If you take photos, they'd better have some "apparent esthetic value" -- or the cops can detain (i.e., arrest) you! This is because photography is a "suspicious activity."
Other "suspicious activities" cops are on the lookout for include using binoculars or attempting to "acquire uniforms without a legitimate cause." (Better not shop at any Army surplus clothing stores -- or you may might have 'splaining to do down at the police precinct!
Writing for the Long Beach Post, Greggory Moore reports:
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 incident in 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 a North Long Beach refinery.1
"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.
Also listed as behaviors to be documented are "Attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.)," "In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes)," and "Acquires or attempts to acquire uniforms without a legitimate cause (service personnel, government uniforms, etc.)." Special Order No. 11 does not distinguish between how these behaviors should be handled and how (e.g.) photography should be handled.