Sunday, May 22, 2011


Should you ever happen to see four police cruisers on a public highway, lights flashing, with a single vehicle pulled over, and you happen to have your camera with you, and you think this would make an interesting picture, you might want to think again. I’ve learned the hard way that some of our public servants frown on us citizens making photos of them, while doing their public duty to serve and protect.

Last Saturday, Linda and I were on our way home from our grandson’s sixth birthday swim party at the YMCA. At the place where Blackburn Avenue intersects with U.S. Rt 23 she announced that she needed a few things from the Dollar General Store for her upcoming trip to New Orleans. I was thankful that we only had to go to the Dollar General, rather than all the way to the WalMart across town. So, instead of turning right on the highway to head for home, I gladly made the left turn and headed for the little store only a half mile or so down the road.

That is when I saw the flashing blue lights – four sets of them! The police cruisers were all in the right lane of the four lane highway, and the heavy northbound traffic was being funneled into the inside lane.

“Wow!” I told Linda, “there must really be a big wreck up there near the store.”

As we approached the little shopping area, I saw the nature of the police action. The four police officers had an older model SUV pulled over, and the lone occupant (a red haired lady) was outside the vehicle, talking to the officers. One of the officers appeared to be filling out a report, while the woman seemed to be carrying on a conversation with the other three officers. All four units were from the local sheriff’s office, and although the action was inside the city limits, no Ashland city police units were on the scene.

It was obvious that there was no damage to the vehicle, and no other civilian vehicles were present, so apparently there was no accident. My curiosity was piqued. Was she simply broken down on the busy highway? That was possible, and one often sees police cruisers with flashing lights, serving as protection for stalled motorists in such a predicament. But four cruisers? And one officer did seem to be filling out some kind of paperwork.

Perhaps there had been some kind of high speed chase… but if that had been the case I would suspect that there might be some city police cruisers on the scene as well, plus, everybody involved seemed to be pretty calm and the red haired lady wasn’t handcuffed or physically subdued in any way.

At any rate, I thought it was an interesting sight.

Linda asked me if I wanted to go in to the store with her. The parking lot was full, and I assumed that the store was too. I really had no desire to squeeze through the narrow aisles in the crowded store while Linda grazed through the merchandise, filling a shopping cart with shampoo, deodorant, and who knows what else in the way of “travel necessities”.

“No”, I replied. “I think I’ll just stay out here and see what’s going on with the police over there.”

In my previous life of 24 years in the insurance business I had been accustomed to having a camera in the car most of the time. Over the years I had opportunity to make some interesting photos by having that Polaroid handy. My new Canon camera was in the car, bearing numerous birthday party photos, so I grabbed it and thought this might be a good opportunity to check out the zoom lens.

A handful of people were standing around on my side of the street, both at the Dollar store and the large pawn shop in the adjacent parking lot, watching the curious police drama unfold on the other side of the highway. I walked to the corner of the parking lot and began snapping some photos.

Frankly, the scene was pretty calm, so, after catching a few images, I turned my attention (and the camera viewfinder) on some of the other surrounding scenery. Got a good close up of the big blue inflatable gorilla on the roof of the pawn shop - a photo of the Cintas uniform center across the tracks, some images of a passing train, and a shot of the AK Steel Coke Plant which is due to close in a month or so.

I walked back to our Ford Taurus, leaned up against the car, crossed my arms and continued to watch the police action across the street, wondering to myself how long Linda would be in the store.

Within minutes a tow truck arrived to remove the SUV from the scene, and the woman was ushered to the back seat of one of the cruisers. I watched as two of the deputies got into the two rear cruisers and headed toward Ashland. Both immediately turned into the Dollar General parking lot, where, I assumed, they were simply turning to head back into Catlettsburg (where the Sheriff’s office is located).


The first cruiser parked in one of the spaces along the highway and the deputy got out of the car and headed in the general direction of the store. The other cruiser pulled in right behind my vehicle and stopped. The first deputy walked directly to me and asked me if I was the one who had been making pictures.

Standing there with the Canon in my hand, I thought that would be pretty obvious. I stated that I was, and the dialog went something like this.

“Who are you?”

“C.J. Adkins”

“Who do you work for?”

Now I wanted to say “A Jewish Carpenter” but the officer did not seem to be in the mood for levity, so I simply answered, “Westmoreland Baptist Church”. I thought he might buy that, since the shirt I was wearing had the church logo prominently displayed on it.

“Where is that?”


“What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for my wife who is shopping inside.”

“Why did you stop here?”

“Because that’s where she wanted to stop.”

By now I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, but also a little put out.

“Where do you live?” he asked with a very serious expression on his face.

“About four blocks up the road on 49th Street. Do you need to see my driver’s license or anything?”

He ignored my question.

“Why were you making pictures of us?” he queried.

I explained that I thought it was interesting that four police cruisers had a single vehicle pulled over. I thought something big might be going on. I happened to have my camera in the car, so I got some photos.

“Have I done something wrong or illegal?”

Again he ignored my question. I looked over my shoulder and the officer was looking at my license plate and doing something in his cruiser.

“Why do you have a camera with you?”

I explained that I often have a camera in the car and in this case had just come from my grandson’s birthday party. I offered to show him the photos from the party and those I had taken in the last few minutes.

“I don’t understand why you were making pictures of us. Do you know that woman?”

Again I explained that it was only a curiosity. I had no intention of doing anything illegal or out of order, but I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with making photos of a public servant doing his job in a public place.

Again I asked, “Did I do anything illegal?”

Once again he did not answer the question, but he did go into an explanation about how police officers have to be very careful of folks making photos or videos of their actions in the line of duty. “They could be an accomplice to the crime” he said, or there could be other dangers.

I mentioned that the hundreds of people with cell phones had probably passed by while the scene was playing out. Any of them could have snapped photos or made video images. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Heck, I had walked to the corner and made photos out in the open, and didn’t think I had done anything wrong.

He suggested that I not do that anymore, and walked to his cruiser and both of the officers drove away.
I’m generally a law abiding citizen (with a few speed limit indiscretions not withstanding) and I have great respect for our police officers. I have numbered many of them as my personal friends over the years. It is a dangerous job that they do, and I appreciate the fact that they often put themselves in harm’s way for our sake. They deserve our respect, and most likely better pay for the dangerous jobs they do. I appreciate their service to us much as I do that of our military personnel.

While I think I understand the potential concerns that the officers may have felt with an unknown individual making photos of them on the job, there is still something unsettling about the confrontation that took place after the incident that took place a week ago.

I hadn’t given it much thought for the last couple of days until I read the paper this morning. A columnist, David Sirota, had an interesting take on a similar issue. Click on the link and check it out. I’d be interested in hearing your take on the issue.

One thing for sure. If I ever decide to make photos of a curious looking police scene – I’ll be a little more discreet about it!


Bob Cleveland said...

Two things, I think. One is sort of a natural paranoia that police feel .. when I was a reserve officer here, our instructors told us to keep in mind that to us, our badge was a badge, but to some, it was a target.

Then there's also the all-too-common imperious attitude among policemen. I suppose that helps them do their job, much as compassion and a servant's heart makes for a good firefighter.

Anonymous said...


Well that doesn't give them the right to be Rude about it all!