Making up the law as they go

Apparently that’s what the Long Beach (California) PD is doing, according to this story. Taking pictures of something that a police officer doesn’t find pretty (“with no apparent esthetic value”) is considered suspicious behavior, sufficient to justify detaining the photographer. I’m not an attorney, but it sounds like what they’re doing is a Terry stop. This is less burdensome that being arrested, certainly, but it is still an intrusion that needs to be carefully controlled. Not only is it offensive for a law abiding person to be detained without good cause, but needless investigation of innocent people takes police time away from other, more useful activities.

Since the department acknowledges that police officers are given no training in what qualifies as “esthetic,” we must assume it’s based on the personal preferences of each officer. It’s difficult to imagine how such a standard could possibly be defended in court. Even more so when the list of “suspicious” behaviors also includes looking through binoculars, taking notes, and inquiring about an establishment’s hours of operation. (Will business owners now be told not to post the hours they are open, lest that information somehow be used by terrorists? That would seem to be as reasonable as anything else in this policy.)

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