I read a recent report in the press of a photographer being stopped by police as he attempted to shoot images of Hove Town Hall. Now if you’re inclined to read the story, there’s numerous reports online but briefly, for the purpose of this little post, the story goes a little bit like this….professional press photographer, detained under anti-terror law, police checked camera and (allegedly) abused their power…blah, blah, blah….
Now if you’re someone who enjoys street photography this story might concern you a little and maybe deter you from venturing out on the streets, being a little worried of what the police could do to you and your camera. Firstly, there’s absolutely no need to be concerned. There is however a need to understand the role of the police here and to know your rights and responsibilities.
I'm not going to cover the full legalities of street photography here – it’s too big a topic for a blog post but I do discuss it in some detail on my Street Photography workshops…. shameful plug coming up now….you can see details of all workshops here.
Shameful plug over (apologies) so let’s go back to the relationship between the street photographer and the police.
It’s probably worthwhile to mention that in my time spent wandering the streets with my camera I’ve only been stopped by police once…it was nothing juicy and not worth mentioning here. I have however been stopped by security guards more times that I can recall so let’s briefly give them a paragraph or two here in case you find yourself in a pickle with one of them.
The key to knowing where you stand with security guards is actually where you are standing. If you’re standing on public land they cannot stop you taking any photographs. They cannot obstruct you when you’re taking photographs or ask you to delete any images. If you’re standing on private property that the security guards are employed to patrol however that’s a different story – they’re well within their rights to point out to you any restrictions regarding photography and ask you to move on but that's all they can do. Regardless of where you’re standing though, any steps taken by security guards to obtain your camera or memory card could be considered theft or assault and if you find yourself in that situation, you should call the police.
So, my advice to you when dealing with a confrontational security guard would be to know your rights, explain them politely and keep your cool. Don’t be antagonistic or rude – that’s not going to resolve any situation.
Okay…back to the police as that’s what I intended to talk about here.
There are a couple of situations where the police could stop you taking photographs, even if you’re standing on public land, and search you. If the police suspect you’re carrying drugs, weapons, stolen goods or items to commit a crime they can search you and your camera kit. Now the press photographer who was stopped and searched outside Hove Town Hall last week was detained under the Terrorism Act, 2006. This Act states that it is an offence to take an image likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an Act of Terrorism.
An individual’s defence would be to show that the photograph is taken or kept for a different purpose. So one might expect that the aforementioned press photographer did this? Nope. He did nothing. He didn’t explain who he was or show the police any identification. To me, it sounds as if he grasped the opportunity to make a quick buck from his story but you can make your own mind up about that.
So what should you do if you’re stopped by the police as you’re setting up your long exposure of the Thames with the Houses of Parliament in the background? Firstly, remember that the police have a job to do. It's an important one and it focuses on everyone's safety so be co-operative, be professional and show integrity. It's that simple.