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November 12, 2007


Matt Law

If it were me, I'd probably show my ID when asked. I would *not* volunteer to show my photos, though. They didn't ask.


Hey, This is really interesting. I was linked here from Gothamist. This hasn't happened to me, but I fear it might. I'm a hobby photographer, and I love taking pictures of transportation: planes, trains, ships...I just really like travel and all related to it. Thanks for the links about rights. I guess I know to be more careful in the future.


Hands down NYPD racially profiles people. I thought I was surely going to get approached by NYPD when I was taking panoramas across the street from the holland tunnel...on the two seperate occasions, with a tripod and a panoramic tripod head. Two cops drove by...but lucky me(probably cos i'm a tiny female), the only people who disrupt me is people who want to know what kind of camera I'm using or want to know what the large metal panoramic tripod plate is. I did have a permit, even if they did try to stop me.

I rather not say for obvious reasons!

I think I had a run in with the same lieutenant and his team a few weeks ago with the same sort of thing being said by him. One interesting thing is that he said something like, "If your name was Muhammad you'd be in cuffs right now." The guy seems almost as if he could be a bit rogue.

pierre von baron

they were probably just asking for your ID to fill out a stop and frisk report. it helps the NYPD keep track of who they are stopping and why ,and documents the stop in case there are future complaints/problems. theoretically, the information could be used to help identify patterns of why cops are stopping people inappropriately.

i am not a photographer so maybe i don't fully understand, but i think you should just accept this as a part of your hobby/trade now. police officers are wary of photographers in public places like queensboro plaza. are some of them just asserting their authority and being assholes? yeah, probably, but you can't do much about that without risking trouble. most of them are just doing their jobs. i'd comply politely and respectfully. file a complaint if you want, but based on your description of the incident, they were justified in everything they did and they won't get in trouble for "tone"

Andrew H

I live in the city and enjoy photography a lot. I also enjoy not being attacked. I enjoy knowing that the police are out there watching and checking up on people even if they are just a teeeny bit suspicious. I think the police are doing their job in this case. They have to check up on anything semi-suspicious. Yeah its annoying, yeah I wish it weren't the case, but just cooperate and it's really not a big deal. I think our police are doing a good job by being vigilant. It actually makes me feel a bit safer knowing you got questioned a little bit. If I had been questioned like that, I'd happily show my photos and been appreciative that my police force are patrolling the city like they are supposed to.

But its important for the police to tread lightly, while still keeping an eye out. Make sure you answer the police, and help them make their rounds as quick as possible. You need them to know that you are NOT a threat, so that they can investigate somewhere else. Everyone has to make some compromises here.


Never show your ID, just leave.

Also, for personal photography I have a quick bookmark to the MTA's rules of conduct, paying special attention to Section 1050.9c:

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.


Adam (Twee)

This has happened to me too. After I found out that photography is, in fact, entirely legal in the New York subway system, I was angry -- the fact that the police feel it's appropriate to spread the idea that it's illegal to take photographs of the subway system is incredibly hubristic, not to mention downright illegal, especially considering that most New Yorkers believe it. Next time, ask if what you're doing is illegal, then walk away. If I'm with you, I'll back you up. (And if I'm alone, I'll imagine that you're backing me up as well.)


It actually makes me feel a bit safer knowing you got questioned a little bit.

It actually makes me feel a lot less safe knowing there are people who think like that. Fear is the enemy - not photography.
The only thing that's true about "9/11 changed everything" is that 9/11 made people like the commenter I quoted willing to surrender their constitutional rights in the name of fear.


if you want to avoid the police then stop taking boring tourist pictures. Trains and skylines? what is this a high school project?


i think you handled this well. if you had refused to show your id, you would have lead the cops to believe you have something to hide. and you have nothing to hide... it seems. keep taking pics of trains and skylines. we'll all keep lookin at them.


Rachel: Yeah, I'm lucky -- I'm an incredibly white guy, and I don't look threatening (well, maybe except for my participation in my office's beard-growing contest this month.) I have no doubt that if my appearance were different, the encounter's tone or outcome would have been different as well.

