Man Arrested by Amtrak Police for Taking Photographs for Amtrak Photography Contest

You can't make this stuff up. Even Stephen Colbert made fun of it.

This isn't the first time Amtrak police have been idiots.

And in related news, in the U.K. it soon might be illegal to photograph the police.

EDITED TO ADD (2/10): The photographer's page about the incident has been replaced with the words "No comment!" Anyone have a link to a copy? In the meantime, here's an entry about the incident on a photo activist's blog.

EDITED AGAIN: Thanks to Phil M. in comments for finding these Google Cache links from Duane Kerzic's site:

Phil adds: "The main Amtrak page on his site has since been crawled, so Google now has the 'no comment' note cached."

Posted on February 10, 2009 at 6:19 AM • 43 Comments

Comments

BF SkinnerFebruary 10, 2009 6:38 AM

They've been hassling photogs in the DC central station too. The law of unintended consequences may make the trains the prefered mode of travel for celebs who want to duck the papperazzi.
Been contemplating getting press credentials (from pyjama.org maybe) and snap some pictures until hassled then interview the beat cop and his supervisors.

Peter Parker never had to put up with this grief.

@Bruce. Funny thing about that link - is it suppose to say no comment?

Rogue MedicFebruary 10, 2009 6:55 AM

I think they took the link down, but perhaps with a bit of a sense of humor.

This may not just be the preferred way for celebrities to travel, but terrorists, too. If you cannot be photographed, maybe it will provide protection for people who want to travel without being photographed. Next Amtrak may arrest the people who maintain the security cameras.

BrettFebruary 10, 2009 7:05 AM

Not allowed to photo the police- not a good idea for us, for the police a great thing. Does this mean that they can will be able to turn their in-car cameras off also?

SommerfeldtFebruary 10, 2009 7:12 AM

Now that's funny. It's one thing though, to say that these officers made a mistake that is no doubt worthy of a few laughs and a little bit of ridicule...it's another to brand every Amtrak police officer as idiots.
Re "This isn't the first time Amtrak police have been idiots."

I'm pretty sure that not all of them are, and that their procedures actually are based on risk assessments and quite a bit of headscratching to make sure they're balanced between security and convenience... but I could be wrong, of course.

bobFebruary 10, 2009 7:17 AM

I dont get this "you cant photograph public officials on duty in public" thing! I am glad I dont have kids - I cant imagine what its going to be like in the future (actually I can, that's the problem)

If anything, it should be encouraged - rewarded even; like in stores where you get a discount if they don't give you a receipt with your purchase.

@Brett: Only a good thing for dishonest cops. For normal ones either no benefit or they become all tarred with the same brush.

MuffinFebruary 10, 2009 7:31 AM

@Sommerfeldt:

"I'm pretty sure that not all of them are, and that their procedures actually are based on risk assessments and quite a bit of headscratching to make sure they're balanced between security and convenience... but I could be wrong, of course."

Yeah, true. It's just like with lawyers - contrary to what people say, they're not all bad. It's just 99% of them that give the rest a bad name.

;)

A nonny bunnyFebruary 10, 2009 7:37 AM

@Sommerfeldt
"I'm pretty sure [...] that their procedures actually are based on risk assessments and quite a bit of headscratching to make sure they're balanced between security and convenience... but I could be wrong, of course."

I fear I can't share your optimism. There are no metrics to base a risk assessment on in the first place. There is little to no data about the use of photography by terrorists at train-stations (or anywhere else for that matter).

bzelbobFebruary 10, 2009 7:44 AM

I don't think this is a case of the police being 'idiots'. By which I mean that these are not isolated incidents of individual stupidity. There is a clear pattern of a systematic policy here, but one that the union stations owner/operators would rather not have to own up to.

And as far as not being able to take pictures of the police in the U.K., that is CLEARLY a systematic policy. (And soon to be law, likely enough)

My best guess is this is being done on purpose to get people used to having to put away the cameras and not photograph the police. This will come in handy for any event in which the police might be portrayed as 'the bad guys'.

