By Amy Feldman

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Is it illegal to photograph the police?

A photojournalist in Montgomery County, Maryland began photographing two police officers whom he believed might be using excessive force. With no apparent understanding of the irony, the police officers showed him excessive force – they threw him to the ground, arrested him, and took his photo card. He has sued.

This may be one the few cases you’ll see where the Department of Justice writes to the judge to tell the judge that the arrest was unwarranted (so to speak). Is it illegal to photograph the police?

The answer is, it’s usually legal. Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right, including taking pictures of the police. That said, it can be a violation of the law to take photos where doing so would compromise an investigation, or where you would be risking the safety of a police officer or others.