Why Can’t a Cop Photograph a Naked Sorceress?

From daguerreotypes to digital.
Aug. 24 2012 3:15 AM

Why Can’t a Cop Photograph a Naked Sorceress?

A San Francisco police officer fights for his off-duty fantasies.

Mermaid Photo taken by SF Cop
This is one of the safer-for-work images from Hansen's collection

Photograph by Gared Hansen.

Interacting with naked people while on duty is required of San Francisco police officers at least annually. If one is not assigned to provide escort for the doms and slaves at the Folsom Street Fair, then there is the gay pride parade to contend with. Photographing naked people, off duty, however is punishable behavior—or so discovered Officer Gared Hansen, who enjoys creating fantasy scenarios with full-bodied mermaids and sorceresses.

The 36-year-old San Francisco Police Department officer accuses the department of violating his right to free speech by suspending him twice for his off-duty hobby of "creative photography” and nude "figure study," according to his complaint filed on Aug. 9 in a federal court.

Thanks to the 36-year-old cop’s suit, a federal judge in Oakland is now saddled with making a ponderous precedent: Do police officers have the right to take and publish nude photos in their free time? Though cops with a penchant for sexy succubi may be rare, this case has important implications for other public employees with hobbies that their employers may find objectionable.   

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The seven-year officer served 10 days of suspension this January following an internal affairs investigation stemming from a photo shoot in an abandoned hotel in March 2010.

Gerard Hasen
Gared Hansen in his home with some of the lighting equipment he uses for his photo projects

Photograph by Damien Maloney.

That’s when four sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant in neighboring Contra Costa County cited Hansen and his two models—er, sexy ghosts—for trespassing onto private property. When asked why he was there, Hansen identified himself as an SFPD officer and said that he was taking photos. Hansen says the deputies asked if he had a website for his photos. He said yes, which was enough for his bosses to claim that he was “establishing a nexus between [his] employment as a San Francisco Police Officer and [his] personal website.”

Though his website did not mention his work for the SFPD, this amounted to “conduct which reflects discredit on the department,” according to the complaint.

His department’s distaste for his hobby did not come as a surprise. He was suspended previously in 2009 when his employer first learned of his side project and decided to investigate whether it violated the mission of the SFPD. There was no definitive ruling, but Hansen says that that the repercussions continued in the form of “punishment assignments” like transporting inmates to jail.

“I don't believe that artistic expression brings discredit to anything,” explains Hansen, who describes his photos as art, not porn. “I believe that the work I make is beautiful and interesting and so do my friends and family ... It seems like creating art is a benefit to the department.”

Hansen, who works as a patrol officer in San Francisco’s crime-heavy Mission District, has since taken down his site and put his fantasy photo shoots on hold. But his pre-existing body of work continues to be accessible via a site owned by his wife. Visitors to www.peanutart.com enter a (not-safe-for-work) world full of bare-breasted she-wolves, nymphs perched seductively on trees, and other freaky creatures with come-hither faces and prominent curves. Most of the women’s bare skin has been painted—or Photoshopped—with bold otherworldly colors. 

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