As the result of a recent ACLU suit against the Baltimore police department the Department of Justice stepped in with guidelines on how the Baltimore police need to address the right of photographers in their city.  Taking queue form that DOJ direction, and past accusations of interfering with photographers’ first amendment rights, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department decided to be proactive and issue General Order GO-OPS-304.19, “Recording of Members by the General Public.”  The order was written and issued to officers to clarify the rights citizens with cameras and recording devices have in the nation’s capital.  Simply put it states:

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.

In addition to reminding officers about the public’s right to photograph and record the officers themselves the order also reminds them that “…photography, including videotaping, of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities in Washington, D.C.”  Its a bit disconcerting that the police in a city such as D.C. that is full of some of the country’s most recognizable and photographed buildings and monuments  need to be reminded of this.  But it is good to know that this is still a recognized First Amendment right and regardless of threats, real or perceived, we still have the right to photograph.

It is interesting to note that GO-OPS-304.19 also places citizen photographers in the same rights category as the media; “In areas open to the public, members shall allow bystanders the same access for photography as is given to members of the news media.”  This is good news as the line between media photographers and “citizen journalists” all but fades away.  With a camera in most everyone’s pocket or purse more and more citizens are capturing the “news.”  Whether you agree or not that it is real news, the right to capture it is being clearly defined in Washington D.C.

This is a great step in the right direction that the Washington D.C. police department has taken to secure photographer’s rights.  It remains to be seen how easily it is implemented and followed, but it is progress nevertheless.  This general order by D.C. police could stand as a guide for cities across the United States.

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