Incidents like this http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/14/... show why the cops are having problems; not because citizens are taking pictures, but because their training is poor, their attitude is confrontational and their behavior is that of thugs.

HugoFebruary 10, 2009 7:57 AM

In all their efforts to make their land secure, the only thing governments are achieving is that THEY are the ones the public has to fear. Not the terrorists.

SteveLFebruary 10, 2009 8:21 AM

If you want something funnier in the UK, a member of parliament got stopped by the police for taking photographs of a bike lane that his constituents have been complaining about. His MP identity card -the one you'd need to get into Parliament- wasn't considered enough to get him out of being searched.

http://crapcyclelanesofcroydon.blogspot.com/2009/...

He has a good quote in the paper
http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/local/...

"It is pleasing to see just how vigilant our police is at these times of heightened international political tension and the risk of terrorism here at home."

"I am glad my stop and search account as a white, middle-aged male shows that anyone can be suspected of, and questioned about, terrorism, regardless of race, creed or colour. "

PhillipFebruary 10, 2009 9:35 AM

"Photography of buildings and areas from a public place is not an offence and is certainly not something the police wish to discourage. Nevertheless, in order to verify a person's actions as being entirely innocent, police officers are expected to engage and seek clarification where appropriate.'"

Because we all know Terrorist can't tell a lie! George Washington would be proud of them.

LeprechaunFebruary 10, 2009 9:49 AM

Not surprised by the UK. Over 20 years ago, as a baby-faced young teenager, the Royal Ulster Constabulary confiscated a roll of film from me after I took a picture of their range rover vehicle driving through Belfast. While I wasn't really serious when I asked if I could get the pictures back after they were finished with them, the use of assault rifles being aimed at myself and family while they demanded the film taught me more about the abuse of power than growing up with the NYPD in the Bronx.

Gordon DFebruary 10, 2009 9:50 AM

I got questioned by the Amtrak police for taking photos of the lower area underneath 30th St. station in Philadelphia. They checked my ID, asked to see a few photos and I think they ran some sort of check on me. It was seriously unnerving. I was fully aware that what I was doing was completely legal because I was on a public road, and don't like being intimidated out of exercising my rights, but I eventually decided to just go elsewhere for my photography assignment.

ChrisFebruary 10, 2009 10:09 AM

Bring your camera everywhere, take pictures of everything. Take even more pictures of people taking pictures. And definitely take pictures of photographer harassment.

Think of the comedy: rent-a-cop hassles photographer 1, and suddenly 3 or 4 more photographers come over and document the whole thing... and spray it all over youtube.

BigligFebruary 10, 2009 10:45 AM

Hmm, since the new UK laws cover *former* members of the police and armed forces as well, that would presumably make it illegal to photograph the Queen. Or Buckingham Palace (it's one of her addresses). Or announce that she's going to be attending an event.

cassielFebruary 10, 2009 10:47 AM

If you're anywhere near Westminster Tube or Downing Street on a sunny weekend you'll be unable to move for the hundreds of tourists happily snapping pictures of the Houses of Parliament, or whatever little bit of Downing Street can be seen through the fences.

Perhaps they're not a terrorist threat because most of them are Japanese?

RHFebruary 10, 2009 10:59 AM

Many times I've said "9/11 was far more successful than Osama Bin Laden could have ever dreamed..." but I hate being proven right.

Seriously, if he's alive, he's laughing his ASS off. If he's been assasinated, Allah's probably giving him an extra virgin saying "thanks for the laughs man, this is amazing!"

I expect God should be laughing too. Any creator deity who {insert the usual recreation facility and waste management joke} has to have enough of a sense of humor to laugh at our complete systematic failure.

RHFebruary 10, 2009 11:00 AM

On a more serious note, the law says anyone who 'elicits or attempts to elicit information ... which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'. This says NOTHING about motive at all. You could accidentally take a picture of something important, and get in trouble. You might not even know what it is on that tape, meaning there's NO checks and balances (since asking would be eliciting information....)

