Return To
Photography is not a Crime!
Carry a Camera, Go to Jail...
-or- Felonius Photography

If you enter a federal building, don't carry a camera. Taking a picture is an arrestable offense.
I needed a stamp. I walked to the downtown Sacramento post office between 8th and 9th on I street. I didn't expect to be detained for an hour because I was carrying a camera...


Post Office: Downtown Sacramento
It was no surprise to me that I was faced with an x-ray machine and metal detector upon entry. The downtown post office has been equipped with a security entrance for many years. (Possibly since the FBI first believed that the unibomber had mailed bombs from Sacramento) After I emptied the contents of my pocket into the tray, including my camera, I was told to take it back to my car. I told the security guard that I had walked 7 blocks from my apartment. I asked if I could leave the camera at the security station. I told him that I was there to buy a stamp, not to take pictures. He refused and started becoming rude about my lack of immediate compliance. I suggested the idea of leaving the camera, away from the security station, where I could keep an eye on it myself from the postal counter. He would not allow that either. Finally, I simply asked a woman who was entering to buy a stamp for me. She seemed confused, but happily complied.

I couldn't leave well enough alone. Before making my exit, I snapped a picture. I did not actually get a picture of the post office, but rather of someone walking past as I released the shutter. The security guard immediately stopped me from leaving. I considered running for the door, but reconsidered, because after all, I live in a free country. I should be able to carry a camera, and take a picture in a public place. I decided to stay and find out how my government feels about freedom in this day and age. I do not agree that a photograph taken inside the post office threatens national security in any way. A bomb, a gun, or an airplane aimed at the side of the building... those are threats, none of which require that I first have a photograph of the inside of the building. Furthermore, the security checkpoint is inside the building. If I had a bomb strapped to my body, I could detonate it at the security check point. Regardless, I was not allowed to leave.

Three more security guards had become involved during the next 45 minutes. We waited for a special investigations Police Officer to arrive from another location. The first security guard told him "this one is dangerous." I calmly explained that I was there to buy a stamp, had no intention of taking pictures, but that this security guard was so rude that I did so anyway, and that I had already erased the picture. He accepted my offer to show him the pictures on the camera. After seeing pictures of my friends building a deck, pictures around Sacramento, and pictures of a family meal, he allowed me to leave. The count: 4 security guards, 1 "special investigations" Police Officer, and 60 minutes of time.

"Special Investigations" Police Car in front


Sacramento Library: Post Office seen in reflection
I decided to stop in at the Sacramento Public Library across the street. I have done extensive research into early 20th century Sacramento (which I hope to publish here in the future) and wanted to stop in the Sacramento Room. I enjoyed an incredible collection of photographs, maps, phone books, newspapers, yearbooks, books and even video... all relating to the history of Sacramento. During my visit the Librarian told me that this was the last week that the Sacramento room would be open 6 days a week. The budget crisis was about cut the hours of the Sacramento room down to 4 hours per week.
Why can't modern day America afford to pay librarians to staff this fantastic historical collection? Could it be that the money is being used to pay security guards across the street? It all makes sense to me now. It's a long term strategy. After all, if they had not allowed people to take pictures of the buildings in Sacramento in the 1920's, there wouldn't be a collection in the public library to staff...
Inside the Sacramento Room: pictures are allowed!

Click here to return to