I'd Rather Not Say: Wow. Just....wow. That's a really bold (and kinda stupid) thing for the officer to say.

Pierre von Baron: What is a "stop and frisk report"? And, how long will my information be on file, and for what purposes will it be used? As I mentioned in the post, that's what rankles; I simply don't trust the law enforcement apparatus to use that information appropriately 100% of the time, and I'm uncomfortable with that information in their possession.

Andrew H.: Why should I have to "make compromises"? I was not breaking any law, so I feel fully entitled to feel rattled when three plainclothes cops question me, ask for ID, and take down my driver's license information for who-knows-what purpose. As I asked above, what exactly is "semi-suspicious" here? Photography? What is inherently suspicious about photography -- something that no one seemed worried about prior to The Day That Everything Changed, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that the 9/11 terrorists were taking pictures of their targets -- or even photography in the public transit system? The fact that I'm taking photos on a subway platform seven miles from where planes hit buildings six years ago doesn't strike me as "semi-suspicious."

As I noted above, I understand why the cops wanted to see what I was up to. That is vigilant patrolling. However, I don't like a.) feeling intimidated, especially to the extent that I didn't particularly want to continue the pursuit of my perfectly legal hobby that evening; b.) feeling coerced into showing ID, by the sure knowledge that if I exercised my Constitutional rights and refused, the police would escalate the situation (as kel notes in the comment above), and I might wind up in jail; c.) implicitly accused of terrorism or supporting terrorism (with the "al-Qaeda sometimes hires guys that look like you" comment) when there is absolutely no justification for such an accusation. I resent having to prove my innocence when I am obviously minding my own business and not breaking the law. I don't like feeling that I have to make a choice between exercising my Constitutional rights (which really shouldn't be "making a compromise", no?) and not going to jail or being otherwise hassled for no reason.

Now, do I know for a fact that if I had refused to answer questions or show the cops ID that I'd be hassled? No. They could have just sent me merrily on my way. But for some reason, I don't think that's likely to happen. You're right on one thing -- the cops do need to "tread lightly" when approaching someone who isn't breaking the law, and who likely isn't up to any nefarious purpose. I'm not expecting the police to hand out lollipops when they approach people, but the heavy-handed insinuations about 9/11 and al-Qaeda seem unjustified to me.

Gary: Whatever, dude. You don't know what kind of pictures I take (and you are cordially invited to check out my Flickr stream and photoblog if you'd like to see for yourself), and if the NYPD's Transit Division has turned into the Citywide Roving Aesthetics Task Force, then we've all got much bigger problems to worry about.

and to everyone: many thanks for reading, commenting, and having my back.


Why should police think taking photographs is suspicious? There are tens of thousands of people people taking photographs in public places every day around the country, and perhaps even in NYC each day. How is that even remotely a threat? Because terrorists or crooks might do it? Beyond the fact that terrorism is remote and in this case I don't see what other sort of criminal activity could be planned, is the fact the terrorists might talk on the phone mean talking on the phone is a threat? Terrorists eat food outside sometimes too - does that make eating outside suspicious.

I hope that if I have an experience like this I do not cooperate beyond the minimum required.

Refuse to be terrorized, and refuse to go along with the people who think we should all be terrorized.

Pierre von Baron

kel: if you're interested, check out the following sites...

1) NYPD hires RAND corporation to analyze stop and frisks: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/pr/pr_2007_006.shtml

2) CCRB - City's (mostly powerless) police oversight agency: http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/

3) Attorney General's critical report: http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/reports/stop_frisk/ch5_intro.html

By the way, I believe--though without doing the appropriate research and filling in the facts, I cannot be certain--that you are entitled to refuse your ID given the circumstance you described (if you do, they will fill out the stop and frisk report as "Refused").

BUT, keep in mind that if the officer can articulate reasons (actually perceived or made up) about why you are more suspicious as a result of this denial-- ("he was shaking, he was sweating, he wouldn't look me in the eyes, he wanted to go very badly, etc.")-- they might have further reason to suspect you, which could justify further detainment. Of course, looking nervous at an officer invoking his power would almost certainly eventually be held by a judge to be innocuous behavior that, taken alone, could not lead to a reasonable belief that you were engaged in some non-specific criminal behavior. But do you really want to be at trial? It's an entirely unavoidable consequence of having normal (underpaid) people with police power. Even the ones who do the job well might misunderstand a street encounter with someone like yourself.

