As reported by NBC 10 Philadelphia, the mother of the child reported the incident to a Starbucks employee but was allegedly told that the man had been there taking pictures all week and that it wasn’t within her authority to ask him to leave.

While immoral, taking a photo of a child in a public space is not illegal, as confirmed by Michael Hendricks, Police Detective for East Norriton Township - the town in which the incident took place. However, the culprit has now been identified, and an investigation is currently underway as to the motives of his picture-taking. Hendricks advised the public that although indeed not illegal, these sorts of actions should be reported to police.

Starbucks has also commented on the situation, clarifying that if a customer isn’t creating a “welcoming experience” for others, staff reserve the right to ask them to leave.

The district manager of the store in question had “no comment” when quizzed by NBC10 as to why staff didn’t object to the man’s actions.

The investigation continues.

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40 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

Wait, I thought Starbucks employees were no longer able to have people trespassed.

Robert Nurse's picture

Sitting waiting for a client while black and taking photos of other peoples children: obviously different. Do people really need to be told that taking pictures of people's kids without permission might land you in trouble or the hospital? I wonder if the photographer was using a smartphone or xSLR. If the latter, even creepier.

Johnny Rico's picture

"Sitting waiting for a client while ̶̶̶b̶̶̶l̶̶̶a̶̶̶c̶̶̶k̶̶̶ not being a paying customer.." FIFY

Wes Jones's picture

Several years ago in a Starbucks in Las Vegas Nevada, I was taking some usual selfies and the barista told me pictures were not allowed inside because of the copyrighted artwork on the walls. Go figure.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I was told it was all about not wanting their menus copied... So I snapped a picture with my phone. Lol.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Surprised it was labeled "immoral" in this article.

Michael Vogt's picture

Yeah, that's a bit harsh. It might be questionable, but it's debatable to think that it's decidedly immoral.

Robert Nurse's picture

If some guy was taking pictures of my daughter without so much as an "excuse me" leaves me wondering at motivation. If they're not asking, I'd assume the worse.

Brandon Key's picture

Taking a picture of someone elses kid is weird, but I think people overeact and assume automatically that someone is a pervert or pedophile. Sometimes photographers can be naive and overly ambitious when taking photos of other people. That is some of the difficulty today in street photography. Maybe the child was just slightly in frame of a wider shot, maybe he was a pedophile taking photos for his own perversion. We'll never know.

David T's picture

There is an investigation underway, so we probably *will* know...

We Westerners make fun of "primitive" cultures that believe that cameras can steal your souls then attempt to legitimize similar beliefs in our culture...

As Brandon said, taking a pic of someone else's kid is a bit weird but this is quite an overreaction. Asking permission from and speaking to a parent first is probably a good idea.

Sad as it might be that pedophiles are taking pictures of children on our streets, let's not make it yet more difficult to photograph people in our public spaces with investigations like this which have a chilling effect. It is not a crime (yet) to photograph a child in public in the USA. Immoral? That's preposterous. Rude? Quite possibly. What about the situation where a number of people are in a single shot and some are children? Shall we be required to get a release signed for every child? This is coming if we don't demand a realistic view as to what is and is not practicable in street shooting.

Rob Davis's picture

Starbucks isn't a public space.

Michael Vogt's picture

I'm pretty sure when people talk about a 'public place' in this context, they're talking about places open to the public, or situations where there's no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Go to Starbucks and take off your clothes. Dance around and scream like a chicken. You'll discover it's not a private place for sure.

Rob Davis's picture

That type of behavior would also not be acceptable in a public restroom, yet you still can't photograph in there.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Just a no-no for me. As a parent, I'm sympathetic to that. I'll do it for my kid's sports teams, but the parents are around and if they would ever say no, I'd be understanding and apologetic. No is no. I send pics around to the parents on a closed facebook group and through google drive, so they know what is up and they love the shots. Otherwise, no random kids for me. Creepy.

Matt Clara's picture

Immoral? Did you drop that in there to stir things up enough for another article?

Rob Davis's picture

Do you have children?

Michael Vogt's picture

I have a kid. It doesn't seem immoral to me when someone takes a pic of a kid in a public place, per se.

There could easily be relevant details that we're missing here. It does seem weird to me that he was there taking pictures of kids for a better part of the week, so without a good explanation for that, there is a reason to be suspicious.

Rob Davis's picture

I think it's probably immoral because deviating from the social norm in this context would inflict discomfort on most parents without good cause. It doesn't sound like this was a journalist or even an artist working on a project. Just sounds like a creep. Our privacy laws are outdated for the realities we're facing as a society today. Having a high-quality image of someone today uploaded on Facebook could easily reveal that person's identity and possibly where they live and go to school.

Also, we're talking about minors, who cannot decide to go out in public or not for themselves, so they cannot consent to these potential risks themselves.

Jack Alexander's picture

If a total stranger took an unsolicited picture of me in a public place, I'd feel uncomfortable and would most probably challenge it. To do so to a child who likely doesn't appreciate the implications, let alone is unable to speak up, is indeed immoral, in my personal opinion.

Greg Slowka's picture

I agree Jack. If there is no ill intent there should be no insecurity about asking permission first or at least some form of verbal contact. I've taken lots of photos of strangers and their children, but not without communication and permission. If they decline then at least it's a pleasant exchange and not a police investigation.

Morality has nothing to do with your comfort/discomfort. Is giving you a thumbs down "immoral", because you felt a "discomfort" about it? I don't like to be photographed by strangers either, but you can't say it's immoral.

Rob Davis's picture

Sure I can. A lot of moral issues hinge on the context of a situation.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I do a lot of street photography in the middle of NYC. The irony is, I hate being part of an image when the tables are turned. So, whatever.

If and when I see that I'm about to be captured in a rare pic, I'll flip the bird and pretend I'm scratching the middle of my forehead with the aforementioned digit. Ah yes, the irony.

"If a total stranger took an unsolicited picture of me in a public place, I'd feel uncomfortable "

I've had people take my photo. I don't get what the big deal is. Street photography pretty much revolves around taking photos of strangers, including children. Some famous photos of kids probably wouldn't exist in today's society, one example is Diane Arbus's famous grenade kid.. double whammy, kid and weapon!

Rob Davis's picture

People also used to think children who reported sexual abuse back then were imagining things. If a dad was beating his children, neighbors thought it wasn't any of their business.

A lot has changed with regard to how we take care of children today. There's no comparison to what a picture meant in Diane Arbus' time to today. Today you can upload a photo of someone and Facebook or another site that use facial recognition could provide you with tons of personal information about that person. If someone takes your picture, you're a grown man who can stick up for himself. A child can't. Nor can a child decide to go out to places where they can legally be photographed.

David Pavlich's picture

I love street photography but pretty much keep kids out of it unless it's some sort of kids type function like a parade or something. I know it's legal, but it's not worth getting a parent bent out of shape. I know what my intentions are, but most parents don't. Besides, I'm an old geezer and not quite as quick on my feet as I once was. :-)

Rob Davis's picture

The guy was there for an entire week doing this according to the article. This isn't someone who just snapped a shot of a cute kid at a parade. If asking permission beforehand would ruin the shot, one can always ask afterwards and offer to delete the shot if the parents object. Doesn't sound like he was doing that.

Starbucks, despite the recent controversy, is not legally a public space. This isn't just guys sitting at a table waiting for someone. This is interacting with other customers in an impolite way.

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