Photographing and videotaping anything in public view—including federal buildings and the police—is legal in NYC as long as the documentation does not impede any law enforcement activity. Nevertheless, plenty of people—including journalists—continue to be arrested and harassed by camera-shy NYPD officers. Will Paybarah, a 24-year-old Brooklyn resident, says this is exactly what happened to him in late March, when he was stopped for running a red light on his bike and then arrested for trying to videotape the officer with his cellphone. "When I tried to record my interaction with the officer I was arrested... in 10 seconds flat," he told us. You can see that interaction quickly play out in the video below.
Paybarah, a designer specializing in lettering and typography, told us he was stopped on the morning of March 20th while biking west on Houston past Broadway. He says he was stopped by "Officer Rich" of the 10th Precinct, who was in an undercover cop car, after he (admittedly) ran a red light. Paybarah took out his ID and immediately started taking video as the cop approached him: "After those 10 seconds I was pulled off my bike, pushed up against the metal fence, placed in handcuffs and put into the back seat of the car. Other officers came. They joked saying they were going to 'handcuff my bike to the tree.'"
The NYPD Patrol Guide Section 212-49 states that “Members of the service will not interfere with the videotaping or the photographing of incidents in public places. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or harassing the photographer constitutes censorship.”
While in the back of the car, Paybarah says he asked the officers why he was arrested for taking video. One officer responded memorably:
I was told by another officer while in the car that recording a police officer was illegal because people are using iPhones as guns and shooting cops through the camera lens...I told him that I have the right to be recording a cop and he said that there were incidents, specifically in uptown Manhattan where a kid shot a cop with his iPhone. Straight face. Very serious.
Paybarah was jailed at Central Booking for 13 hours that day, and though he was originally pulled over for running a red light, he was also charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, and criminal mischief. He had his court date this week, and was sentenced to one day community service (and he'll have the arrest purged from his record if he isn't arrested again in the next six months).
Asked about Paybarah's experience, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman says, “New Yorkers have a constitutional right to film police activity in public. Cell phone cameras empower people to expose police abuse and hold law enforcement accountable when it violates people’s rights." Last year the NYCLU released a free smartphone app that lets users record police interactions and submit them to the organization in real time.
Paybarah adds that he's an avid biker (and used to be a bike messenger), but this is only the second time he's had a run-in with the law: "The only other time I was pulled over on my bike was for...get ready for it...Speeding. I was speeding on my bike. When I went to court for the summons, a clerk looked at the summons and dismissed my case."