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Taking photos after 9/11 in NY

I am wondering if my rights ware violated by the police when I was out taking pictures in New York. There’s also a good chance I just don’t know the law, which is true, so I came here. I was around 59 St. Columbus Circle in the Subway Station when I saw police with full SWAT uniforms standing around. They had face masks, rifles, helmets and also dogs. Thinking it was an interesting sight I took a few pictures, 4 in fact.
One of the police men came to me and asked me for my ID. As I was getting it out he told me it’s illegal to take pictures in the train Station. He also said that because I took the pictures I can now be put on the terrorist watch list. After he saw my ID and saw that I was ex military (VA hospital ID) he became a bit nicer and told me not to take any more pictures. Now what he said was I can use the pictures for personal reasons but if I post them anywhere online I will be raided by the Feds, my computer along with my photo equipment will be taken, I might be thrown in jail, and put on the terrorist watch list.
The officer let me keep the pictures and we ware both polite to each other. As a Iraq veteran I understand the uneasy feeling or someone taking pictures of me. Yet I was also more then a little intimated by what he said. Is it true? Have laws really gotten that strict against photography? Can I ask for his supervisor? Go to the police department? Or am I in the wrong?

Photography Student

by Krzysztof Matejkowski at 2008-12-20 22:32:10 UTC New York , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

They tried to make it illegal to take photos in the subways a few years back and as far as I know that rule was canceled after a big public outcry — but a lot of police officers may still think that it’s illegal. Flash photography and photography with a tripod are not allowed without a permit i believe, but handheld available light should be OK. If you get into a situation with the cops, you can try calling the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI), their number is (646) 610-6700. If you are underground your cell phone will not work though, in which case you should tell THEM to contact DCPI. The very fact that you know what DCPI is and want them to mediate should calm the situation down a bit. Every photographer working on the streets of NY should have the DCPI # in their phone.

Under no circumstances should you get into some big argument with the cops, you will not win, no matter the justice of your claim, and they have absolutely no qualms arresting you and putting you through the system even knowing that any judge will basically dismiss your case (unless you did something truly egregious); they will still have succeeded in stopping you for the moment and wasting a lot of your time, energy, and possibly money.

by [former member] | 20 Dec 2008 23:12 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
I cant find the rules for in the subway system but on any sidewalk even with a tripod is fine as long as your not blocking or slowing pedestrian traffic. Here’s the link to the mayor’s film office describing what you can do with and without a permit.

All of these rules are aimed at commercial productions but some apply to ‘tourists’ also. Check out page 8.

by Bill Thomas | 20 Dec 2008 23:12 (ed. Dec 21 2008) | NYC, United States | | Report spam→
and youre all from nyc right?

by Ed Leveckis | 21 Dec 2008 01:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
born at NY Infirmary Hospital, East 15th Street…now part of Beth Israel Medical center. Bronx, Chinatown, Brooklyn.

But, “only the dead know brooklyn, and even den, you wouldn’t know it troo and troo.”

by [former member] | 21 Dec 2008 01:12 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
I just looked out my window and sure enough im in NY. I dont make my living shooting in the subway so i cant give definitive advice to Kryzstof on his exact situation.
Ed, you seem to have a lot of experience doing it though. Perhaps you could share some legal advice with us?..

Edit: Oh.. born NYU Medical Center 1969.

by Bill Thomas | 21 Dec 2008 01:12 (ed. Dec 21 2008) | NYC, United States | | Report spam→
legal advice? a little common sense will go a lot further than any legal advice

by Ed Leveckis | 21 Dec 2008 02:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
the NYPD, especially when decked out in full ESU gear, (Emergency Service Unit, that’s what the NYPD calls its SWAT team), should know by now that they’re the subjects of photographic and journalistic attention, hackneyed or not. I mean, how many times in these past eight years have we seen the images of ESU cops with their sub-machineguns, guarding places like the stock exchange, each time there’s an “orange alert” or a terrorist attack elsewhere in the world, the wires consider part of their job to go out and get pix of “heightened security” etc. etc.

so understandably those guys may be sick of being photographed every time they’re out there in the gear, and feel they’ve had enough. and relations between the NYPD and press photographers have not been so good over the past several decades, or, forever, as far as i know. we want access, they want to limit it for “our own safety,” etc. fair enough, that tension will always be there and always be annoying to us, and doubtless to them. this may not be just but it’s reality.

