On my way to photograph subjects for my book, The Souvenirs of Hollywood, I came across an incident involving a drunk woman, LAPD, and LAFD.
As I approached the scene and started watching the detainment, I was quickly told by a fireman (whom I thought was trying to intimidate me into complying with his orders), to keep moving even though the sidewalk was still open to the public. And despite being order to move by this fireman, he completely ignored other members of the public who were walking much closer to the action than I was. It was very apparent that I was singled out by him for simply holding a camera on a public sidewalk within the presence of law enforcement and fire officials.
After I was told to keep moving, I chose to stay and take photos to show this fireman that he can not order a member of the public around without justification — that’s not how the law works in this country. The public has a legal right to observe and photograph police and firemen working on public streets as long as they do not interfere with them, and in no way was I interfering with this detainment since other members of the public were walking between the officers and myself.
If I let this firemen get away with this type of behavior he would possibly continue acting this way in the future. More important, if his conduct was never challenged by the public it is possible that the behavior would become habitual and spread among the ranks of fire and police departments, leading to significant liability issues for the city. For instance, law suits that cost tax payers money while the wrongdoer is let go with a tap on the wrist. Which, could ultimately lead to more problems for the city and cost the tax payers even more money because the offender didn’t learn a lesson the first time he was caught behaving inappropriately. We can not have fire officials, law enforcement, or any government official behaving this way. Acting in this manner just breeds discord with the community, raises questions of accountability, and stirs mistrust.
All this fireman had to do was quietly ignore me and I would have left without incident because the encounter was a non-event, and not worth wasting any frames on. Plus, I’ve seen all the officers involved in this incident working the neighborhood while photographing my subjects, and it seems like none of them should have to worry about being watched by the public; all three of them seem like very professional and honest cops.
Although I was eventually forced to move while other people (without cameras) continued walking exactly where I was originally standing (which was slightly annoying to see), I can’t complain about the professional way LAPD treated me this time around. In the end, and despite being told by a fireman to keep moving, I was able to shoot freely and was not threatened with obstruction. Which, has happened to me in the past and is a very common tactic used by police to get rid of someone that they do not want observing them with a camera.
Much respect to the LAPD officer involved in this incident for the way he handled himself. His professionalism and respect for photographers’ rights and the public’s right to observe police activity should be the standard for all officers, including the Los Angeles Fire Department.