Anyone else play the tabletop roleplaying game Paranoia, released in 1984? The rules are frighteningly similar

Pat CahalanFebruary 10, 2009 11:35 AM

@ RH

Serve the Computer! The Computer is your friend! The Computer is crazy. The Computer is happy. The Computer wants you to be happy.

This will drive you crazy.

TNFebruary 10, 2009 11:39 AM

Last year at Melbourne airport, I was seeing a friend off. Having too many assorted useful things to make it through the metal detectors without abandoning my possessions, I didn't walk my friend to the gate, but instead we said our goodbyes and parted prior to the security checkpoint, and waited for them to get through and get out of sight.

Then I turn around, in time to be nabbed by airport security. Long, searching looks in the direction of the security checkpoint? Suspicious. I was taken and questioned.

So, they're asking for my name, date-of-birth, identity documents, home address, occupation...

Journalist, actually.

Everyone stopped suddenly, withdrew. A hurried conversation ensued, and suddenly I was free to go.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have insisted on the same information from my interrogators. I'm sure they'd have felt as uncomfortable as I did if they had to answer all the same questions for a random person.

mooFebruary 10, 2009 12:10 PM

@TN:

The double standard is appalling, isn't it? They hassle ordinary citizens whenever they can get away with it, but they don't want to hassle a journalist because they think he can make them look bad.

I fully agree with RH above. As long as people are willing to believe the media-induced fear of "terrists", I have no choice but to consider their activities a wild success. The only proper way to deal with terrorism is to refuse to be terrorised (and meanwhile, send your armed forces out to hunt them down). The culture of fear in America over the last 8 years is truly appalling and disappointing.

TNFebruary 10, 2009 12:14 PM

Next time (and I'm sure there will be one, alas), I'll insist on taking notes. It might be their job to ask questions, but it's mine too.

AndrewFebruary 10, 2009 12:27 PM

This is exactly why you want security personnel -- and not police officers -- doing this kind of transit security.

A security guard's powers are limited by design. The guard can observe, report, document and call for help -- all worthy things that can detect terrorist surveillance and/or mess up a terrorist attack -- but does not have the power to seize film, search on suspicion or threaten arrest for law-abiding conduct.

They are also much cheaper, getting more coverage for less taxpayer dollars.

The guards can and do photograph as well, by the way, often from a distance and without making contact. Covert cameras are very small these days.

*waves hi to the tangos out there*

Reality CheckFebruary 10, 2009 1:00 PM

With idiotic actions such as this, how can the US claim it was ever "winning the war on terrorism"? Clearly, the terrorists HAVE won...

RebeccaFebruary 10, 2009 3:06 PM

This reminded me of the time, back around 1990, when an Iowa DNR agent, who pulled over my brother-in-law to inspect his boat in a public lake area, tried to grab my camera out of my hands as I was snapping shots of him doing the inspection and told me, "It's against the law to take photographs of DNR agents!" "Why?" I asked. "For security reasons!" he snapped. Fortunately I was quick, and he didn't get my camera. That got me even more interested in laws, surveillance and privacy issues...and I never did find such a law. And I still have those photos in a box somewhere! :)

Hmmm...now I'm curious to see if there are any such laws currently.

Rebecca

Phil MFebruary 10, 2009 3:39 PM

Bruce, much of what disappeared from Mr. Kerzic's site, including a copy of his
[letter to Amtrak's CEO][1], [Amtrak's acknowledgement of receipt][2], [New
Jersey Transit's acknowledgement of an e-mail he sent][3] (which quotes his
message to them), and a [response from *** at NJT][4],
is still in Google's cache. The main Amtrak page on his site has since been crawled, so Google now has the "no comment" note cached.

ModeratorFebruary 10, 2009 3:58 PM

Thanks, Phil. I'm going to move the long Google Cache links up to the main post for neatness's sake.

Phil MFebruary 10, 2009 4:18 PM

Bruce, maybe you should contact him to find out why he has removed all this information from his site. Threats from Amtrak or the transit agency? Money paid to him as settlement for wrongful arrest with the stipulation that he not publicize the police wrongdoing?

trapspam honeypotFebruary 10, 2009 4:27 PM

OK, boys and gurls. Take the photos. Erase them upon demand. Go home, download Recuva or anyone of several recovery software packages. All freeware, all very function. Run program, recover photos that were erase, deleted, or hey, even reformatted. Upload, blog, post here.

