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Some Police Still Enforcing Non-Existent Ban On Photography In The Subways

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TWC News: Some Police Still Enforcing Non-Existent Ban On Photography In The Subways
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When the MTA tried to ban picture taking in the subway last year, that plan quickly died in the face of widespread opposition. But that hasn't necessarily stopped police from enforcing the non-existent rule. NY1’s Bobby Cuza filed this report.

Taking pictures or video is perfectly legal anywhere in the subway or commuter rail system, and not grounds for a DisCon, or Disorderly Conduct, summons. And yet, scenes like this one are not uncommon; police trying to block the practice, as they did when NY1 visited the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn with newspaper photographer Todd Maisel, Vice President of the New York Press Photographers Association.

He says police are routinely enforcing a rule that doesn't exist.

"Most people will not do something that a police officer does not want them to do, because they don't want to be arrested. They don't want to go through the system. They don't want to deal with the courts," says Maisel.

On the subways, New York City Transit's own rules of conduct are clear: Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted. That means everyone - not just news people, but anyone with a camera.

Ciiting security concerns, the MTA proposed tightening the rules back in 2004. But the opposition proved so fierce, the idea was quietly dropped.

"The rule against photography was never adopted, and therefore can't be enforced. There's no rule!" says Harry DiOrio of the National Press Photographers Association.

That means if you have a camera of any kind, you can use it without asking permission.

As for the news media, MTA spokesman Tom Kelly says it's longstanding policy that they let the agency know if they plan to take pictures or video. He says that's only to maintain orderly operations and as a courtesy to passengers who may not want their pictures in the newspaper or on TV.

But critics point out that policy's not written anywhere, leaving it up to individual police officers or transit workers to make their own rules.

"We're very concerned that police officers, without any legal authority, are telling people they cannot videotape, they cannot photograph,” says Christopher Dunn of the NYCLU. “And people, because they respect the police, or they fear the police, are complying with that, even though that's a completely unlawful order."

Maisel says he's contacted several attorneys, but no legal action has been taken against the MTA, at least for now.

- Bobby Cuza
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