Cat girl, Cat girl, whatcha gonna do when the cops come for you?

Just a note, posted 11/22 – I’ve spoken to some folks at Metro-North that have apologized for the incident and will be reminding the managers of track workers that taking photos on the platform is not illegal. I’m satisfied with this resolution, and I thank everyone for their comments.

Today was the final day for me to go out and take panorama photos at the last five stations on the Harlem Line. After that, the panorama project would essentially be complete (the original goal of all Harlem Line stations complete, but I’ll still be shooting panoramas and adding them to the project and map), and I would have visited all current and active stations on the line. However, I had been warned many times about two particular stations: Melrose and Tremont. Some readers of the blog assured me I would be safe there. Many train conductors I know advised me not to go there, unless I planned on taking a gun. I did ask @MetroNorthTweet his opinion, and he responded “I just checked with our Police and they said there shouldn’t be a problem during the day.” I decided to go. The amusing thing is that at both stations there was no threat to me whatsoever – it was actually *I* that was deemed a threat.

I suppose this now means I’ve now been baptised by fire into the inner circle of transit photographers… I’ve now had the police called on me, while I was taking photos at Melrose. This weekend there was a bit of track work going on in the Bronx. I kinda figured that the extra bodies in the vicinity of the stations would make me safer. Instead, it was apparently my turn to get harassed by the track workers, or rather, one specific track worker. Trains stopping at Melrose are not as frequent as many other stops, and I was aware I was going to be stuck at the station for slightly over an hour. I spent at least a half an hour of that time taking photos of the trains going by. All the while the track workers were hanging around, doing not a thing. It was when they came up onto the platform to hang out in an idling MTA vehicle on the street (playing loud music, by the way) that they noticed me taking photos. Taking photos in the opposite direction didn’t seem to bother them, but instead in the direction where they had been working (or perhaps, not working) they got angry. One worker came out of the idling vehicle to shout at me to stop taking photos. I didn’t really think anything of it, and by the time the next train had started to roll by I had forgotten, and pulled out my camera to get a nice shot of the train as it went by.

Track worker then exited the vehicle, slammed the door, and charged down the stairs to come and yell, “I told you, don’t take no pictures. Nobody’s allowed to take pictures. MTA Police don’t allow NO photos.”
Eric, who was accompanying me on my last photo jaunt to Harlem Line stations, replied something along the lines of, “There’s no reason we can’t take pictures here.”
The track worker steps forward, threateningly replying, “Oh yeah? OH YEAH?! Well we’ll see about that. I’m callin’ the cops on you. I’M CALLIN’ THE COPS RIGHT NOW!”

Thinking back, I was wondering why this man was so angry. I came up with a couple of possibilities:
– He was picked on as a child
– He’s not getting anything from his wife in the bedroom
– He’s not very big and needs to assert his manhood in some way or another
– He thinks I now have photographic evidence that proves he and his buddies were doing nothing other than punching each other and listening to loud music in an idling Metro-North vehicle.

He got on his walkie talkie and called in, “I have a situation here at Melrose. We need the cops down here right now.” I don’t think he said anything else, and wouldn’t clarify what exactly the “situation” was, but he said there were two people that were “doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing.”

The train I was taking was set to come in around fifteen minutes, and it took the police about that long to get there. When the track worker saw I was getting my stuff together to board the train, he began to block the bridge plate (since track work was being done, people could only enter and exit the train from the small bridge). Anotherwords, the man was blocking my only way to get onto my train and to leave. But what right does a track worker have to detain a passenger on Metro-North Railroad? None whatsoever – I would consider that illegally detaining me.

The cops certainly arrived in order to take care of this “situation” – clad in their bulletproof vests. I walked right up to one of them, handed him one of my website business cards and said “Yes, I take photographs at train stations. I’ve taken photos at many stations and have had no problem before. There are people that work for the railroad that are aware I am out here taking photos…” (not exactly a stretch. I’ve gotten messages from an array of people, from ticket collectors to engineers) the police officer interrupted me, demanding my identification. I really didn’t think he had any right to see it, but I wanted the whole damn thing to be over with, and to be able to board my train that the police were now preventing from leaving. And so I gave him my ID, which he photographed. He asked me where I was going (did he really have any right to know?), and I told him the Botanical Garden. He asked if I would be taking photos there as well, and I said yes. He told me not to go to any places I didn’t belong as I boarded the train. That makes me wonder, did track worker lie and say we were in unauthorized areas? Conveniently, I was wearing my GPS tracker – which allows me to geotag my photos. It can also plot on a map every single step I took today – and prove I was not in any unauthorized areas.

Anyways, here I am now, wondering what exactly is going to the photo that a police officer now has on his phone of my ID. I also came up with a couple of possibilities:
– The MTA police will now have a file on me, as I am a potential “threat to safety”
– Nothing whatosever
– [redacted, I admit, this was an inappropriate comment]
– The police will be actively pursuing me as a threat. In this instance I figured I’d help them out, since I am a designer and all, I created my own wanted poster:


Real terrorists vandalize their own hypothetical wanted posters. Oh, and that is a new, custom hat, thanks to the always-awesome Susan at Boshi Basiik!

In a post 9/11 age of paranoia and suspicion, public photography is increasingly seen as threatening, or mistaken as criminal…Amateur photographers are the documentarians of real life. We capture our world to help us understand it. We are not a threat

-JPG Magazine

There is really nothing else for me to say, other than what I’ve said already. I will still love Metro-North, and I will still love photography. And nothing is going to change that… even if it makes me a supposed “terrorist.”

10 thoughts on “Cat girl, Cat girl, whatcha gonna do when the cops come for you?

  1. The MTA and NYPD have repeatedly said it is not illegal to photograph or film MTA buses or trains. I’m really sorry that you had to go through that. Maybe I’m just a vindicative bitch, but I would take my photographs of MTA employees lounging around and send them to the powers that be there. Or the NY Times.

  2. It’s perfectly legal to photograph rail equipment unless you are doing so from railroad property without permission. Most if not all utility employees (Con Ed, PSEG, Verizon, Metro North, MTA) get VERY nervous around people with cameras taking pictures of them “working”, as from one former Verizon employee, often times the company will send what seems to be ordinary people out to job sites to “take pictures” or basically catch employees slacking off. In most cases with photographic evidence of employee laziness (caught sleeping, etc) even union reps can’t help the situation.

  3. Go CatGirl! That must have been very stressful, but I’m glad you stood your ground.

    I took photos at Crestwood a few weeks ago and was nervous because people kept staring and pointing. Luckily, no one bothered me.

  4. That “inner circle” of transit photographers who’ve had the cops called on them is pretty big, I’d imagine.

    I’ve had the cops called on me while photographing NJT, Amtrak, and PATH in Newark, NJ (although I was shooting a huge bridge) who told me up front that what I was doing wasn’t illegal, they just had an obligation to follow-up on 911 emergency calls. I left anyway since I’d gotten my shots and didn’t feel like another round.

    I was also told to stop shooting inside Downtown Crossing, a subway station in Boston, by a pair of plainclothes transit police officers. The MBTA photo policy is pretty much “shoot whatever you like, but not for commercial use and stay out of the way of passengers. And you need an ID.”

    Aggressive and threatening employees…that’s not something that happens everyday. The worst I’ve had is a conductor flipping me off as the train pulled away; in other words nothing.

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