Oh yeah, I got hassled by state police by email for complaining to state environmental protection agency, state police, and oil company execs for take a photo of a refueling truck spilling fuel onto the group at a gas station. My Bad.

Phil MFebruary 10, 2009 4:53 PM

Since Google's cache is temporary, following the text of the letter from Mr. Kerzic (contact information removed) to Amtrak's CEO that was previously published on his public Web site. I think it explains the situation well. I was unable to locate any response from Amtrak, but that should be available via FOIA request to anyone who is interested.

Duane P. Kerzic

December 22, 2008

Amtrak
Attn: Mr. Joseph H. Boardman, President and CEO
60 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Sir:

I’m writing you as a result of my experiences in Pennsylvania Station New York on December 21, 2008 at about 12 noon. I had taken New Jersey Transit Train 7826, departing New Brunswick Station at 10:58 and arriving at Pennsylvania Station New York at 11:52. I was in the 2nd to last car of the train which dropped me off on the western end of the platform for Tracks 9 and 10 in Penn Station. At no time prior to 5PM on December 21 was I east of the escalator that is immediately east of elevator B5.

I am an amateur fine art photographer and take photos of subjects I see. I was starting to work on a submission for the “Picture our Train” annual contest which has been run for the previous 5 years. In the previous announcements of the contest there is a section “Safety First”. In this section it states “Stay in public access areas such as stations, sidewalks or parking lots.” So after detraining I wanted to spend a few minutes taking some photographs from the platform.

To get to the platform I did not cross any barriers, did not see any “No Trespassing” signs. I did not pass through any closed doors. I was about to exit the platform at just after 12:01 PM by using the Escalator that is just east of Elevator B5. At this time I was approached by Amtrak Police Officers Rusbarsky and Smith. They asked me what I was doing on the platform; I answered taking photographs of equipment. I had an email from New Jersey Transit that says photographing is allowed from all publicly accessible areas of New Jersey Transit Property and photo ids are no longer needed which is the service I use to get to Pennsylvania Station New York. I showed the paper to Officer Rusbarsky. He stated this is Amtrak not New Jersey Transit. They asked to see my tickets, I showed them my New Jersey Transit Tickets, of course the one I used to ride into the station on had been collected on the train. Officer Rusbarsky then wanted to see the photographs I took. He then demanded that I delete the photographs. I refused to delete my photographs. They also said did I see the “No Trespassing” signs, I asked, “what signs?” and looked around for one. I was then arrested for Trespass NY Penal Code 140.05.

At this time I voluntarily put my hands behind my back without being asked. Officer Rusbarsky then proceeded to put handcuffs on me. He started with the right wrist. He put the cuff on backwards. I said, “you are putting the cuffs on backwards, please put it on correctly so you don’t hurt me” or words to that effect. He then put the left cuff on and made the right wrist tighter. I complained to him to correct how he cuffed me and he refused. I personally know several Law Enforcement Officers and have knowledge about this technique to being used inflict distress on prisoners. Since I was not struggling and holding my hands behind my back I fail to see how Officer Rusbarsky can claim he made an error in applying the handcuffs. After I verbally complained about what he was going to do and his insistence shows in my opine, a premeditation on his part to assault me with his handcuffs. This caused several red lines on my skin which lasted in excess of 24 hours and pain in my wrist bones. I have had photos taken of the injuries which I will supply to you if you wish.

I was issued summons 428312755. I then left the station and conducted my business in NYC. I returned to the station at about 5:24PM. At this time I called the Amtrak Communications Center to ask for the Police Shift Supervisor to file a complaint against Officer Rusbarsky. At this time I met Sergeant Taylor. I have to say I wish I had met Sergeant Taylor under different circumstances he’s a very interesting person. Sergeant Taylor took my complaint about the handcuff abuse. He also showed me a “No Trespassing” sign on Platform 9 & 10. However, that sign was located in a place I did not access while I was in the station. I can’t not remember every passing a “No Trespassing” sign on any of the platforms I have been on during my travels.

