On May 18, I conducted a civil rights investigation on the city of Thomasville, Georgia.
Standing on the public sidewalk across the street from the Thomasville police and sheriff’s departments, I photographed and video recorded law enforcement officers coming and going in their official vehicles.
Just a few minutes later, I was contacted by Thomasville police officer C. King. King explained that they had received calls about a man taking photographs.
After a brief and polite exchange between King and myself, the officer declared that I was doing nothing wrong and went on his way. King did not escalate the situation by detaining me, demanding identification or threatening me with arrest as we’ve seen happen countless times in the past.
Sadly, King’s actions are the exception, not the norm.
However, one of my favorite law enforcement officers I’ve encountered over the years was also from Georgia; Lieutenant Robert Guthrie of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office who passed away last year.
PINAC encourages all law enforcement officers to take note of King’s handling of this situation and to use it as a gold standard model when responding to calls about public photography.
PINAC also encourages the public to use my tactics as the standard model for citizens conducting First Amendment audits or civil rights investigations.
Remember, we are doing this to promote our right to hold government accountable. We are not doing this just to get viral videos of hostile confrontations with law enforcement.
The public enjoys a First Amendment right to gather information about what public officials do on public property. That includes the right to photograph public buildings, public employees and law enforcement officers from public spaces.
If you as a law enforcement officer respond to a call about a person taking photographs in public, please understand that photography is not a crime.