For anyone who loves to go out and about to take pictures, the world is becoming a very dangerous place, not because there are more potential camera thieves waiting to steal one’s gear, but because more and more people see cameras as a criminal tool.
This paranoia was driven home last week in the city of Lorain, located about 30 miles West of Cleveland, when an ex-councilman was arrested thanks to his camera.
Dennis Flores, a former Lorain city councilman, may not be the model civil servant (he has criminal convictions on his record), but he really got the shaft on Tuesday when he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. However, while the gun may be at the center of the councilman’s legal troubles, this whole incident was spurred by public paranoia about a camera and the police’s ignorance of laws regarding photography in public places.
For anyone not familiar with the area, Lorain is a city with some very bad neighborhoods, which include the areas where Flores lives and used to represent on city council. In Lorain, as in bigger cities, abandoned houses provide the perfect setting from which to conduct illegal activities. It was concern over crime that led Flores, who patrols the city as a Guardian Angel, to go out Tuesday afternoon with his camera, which he was using to photographically document abandoned houses that could become havens for criminals.
Unfortunately for Flores, as he was taking pictures, there were kids and one paranoid parent around. End result: a call to the police.
Now common sense states that the police, who are charged with upholding the law, should know the laws they are supposed to enforce. Unfortunately, not dealing with camera-related laws on a daily basis, the police can be excused, to a point, for not being familiar with laws regarding photography in public. However, that’s still no excuse for not doing a little homework before responding to a complaint. Bottom line: photographing people (including kids) in a public space (the kids in question were walking along a street) is perfectly legal, which means that there should have been no need for a response, anyway.
Unfortunately, just the exact opposite happened.
Police were soon on the scene and the first responding officer started asking Flores about his picture taking and requested to see the photos (which, if Flores had refused to allow, would have required a warrant thanks to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling about viewing photos on mobile phones, which could, theoretically, be applied to digital cameras, too). When Flores went to get his camera, his coat lifted, which then revealed the gun, the source of the legal trouble. Flores was arrested on the spot for failing to immediately disclose that he had the gun, taken to jail, and booked before posting bail.
Yes, when the case winds up in court, the charge will read something to the effect of carrying a concealed weapon, however, the charge might as well read photography in public, which is what (wrongfully) started the whole mess, anyway.
For further reading:
Legal Handbook for Photographers
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