I have done considerable research on the internet and other locations for where persons are allowed to take photographs in and where they are not. Amtrak has nothing posted on this anyplace. When calling your various Media Departments they pass you off to someone else or state a policy they will not or cannot produce in writing. When you get to someone that is supposed to know they say something but will not provide it in writing. Today I sent a letter to Michael Gallagher, the station manager of Penn Station NY asking for clarification and areas where and were you are not allowed to be and photographed in writing, I have included a copy.

The act of making a photograph is not a terrorist act. It does not injure anyone or anything. The police in London asked for anyone that took photos in the stations the day of those attacks to bring their photos in so they could look at them for possible evidence as to what happened. I believe that taking photos makes the places safer because if someone was trying to do something there is a chance that I have recorded something about them. If we stop people from making photographs of trains and train stations where will this generations O. Winston Link come from?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely;

Duane P. Kerzic

ENCL: Letter to Michael Gallagher, Station Manager Penn Station NY dated Dec. 22, 2008

CC: Amtrak Law Department
The Honorable Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
The Honorable Senator Robert Menendez
The Honorable Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Honorable Senator Charles E. Schumer
The Honorable Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
President Mr. George W. Bush
Mary E. Peters, United States of America Secretary of Transportation
The Honorable Governor Jon S. Corzine
The Honorable Governor David A. Paterson
The Honorable Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
The Honorable Senator Daniel K. Inouye
The Honorable Congressman James L. Oberstar

CianFebruary 10, 2009 5:17 PM

In Ireland, it is not illegal to take photos of police while on duty, but it is illegal to print them. An exception to this is if the police officer in question is breaking the law or misbehaving in some way (they are then no longer considered to be acting as a police officer).

I only mention this becuase until I looked it up (prior to posting) I thought it was just flat out illegal to photograph police officers in Ireland, in the end it's often not a case of what the law says but what your average citizen believes it could say.

another bruceFebruary 10, 2009 9:29 PM

@muffin:

ah, a lawyer basher. know ye, that someday some of you reading this may fall into a desperate strait, where the only thing between you and personal ruin is a good lawyer, and a good lawyer will do the best job possible no matter your previous inclinations toward this noble profession, and if he or she should be successful, you rightfully must fall on your knees and cry out your gratitude for the result and your regret for previous comments such as yours, mr. muffin.

anybody here care to guess what i did for a living 1980-1995?

DaveCFebruary 10, 2009 11:51 PM

It seems to me that 9/11 has become a blanket excuse for every megalomanic idiot in law enforcement (or pseudo-law enforcement like TSA) to abuse the public.

Unfortunately, law enforcement tends to attract people with precisely these types of personality problems.

RHFebruary 11, 2009 11:30 AM

@annother bruce:
Opinions of lawers not withstanding, you do have to admit... its a frightening system where you can be charged with a crime and be unable to defend yourself without the aid of someone who spent 10+ years in school plus an apprenticeship!

The law of supply and demand does not work in our favor!

BF SkinnerFebruary 11, 2009 11:45 AM

@Rebecca - Good point.

"Security!" he snapped?
"Oh yes?," I ask "whose?" then the beating began.

Law of this nature would vary by state at least (maybe county).

This is the damage the VP did when he started enacting secret law.

My general experience is that when there is statue or case law the LEO can reel off the relevant statue number without thinking.

EPIC http://epic.org/
or the ACLU http://aclu.org/ (founded in response to the first Sedition Acts)
may give more resource. And there are starting to be more legal blogs (lawyers love to talk)

JackieFebruary 27, 2009 8:30 PM

The law is clearly written. The police might use it in attempts to intimidate photographers or steal their film/files. But there's no reason to think anyone will ever be convicted unless they do attempt to collect information for use in terrorism. Interpretation of laws is why we have trials.

WinchesterWingSeptember 8, 2010 7:18 PM

This Life, which seems so fair,
Is like a bubble blown up in the air
By sporting children's breath,
Who chase it everywhere

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