Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

Started Dec 18, 2005 | Discussions
Holgs Senior Member • Posts: 1,662
Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

I only ask because I have been busy taking photos of some of the scenes here in Australia where police are busy searching every suspicious looking car that goes in and out of Bondi (and every other beach in Sydney - aparently there are currently 2000 on duty) and was confronted by one policeman who wasn't happy about me taking a picture of him and said that it was an offence to do so, so made me delete the photo.

Many of the other police had no problem with it and were actually really friendly - one even wanted t know where he could get copies of photos - problem is that the most interesting photos are when they're not happy.

Anyone got any information on where the boundaries are of what you can and can't take photos of? Or ideas where you can get access to such information?

ConcertShooter Contributing Member • Posts: 769
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

I can only speak from my own experience having taken many images of the various gestapo agents in the Gulag States of America. The reaction from these so-called 'peace officers' has ranged from no reaction at all being silently pleasant to actually being physically accosted and threatened with severe bodily injury by one 'undercover' thug b*st*rd with the City of Mobile, Alabama police department as he and other occifers were escorting alleged drug suspects from an apartment complex to waiting marked police cars. They were all out in the open and the images I took were from within my apartment at the threshold.

I'm of the belief that those who react with anger and threats are up to no good and should probably be watched carefully as they are most likely involved in some nefarious behavior that is contrary to their oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the state and of the united states. In essence they are actually causing harm to the people they are sworn to protect.

A couple of years ago I was on my way to a local cafeteria to eat lunch. It was a beautiful Sunday at about 4:20pm. As I was traveling on one of the busiest streets in Mobile, Alabama I passed 4 Mobile police officers who were holding down a woman of about 110 pounds and about 5'4" tall. Three of the officers were holding her down over the trunk of one marked police car while the fourth was pummeling her about the head and upper body.

I stopped my car in the middle of the road in one of the turn lanes and turn my video camera on them. Unfortunately I was so nervous about what I was witnessing that I forgot to flip the switch from standby to start and failed to capture the mercilessly beating of this poor woman. One of the officers saw me and demanded that I leave the area. Since they were a good distance from me I stood my ground and continued to videotape the incident although I failed to realize my above mistake.

The officer then began to walk my way threatening to arrest me at which time I got back in my car and continued on my journey. I was quite shaken up to say the least. It wasn't until I got to the resteraunt that I realized my failure in not actually getting the incident on tape. There were several other people who entered the resteraunt that saw the woman getting beaten but they didn't want to get involved.

I called their internal affairs department and reported the incident as soon as that office opened the next day. I contacted every governmental agency I could and tried to find out who the woman was as I was going to pay for her legal fees and see that the officers were prosecuted. It took me three months to find out about the disposition of that case and it turns out that all of the bogus (LIES) charges that these thugs brought against her had been dropped the same day I was interviewed by the internal affairs officer. Oh how I wish I had gotten it on tape. It would have played nationwide for sure.

Anyway you get the idea. The average street cop doesn't mind having a photographer around for say a traffic accident but that attitude will quickly change when they're beating the hell out of a defensless woman.

My advice to you is to get a long telephoto lens and use it if you want to photograph cops. Especially if they're engaged in some unlawful behavior or abusing their authority.

I ALWAYS carry a small Sony camcorder fully charges containgin a new blank tape ready to role every time I leave my home. Keeping a camcorder with you can safe your butt at the right time.

About 4 years ago my camcorder and the 4 hours of videotape I captured during several interactions with a management team of an apartment complex I used to live in resulted in my being awarded $30,000 in damages for that teams's threatening me and actually having local police break into my apartment for no apparent reason. With that money I purchased several acres of very beautiful land out in the country and am currently building a home there. Thanks to the camcorder my land is paid for the house will be too when it's completed.

Don't let people push you around and if they do make sure you are recording it for posterity sake.

Kind regards,

Tony B.

U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R) - Resigning as Senate Majority Leader, 2003.

Paul Amyes
Paul Amyes Senior Member • Posts: 1,823
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

In Australia, well it depends upon the end use of the photo. If the shot is "newsworthy" no. If the shot has commercial value for advertising etc then model releases are required, and permission from the police department. If you are deemed to hampering the officer in the course of his duty, you can be charged. You can be charged for causing an obstruction, if the officer percieves that you are. So per se its not illegal, it depends on how you go about it and the end use.

As per the deletion of photos I would politely suggest that I will be happy to delete the photos down at the station under the guidence of a senior officer. If things get nasty get the name and number which they are required to give and make a formal complaint.

I've never had a problem with police. Private security guards are another story.

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Steve Davey
Steve Davey Contributing Member • Posts: 501
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

Good work Fella!

Though would recommend two tapes, one wound half way through. That way if things get real nasty you can pass a blank tape off on Plod and make a getaway with the real thing. Always used to that in film days!! Ha ha ha!

Nightwatch Regular Member • Posts: 320
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

It all depends on the policies and behavior of Police Departments in your area. Most Police Departments have a public relations office call them up and find out.

From my experience, local police may not have policies against it (the one I work for does not). Federal and Regional police usually DO have policies against it. The guideline I would use is that it's probably ok to take pictures of Standard Uniformed police, while it's probably not a good idea to take pictures of Suits, Riot Police, or SWAT style uniforms)

Remember that some people just don't like having their pictures taken and some of those people wear a police uniform (and may be inclined to take advantage of that to disuade photogs)

Adverse reactions to pictures of police "exceeding policy" Should be expected. If you have a habit of doing this it would be adviseable to insure your gear, retain a good lawyer, and regularly practice running (or find a way to get a hold of a press card)

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Jeff Rogers Regular Member • Posts: 205
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

In the US, it is illegal for the police to confisgate your camera and/or film or flash card.
Jeff Rogers
'There is a landscape greater than the one we see'

wyn1 Regular Member • Posts: 437
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

Please, I undersand from news reports that there are gangs of youths trying to start a typre of race war and the situation at these beaches is very unstable. In that circustances I can see why the police would be edgy.