that being the case, this means you have to pick your battles. if it means getting arrested for the principle of access, and you’re sure that it’s an important enough situation and you’ll have public support after the fact, then go for it. A night in jail won’t kill you, nor will the pleasure of fighting for your rights. but be sure you’re ready and willing for that…most of the time, if it’s just some cop giving you a hard time, then isn’t it easier to just let it drop, or put in a call to DCPI to try and resolve it, or…walk around the block to get a better angle…

but sometimes it’s all out, right? on 9/11 and the days after, almost no images of what happened would exist if we simply obeyed verbal orders to leave the area or not take pictures each time we were told off by the NYPD. several photographers with varying specific situations were arrested and held for greater or lesser amounts of time. most were not, of course, but we kept working…with some sensitivity towards the police at that moment of great stress…so if told to stop or leave, i would, and just go somewhere else, or show my press credentials and explain that i, too, was doing my job…and most of the time it was OK. each interaction was different, and required a different response. the goal, after all, IS to do your job as you see it the best of your ability, not to test the letter of the rules, or to piss people off, or to become part of the problem.

and most cops do understand that if you don’t come off screaming about the first amendment or the constitution…if you are indeed reasonable. now sometimes they aren’t…years ago, i did have my press credentials confiscated for a couple of weeks at one point by a very (to my mind) unreasonably irate police lieutenant at a crime scene…but i got them back after i went down there and talked to DCPI (“misunderstanding…blah blah”)…and so on.

So Ed I don’t see how I’m advocating anything other than common sense. Understanding a little bit about police culture, their command structure, and who you need to talk to in case of trouble is not a bad thing. Run-ins with them are a fact of life in this city.

by [former member] | 21 Dec 2008 06:12 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
Section 1050.9, paragraph C of the MTA Rules and Regulations:
Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

Link here: http://www.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm#restricted

I have this in a text file in my phone but you can get the officer who says things like “That was before 9/11” whatever, they can be jerks and you can’t do much about it. The DCPI number is great to have, I have that and this paragraph and I need to put in whatever law states that officers can ask for ID only when they suspect you of a crime or have a warrant. I’m still working on it, but it’s nice to prove to them that they are wrong before they kick you out anyway.

by Lucas Jackson | 21 Dec 2008 20:12 (ed. Dec 21 2008) | New York, NY, United States | | Report spam→
I agree with everything that has been said about the importance of being polite and using common sense. In fact, I folded when I was unlawfully challenged by the NYPD during the 2004 Republican National Convention, even though I was on public property and well within my rights to photograph the officers who threatened me. But what happened to you (and me and probably a lot of LSers) seems pretty pervasive, and I feel that we have a responsibility to follow up where possible.

The NYCLU has already filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD based on what it describes as a documented pattern of harassment against photographers: http://www.nyclu.org/node/1525. You should let them know what happened, if only so they can educate the NYPD brass about what is happening on the ground. The more their attorneys know about the scope of the problem, the more ammo they will have to make arguments that might reduce the frequency and seriousness of such incidents in the future. The NYCLU’s NYC office can be reached in the following ways:

Phone: 212-607-3300 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Fax: 212-607-3329
Post: New York Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10004
Attention: Legal Intake Committee

by Geoffrey King | 21 Dec 2008 21:12 | San Francisco, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks for all the great advice and pointers. While I won’t go out looking to test this, I will make sure to have the DCPI information just in case. It is always good to know ones rights. I’ll also get a printed version of some of those NY shooting laws.

by Krzysztof Matejkowski | 21 Dec 2008 22:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→

by [former member] | 22 Dec 2008 15:12 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→


by [former member] | 22 Dec 2008 17:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
But..I think (someone please correct/clarify) you can be restricted from photographing at, or around certain federal buildings, like City Hall..or even Port authority

(The Port Authority operates the George Washington, Goethals and Bayonne bridges; the Outerbridge Crossing; and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Videotaping and photographing at toll plazas at any of these facilities is prohibited, and the Port Authority reserves the right to restrict videotaping and photography to designated areas at all of its bridges and tunnels.