Andrew H

The reason it MIGHT be suspicious is because the photographs could be a way for someone to 'case the joint'.

The worry is that terrorists, or some other criminal would be surveying the area by taking photos of it. Together with subway plans that you can get from the library, someone could figure out the most effective place to strike. I can understand that.

Forget about the terrorist thing for a sec. Suppose you were taking photos in a bank because its got beautiful interior architecture or something. Can you see how this might be a bit suspicious?

No, taking photographs in the subway isn't breaking the law. Parking isn't against the law either, but a couple of car bomb attacks were diffused in Europe by the police investigating a few cars that looked out of place.

After the london and madrid subway bombings, compromises have to be made especially when you are dealing with public transportation systems carrying millions of people a day without any real security systems. The subway system is a very very attractive target. By stopping you and just asking a few questions, first the cops eliminate any kind of small suspicion about you, and secondly, they get to find out if you've seen anything suspicious while you were photographing.

Have these type of actions prevented any subway attacks? I don't know, maybe. It's nice to know that there are plain clothes cops watching over the system and displaying themselves a bit as a deterrent.


Pierre von Baron: Thanks for those links. I've taken the liberty of putting them into HTML for the benefit of any interested parties. That OAG report on stops and frisks is very interesting, and I read Chapter 2 of that report with great interest: it delineates various tests to develop a Fourth Amendment standard governing police stops. It's clear that the police did not stop me under a Terry stop; as laid out in Terry v. Ohio, the officers must have a "reasonable suspicion" of criminality. (Here's the answer to the ID question: New York's stop-and-identify law, NY CLS CPL §140.50(1), apparently applies only to Terry stops, as it refers to officers detaining suspects -- which requires reasonable suspicion -- not merely questioning them.)

Rather, it appears that the officers' questioning of me was a first- or possibly second-tier "De Bour encounter"; People v. De Bour, which is really fascinating reading, outlines a test for four separate, escalating levels of police intrusion. To quote the OAG report, "at the first, least intrusive level, an officer may request information from a civilian about his or her identity, reason for being at a particular location, or travel plans, where the request is 'supported by an objective, credible reason, not necessarily indicative of criminality.'"

The second De Bour tier is called "the common-law right of inquiry". The OAG report again:

"Under the "common law right," an officer may approach and closely question a civilian to the extent necessary to gain explanatory information beyond identity and travel plans. Still, however, the officer may not detain the civilian; the individual always remains free to leave. This second level of intrusion -- which falls short of a Fourth Amendment "seizure" (a "stop") sufficient to implicate Terry -- requires a founded suspicion that "criminal activity is afoot." The difference between the De Bour tiers is "itself subtle" and rests upon the content and number of questions, and the "degree to which the language and nature of the questions transform the encounter from a merely unsettling one" under De Bour's first level, "to an intimidating one" under its second.
(The third and fourth De Bour tiers, which roughly correspond, respectively, to a Terry stop and an arrest, obviously don't apply in my particular encounter the other night.)

I'm uncertain as to whether my encounter with the police was a first-tier or a second-tier encounter under De Bour; I was asked my identity and my reasons for photographing a train. I felt "intimidated" (second-tier) rather than "unsettled" (first-tier), though, chiefly because of the officer's invoking 9/11 and his assertion that "al-Qaeda sometimes hires guys that look like you." Under De Bour, it would seem that the standard required to escalate the encounter from the first to the second tier would be "a founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." I don't believe that that standard was reached, as my behavior was legal, not furtive in any way, and that I responded to the officers' questions. As the appellate court wrote in De Bour, "innocuous behavior alone will not generate a founded or reasonable suspicion that a crime is at hand."