We all must try to understand the context of events and not blunder into a bad situation and make it worse. Wyndham

David Chamberlain Regular Member • Posts: 443
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

After deleting the photo I would have just taken the card out. Put the spare in and used any number of file recovery utilities to recover the image.

Even taking the card out is not necessary unless you have a nearly fiull card as most cameras seem to wirte sequentially to the card until the end then in looks for deleted space. An ordainary undelete file tool probably will not work as some cameras also delete the FAT entry instead of just changing the first character of the filename

OP Holgs Senior Member • Posts: 1,662
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

Thanks for the info everyone - I figured that by posting the question on the Pro Forum would get some practical experience as well as info about what is and isn't allowed. So I hope you can cope with the intrusion of an amateur! After some further research I discovered the following article written by a local photographer which goes into some length about some of the local issues:

I should add that I am actually a lawyer myself (though maybe increasingly in denial of that), but don't specialise in Intellectual property or criminal law, so my memory of the issues is a little hazy. The article does however fit with my recollection of the law from when I was still studying. One of the things that had been bugging me also was reading on some websites that buildings can't be photographed or used commercially without a release, so the discussion of the opera house was interesting there too.

I will however look into the legal issues a bit more closely - and let you know if I find anything useful.

I think the important thing is to know when to stand your ground, and also having the nerve to do so. On Sunday, knowing that Bondi was crawling with police, and also being aware that the pic I was being asked to delete wasn't in focus made the decision easier, but also gave me a better appreciation (and admiration) of the situations that some photographers are faced with and are able to deal with.

I get the feeling that Sydney isn't quite as bad as some places just yet, but seeing a road block to every entrance to every major beach in the city on Sunday was certainly an eye opener! If anyone wants to have a look, some of the pics are posted:

Craig Gillette Veteran Member • Posts: 9,898
Re: the usual answer...

Contact a competent local attorney.

Andrew Veteran Member • Posts: 4,486
Re: Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

I had a case once a long time ago when a friend of mine was made to pull his film out and expose the whole roll which really ticked me off. I did not think it was right, but we had to make the choice, let it go and spend the night in our own beds, or stand up for ourselves and spend it in a cell with the ratbags the cops were tossing into the paddy wagon and let a magistrate decide we were right in the morning.

Jellycat Regular Member • Posts: 283
Re:What are the local laws? (nt)

Thank You

OP Holgs Senior Member • Posts: 1,662
The short answer is that it's allowed...

(see link in previous post)

Nick 2004 Regular Member • Posts: 478
I am an Australian Police Officer

I work in Tasmania, so the information I provide is only from my states point of view. However I believe that legally the following applies:

It is not illegal to take a photograph of anyone in a public place. This includes police officers. There are, however, plenty of laws in place regarding public order and the like, as well as interferring with a police officers duties. I cannot be specific about this in realtion to NSW Police.

If a photographer were to interfere with the duties of a police officer they may be liable for arrest or charges that can be proceeded against via summons. Basically I would be careful in your photography in very volatile situations.

In regards to the specifics of what happened to you I would suggest that the police officer was quoting from the 'Ways and Means Act', that is, strictly speaking you were not breaking the law merely by taking his picture. He simply took offense to his picture being taken in the situation he was in and he asked you in a more forceful type of way that maybe you should consider deleting the photograph. I can understand that this would be intimidating, especicially considering that you didn't have legislation in front of you to quote.

From a personal point of view I can see why the officer would have objected to the photography. No officer would like to become the 'face of the incident' as such, and perhaps was not able to tell the difference between you and the press. Also a still photograph of a police officer's actions can often look like the officer in applying too much force or similar, without contextual facts to explain the image(s).

I would also be very mindful, as suggested by a previous poster, of taking pictures of police officers that work in duties such as special operations, plain clothes or other 'sensitive' duties. The safety of these officers is imperative, and exposing them for the world to see is often detrimental to this. In realitiy we are in a failry dangerous profession and some police like to remain as anonymous as possible because of this. There are plenty (and I really mean this) of groups of criminals and the like that document, scan and download images of police officers, matching as many details to that photograph as possible for their own purposes.

I guess that the message i'm trying to convey is that please be sensitive to these concerns if they are voiced to you, even if in a fairly abrubt manner. We have a difficult job to do and some situations don't allow for niceities.
Nick Monk

slowhands Veteran Member • Posts: 5,470
Is it an offense to pass by an opportunity such as that?

You only get 1 sunrise and one sunset per day
(unless traveling at high rates of speed!)
Shoot what you can, when you can whereever you are
....and answer questions later.!

When herded over to the general public side of the street because I didn't have proper media credentials... you BET I shot a nice series of officer friendly with his P&S... as he got his cam from patrol car # , walked over close to the horde of PROPERLY credentialed media, snapped pics, jockied for position, snapped more, walked back to his patrol car to CHIMP the pics to his buddy, then repeated 2 more times, all the while confronting John Q Public about where they could stand.

Local media and the captain of the local police department received emails describing the incident...and suggestions the training of officers assigned to such events in the future be improved.

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ConcertShooter Contributing Member • Posts: 769
You have got to be kidding.

Are you telling me that you have to have the 'gubment's' permission to take a picture of a sunrise or sunset? In what country does this requirement exist and why didn't the people revolt when such a proposterous proposition was even considered in the first place?

It won't be long before that society finds itself paying a tax on the air they breath.

Kind regards,

Tony B.

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