For access to these areas, approval must be received in advance from the Media Relations Unit, 212-435-7777, during regular business hours.)

by [former member] | 22 Dec 2008 18:12 (ed. Dec 22 2008) | New York, United States | | Report spam→
One more thing..in my experience, the mayor’s film office is incredibly helpful..I had a street studio set up for 2 months this summer that required a permit, and they were very generous in scheduling that..in conversation it did come up that there are a few places in streets of the city that you can’t get a permit for, one of which is at an intersection in Chinatown, and I was told it had (strangely)to do with gang activity.

by [former member] | 22 Dec 2008 18:12 (ed. Dec 22 2008) | New York, United States | | Report spam→
I think the Secret Service deserves our commendation for the restraint they showed today. I am as perpetually worried about President-Elect Obama as anybody else. Nonetheless, as a freelancer, I am also fortunate to have benefited from the professionalism of the Secret Service and the Obama campaign staff; as a civil liberty-minded law student, I find it heartening to see law enforcement officials (who are under extreme pressures) drawing fine distinctions that fall on the side of openness and democratic participation.

by Geoffrey King | 23 Dec 2008 06:12 (ed. Dec 23 2008) | San Francisco, United States | | Report spam→
The National Press Photographers Association solicited a legal memorandum from the fancy-pants law firm Covington & Burling (from whence our new U.S. Attorney General comes) on the rights of journalists in public.


by Geoffrey King | 25 Dec 2008 06:12 | San Francisco, United States | | Report spam→
They’re called Hercules Units, part of NYPD ESU/ SOD units. Basically they’re intimidation units that patrol strategic areas or deemed of potential threat.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to go against what they say, other than if they get over aggressive is to request that they call they’re patrol supervisor. They don’t travel alone, meaning they’re with K-9, counter terror unit, etc…. and they’re theory is surprise anywhere appearances. trust me, they won’t arrest you for photographing them. They may blow a lot of smoke and throw at you all this post-911, anti-terror propaganda, but ultimately its public space and the paperwork your arrest would bring is not worth shutting down their detail for the day.

by phil suarez | 25 Dec 2008 18:12 | New York, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Take as many illeagal photos you can, to keep photography alive!

by Ruediger Carl Bergmann | 26 Dec 2008 08:12 | Augsburg, Germany | | Report spam→
It also helps to understand some of the psychology of these police units. If you were deployed on active duty in Iraq, you were in situations where lethal force is used and used daily. The top tactical police units carry automatic weapons and look like they are ready to go into battle, but experience very few situations where they are in actual danger or where they are going to fire a weapon to kill.

If you spend time with them and with special forces soldiers, the difference in outlook becomes very apparent. SWAT units spend a lot of time training in a competitive environment, competing nationally for honors in organized competitions where they win badges and bragging rights.

I haven’t spent time with the NYPD units, but have in other cities. There is a lot of testosterone and it has the feel of organized sports in comparison to working alongside professional soldiers.

My guess is that you got shaken down because you looked like you were new to the game. Take Alan Chin’s advice. If you keep shooting on the streets of NY, you are going to run into the police again. Know all the rights you can, and always keep a printed copy of the guidelines from the Mayor’s office, and the MTA guidelines. It gives you confidence and you can get out of situations like that by showing that you know what you are talking about. If it is worth the fight, then fight. Decide if getting arrested on principle is worth it. It might be.

My guess is also that when they confronted you, they saw doubt in your eyes, and went for it. If you know your rights and know where you stand in relation to them, there’s no doubt there. It goes a long way towards self protection.

by smartypants | 27 Dec 2008 05:12 | Chicago, United States | | Report spam→
I spent a month in NYC last year taking street pictures and I had no problems at all… Even cops…

by Alex Wright | 02 Jan 2009 13:01 | Lourdes , France | | Report spam→

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Krzysztof  Matejkowski, Student, Freelance Krzysztof Matejkowski
Student, Freelance
New York , United States
Bill Thomas, Photographer-Videographer Bill Thomas
Nyc , United States
Ed Leveckis, Ed Leveckis
New York , United States ( LGA )
Lucas Jackson, Photographer Lucas Jackson
New York, Ny , United States
Geoffrey King, 1st Amend. lawyer, photog Geoffrey King
1st Amend. lawyer, photog
San Francisco , United States
phil suarez, Medic/ Photographer phil suarez
Medic/ Photographer
Nyc , United States
Ruediger Carl Bergmann, Photographer / Artist Ruediger Carl Bergmann
Photographer / Artist
Augsburg , Germany ( MUC )
smartypants, smartypants
(just another batch of etherbit)
Chicago , United States
Alex Wright, Photographer Alex Wright
Lourdes , France


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