To go into greater detail on the ID issue, a portion of the OAG report (Chapter 2, Part 1C, Sections 2 & 3) is again worth quoting at some length:

1. Refusal to Answer Questions, or to Give Identity

The United States Supreme Court has held that "[a citizen] may not be detained even momentarily without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so; and his refusal to listen or answer does not, without more, furnish those grounds." Similarly, the refusal to identify oneself will not alone give rise to "reasonable suspicion."

New York courts, likewise, have held that, while police officers may pose nonthreatening questions seeking basic information -- e.g., regarding identity, address or destination -- when they have an objective, credible reason to do so, civilians are not required to answer or to provide proof of identity.61 Although some verbal responses to questions at this level can provide a basis for greater intrusion, such as obviously false answers, officers may not effect a more intimidating level-two "common law" inquiry, nor a level-three "stop," based solely upon a civilian's refusal to answer or failure to provide identification.

2. Avoidance of Police/ Nervous Reaction Upon Questioning

The United States Supreme Court has likewise held that a citizen who does not wish to answer police questions may disregard the officer's questions and walk away. Refusal to answer an officer's questions, standing alone, does not satisfy the constitutional "reasonable suspicion" test.

Under governing New York law, an individual has a constitutional right to refuse to respond to questions posed by a police officer, may remain silent, and may even walk away without fearing an arrest or detention by the officer. "Flight alone . . . or in conjunction with equivocal circumstances that might justify a police request for information is insufficient to justify pursuit because an individual has a right ‘to be let alone' and refuse to respond to police inquiry."

Finally, "[i]n light of the recognized ‘unsettling' aspect of a police-initiated inquiry of citizens," some New York courts have held that nervous reaction to nonthreatening questioning is not sufficient to authorize a greater intrusion.

(By the way, I realize that the OAG's report is not a court opinion, but I link to it and quote from it because it provides links to the actual court opinions, and because it does a good job of putting these complicated legal issues into everyday language understood by laypeople like me.)

This clears up that issue about the lack of compulsion to produce ID when requested by the police in this circumstance, but I do want to reiterate that not all police follow every laws in all circumstances, and my refusal to produce ID may well have resulted in my arrest...and even an unjustifiable, wrong arrest still means that you have to go to jail and deal with various massively unpleasant inconveniences.

And Andrew H: Plainclothes cops as deterrents? That's pretty risible.

Read what I said: I understand why they'd want to stop and talk to me, and I really don't have a problem with that. I resented the implicit accusation, however, and I resented feeling coerced into handing over my ID, and I definitely resented that they now have my information and that they can use it however they see fit.

There are lots of places to find high-resolution photos of much more arcane things in the New York subway than skylines and sunsets.

And yes, I realize that the subway system is an attractive target, and I understand how the car bomb plots were foiled by alert and savvy police work. I just believe that it's possible for the police to ask questions without implicitly accusing me of terrorism, or bringing up the possibility that I might be aiding terrorists. Perhaps I'm being overly thin-skinned, but I think that greater attention to tone on the lieutenant's part would have gone a long way toward my feeling less aggrieved by this encounter. (I doubt the cops particularly care about my feelings, though; they got what they came for, and they're off to something else.) As I've pointed out, though, it's in the NYPD's interests to cultivate good relations with folks like me who are well-positioned to report truly suspicious activity, and intimidating them (and causing them to fret about what's become of their driver's license information) isn't exactly the best way to go about that.

Kevin Walsh

Saturday I had a run in with a Bronx Community College rent a cop who wanted me to stop taking pictures of the Stanford White campus buildings. We had a cuss fest (I had already gotten what I needed) and I went to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, of which the administrators of BCC are not, and got more pictures.

Keep shooting!



I'd be honored just once in my life to be described as "buff."


I love reading these articles bceuase they're short but informative.


It is seinadrpg. Friends from Colorado have reported to me that there are demonstrations there. Now with the unions joining, I think it's going to turn into something even bigger. Lets hope


This is disburting to say the least. Teabaggers rail on and on about our freedoms, and here they are being taken away. Our country is turning fascist right befoore our eyes.


