Uh, Oh, I May Be a Terrorist Suspect

This is a bit old, but Radley Balko linked this story about a many busted for taking pictures of a refinery

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.

McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incidentin which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of North Long Beach refinery.

“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says McDonnell, “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.

McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD’s “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.”

Among the non-criminal behaviors “which shall be reported on a SAR” are the usage of binoculars and cameras (presumably when observing a building, although this is not specified), asking about an establishment’s hours of operation, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” and taking notes.

First, I think refineries are enormously interesting photography subjects (disclaimer:  I used to work in the Exxon Baytown refinery) and I think they can be downright beautiful at night.

Second, I take pictures of industrial subjects all the time as potential guides for my model railroading.  Incredibly-boring-for-most-people example here.


  1. hedberg:

    Here's a video of Philip Rodriguez playing a song about refinery lights. I'm not sure if it's the same refinery as the one you worked at, but it's not far away.

  2. anoNY:

    I have seen evidence on this website that you have taken pictures of government temperature-monitoring sites in the past. Suspicious....

  3. Rick Caird:

    We need to start terminating government employees who overstep their bounds. There seems to be some candidates in Long Beach, the NRLB, EPA, and the DOE.

  4. Mike:

    Pertinent question: Can I go to a bar in Long Beach and ask when they open? How about the bar on the Queen Mary?

  5. Benjamin Cole:

    The LAPD actually has an "anti-terrorist" division...you know, as the NSA, the CIA and the huge Homeland Security boondoggle-o-rama needs help.

    Public agencies, once created, live a long time..often until the empire collpases.

    We have no real military threats, but we finance a $1-trillion-a-year Department of Defense-Homeland Security-VA complex, and we ask photographers why they are taking pictures.

    And we will never get rid of the USDA.

  6. el coronado:

    "Start terminating government employees who overstep their bounds"?

    In what alternate universe might this happen? The peabrains responsible for the genius that was 'operation gunrunner' - the ones NOT in the white house/cabinet, which the white house/cabinet still pathetically deny - all got promotions. So'd the assclowns in charge of the Waco murders/debacle. The brave warriors who, armed with nothing but full-auto MP-5's and body armor, bravely stormed the house in which sinister 10-year-old master criminal Elian Gonzalez ("The Cuban Pablo Escobar, only much younger!!") was hiding out all got *medals* for their *bravery* and *valor* that terrible day. As did the proud silent ninja warriors who shot Randy Weaver's 13-year-old son in the back, his (unarmed) wife holding an infant, and the family dog. (Oddly underpublicized) medals for all!!

    No heads rolled after the disastrous intel failures of OKC and 9-11, but medals and promotions for killing/intimidating John Q Public - even if, **especially if** the action in question was an unholy screwup. Draw your own conclusions.

  7. steve:

    You have been a terrorist suspect for a long time. Anything less then enthusiastic support for government and all its minions is sufficient reason to be suspicious. Heck, even associating with such a person is sufficient reason.

  8. Allen:

    Maybe we'll see each other in jail. Every now and then I like to stop and photograph the refinery in Rosemount, MN. Usually it's oriented around pictures of the rail operations but includes the refinery. And yes, it does look kinda pretty all lit up at night.

    My fave catch from this summer were a couple Indiana Railroad units parked down where they park south of the refinery.

  9. Lyn:

    Take this crap seriously even though it sounds ridiculous. A lot of city and county law enforcement departments have "intelligence" departments. They stay busy keeping files on people who take pictures of oil refineries, or that participate in Copwatch rallies, or that - like in my community - protest outside abortion clinics. You as a law abiding citizen exercising your rights are sometimes an easier target than a criminal.