A photo taken by Sander Roscoe Wolff on June 30 at Edgington Oil Company before he was detained.
6:01pm | June 30 was a beautiful summer Thursday. Just the kind of day that might tempt a photographer out to a refinery to capture some snaps of well illuminated rust and metal corrosion, colors that don't quite exist in the natural world.
But in Long Beach lately, it seems this is just the kind of action that will result in police detention.
For at least the second time in a month, police in Long Beach have detained a resident for the mere fact of taking pictures that are perfectly legal to take.
At a little before 10 a.m. on June 30, Sander Roscoe Wolff says he was on the south side of Artesia Boulevard taking photographs of the Edgington Oil Company when Officer Asif Kahn rolled up in a Long Beach Police Department patrol unit.
Wolff said that Kahn stated he had received a call that Wolff was taking pictures of the refinery. Wolff explained to Kahn that he was photographing the refinery for artistic reasons.
"I guess he had [been] observing me for at least a few minutes," recounts Wolff, "because he said, 'I saw you take a picture of [some nearby flora.] I saw you take a picture across the street.'"
Because he found Kahn's demeanor to be low-key and even friendly, Wolff was surprised when Kahn asked for Wolff's driver's license. "I asked him if I had to show him my driver's license," says Wolff. "He said 'yes.' And at that point I did feel detained. Because if he was demanding that I identify myself, then I couldn't just walk away."
Wolff says Kahn apparently ran a check on Wolff's driver's license, then came back and said that everything was okay. "He said because of Homeland Security and new laws, [the police] have the authority to ask for my driver's license and run it when they feel that there's cause."
Wolff also says Kahn made it clear that Wolff was welcome to remain and continue to take pictures.
So why the hassle, as friendly as it might have otherwise been? At center stage here may be the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 establishment of policy "to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism"1 (p. 39).
Central to this policy is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), "a report used to document any reported or observed activity, or any criminal act or attempted criminal act, which an officer believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism" (p. 39).
Included among "[i]ncidents which shall be reported on a SAR" is "Tak[ing] pictures or video footage (with no apparent esthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.)" (p. 40).
Although Special Order No. 11 applies only to the LAPD, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, "Rather than criticize the LAPD efforts, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the LAPD program 'should be a national model.' Not surprisingly, in June 2008 the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security teamed with the Major City [sic] Chiefs Association to issue a report recommending expanding the LAPD SAR program to other U.S. cities."2
Wolff claims he has no intention of filing a complaint or taking any other action regarding his detainment, but that he is interested in further discussion of the issues underlying what transpired.
For Part 2 of this story, I will report on my efforts to continue this discussion by reaching out to the LBPD in general and Kahn in particular; to the City Attorney's Office; and to Councilman Steve Neal, in whose Ninth District Wolff found himself detained.
Editor’s note: Sander Roscoe Wolff is a Long Beach Post columnist.
1Special Order No. 11 appears as Appendix B of "Findings and Recommendations of the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) Support and Implementation Project," a report issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association (of with Long Beach is a member city). Page numbers cited refer to this report, which can be viewed at http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/mccarecommendation-06132008.pdf.