My wife and I live about 130m from the proposed site and we have 2 small ciledrhn.The proposed location is a minute commercial area in the midst of a large residential area. I fear that this technical non-residential status will trump the reality of the residential location which includes schools and child-care centres.Everybody I have spoken to who has lived near a rehab centre tells me they bring loitering, anti-social behaviour and needles in the street. I'm also concerned about Brockley becoming a centre for drug users, more dealers moving in and there being violent conflict between them and with existing drug dealers.If these concerns make me a nimby then so be it. If it was your neighbourhood and your kids you might also have concerns.At the consultation meeting last Wednesday, the advocates told us that in their experience of running 150 such centres, there would be minimal problems and we would barely notice the centre's existence. They emphasised that service users would be a self-selected sample committed to recovery and could be holding down jobs, have ciledrhn and/or only suffering from a mild problem with cannabis use. When it was suggested that some of the users would only be attending because of court orders, there was muted assent.The rosy picture painted by the advocates also stood in contrast to testimony of residents who had worked with the client group in question, others I have spoken to who have lived near rehab centres, and the impression given by CRi's own risk assessment. According to this document, there is a moderate likelihood of moderately severe agression from service users towards staff, volunteers, peer mentors, peer advocates, service users and visitors. This risk will be reduced by issuing all staff with personal alarms. Risks to local residents and passers by are not assessed, but I think we can assume they won't be issued with personal alarms.The general impression was one of a meeting divided between advocates and residents, with no honest broker to mediate or give unbiased information. Also sorely lacking was anybody from the organisers who knew how to chair a meeting. This alone went a long way towards undermining the effectiveness of the consultation.My faith in the consultation process was further undermined by the consultation document' that advocates said had been distributed to 1000 local residents. Few people in the immediate area say they received the document although many who actually received it may have ignored it because at first sight it looks like a general consultation with no relationship to the local area. Only in the small writing on page 2 would readers find out that a rehab centre is proposed for Shardloes Rd. No street number is given, no map is given and there is no photo of the building.The document includes a questionnaire that doesn't ask residents how they feel about having a rehab centre on their doorstep, it only asks them if they want better drug treatment services in the area. There are no quantifiable options that could be used to register opposition. Only one of the text boxes could conceivably be taken as an invitation to voice opposition. This box is at the end, the responder would have had to go through the nauseating series of leading questions to get that far, and any contents would not contribute to the hard statistics' that end up being presented to the mayor. As an object lesson of how to lie with surveys, it's only failing is that its shifty guile is all too blatant.The above considerations seriously undermine my faith in the rest of the assurances from the advocates, including the assurance that this really is the best location. If it really is, then fair enough, it has to go somewhere, and it's just my bad luck if it turns out badly. However, it's difficult to believe any assurance when it's being offered up alongside obvious flim-flam.


I think that Mr Keith Geary, needs to look at his own political views and moittavions before commenting on other's political views. And if they are politically motivated, it is because we have views that are not about the privatisation of education, and removing any local accountability from the local community and Council. The self-aggrandizing of a superhead , with the complicit approval of a Board of Governors who purport to act in the interest of the community, deserves to be questioned and challenged. Mr Jack Brown artist in residence at Tidemill School, and a Pro Academy Teacher explicitly said that the financial system were sound-this has been found to wanting in the light of recent developments, and me thinks, about the purely politically inspired comment Mr Keith Geary refers to when talking about the temporary withdrawal by the Board of Governors attempt to make Tidemill an Academy School. And academies are not a political issue? Mr Michael Gove thinks not!, there are political intentions. Big business is looking to get peice of the action! Do we want the Carpet Empire of Harris' running our schools? I choose to think that there are larger forces at work other than Mr Keith Geary or Mr Mark Elms.I am also intrigued by Mr Keith Geary comment We know what the challenge is against the plans . What are they? In the interest of democracy? Is the new plan about waiting till the furore dies down and rushing it through, and hoping that no one notices?This was supposed to be a straightforward process, as we have had to hear on many occasions from Mr Mark Elms and Mr Keith Geary and their various voice-pieces.And for someone who knows I am perplexed at their inability to add up or at least check that the figures were true.

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