It's been two years since the MTA tried to propose a ban on subway photography and it's been over a year since the MTA and NYPD decided not to impose a ban. And it's been five months since the MTA said they would work on making sure police officers wouldn't harrass photographs for taking photographs in subway and train stations. And yet... reader Jarid emailed us about getting stopped by a police after taking photographs on a subway on Monday.
Yesterday (8/14), at 8:00 a.m., I was stopped at removed from an A train by the NYPD at the Broadway-Nassau station for... taking photos. I was detained for a solid 15-20 minutes on the platform while being questioned repeatedly, made to turn over ID (including his asking why I was carrying a Massachusetts State ID -- I'm a student studying at Columbia), had to give over all sorts of personal information because, in the words of the cop, I had been "taken off a train," and then, probably to scare the hell out of me, the cop took my camera and placed it in his uniform chest pocket. He then read me the terrorism riot-act, so to speak, telling me I was frightening numerous passengers on the train who subsequently complained by taking photos, told me I was taking videos (which I was not -- I've never used the video feature of my camera) of sensitive areas (specifically tunnels -- which, again, I was not), and told me that similar matters can be turned over to the FBI for further investigation.
After handing my camera back, he then made me turn on my camera and scroll through the photos taken. First he said that he'd do it himself, but I made sure that the camera would not be let out of my possession again. After telling me that what I was doing was perfectly legal (my first question was, "Is what I'm doing illegal?"), he told me to place the camera in my pocket, stop taking photos, and be on my way to my destination. He called the incident a "headache" and can only be avoided by stopping taking photos in the system. Frankly, I'm a rail-hobbyist, who decided to take an early morning trip to Far Rockaway to watch the sunrise along the water, and take photos along the way. I'm not sure if it was my Mets hat or school sweatshirt that did me in, but I guess I triggered a response from some passengers -- or perhaps the officer saw me from his booth at High Street and decided to play the whole tough guy schtick with me at the next stop.
Jarid seems to have acted appropriately - he followed the officer and answered the questions - while the officer seems to have been overzealous especially since taking photographs of the subway is not illegal. Jarid initially posted about the incident on SubChat, which raised lots of interesting responses, many of them pointing out that while the police can stop you, you are not required to turn over your name or ID to them. Then it appeared on NYPDRant, where their posters went to town ("Sorry to inconvenience you, you f*cking p*ssy"). Jarid has contacted the Civilian Complaint Review Board and NYCLU to see what they say.
Above is one of the photographs that Jarid took.