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June 1, 2011

MTA chief repudiates photographer curbs

The head of the Maryland Transit Administration flatly repudiated Wednesday the efforts by some of the agency's police officers to forbid photographers from shooting pictures of MTA equipment or from MTA property, vowing to settle all the issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland before a lawsuit can be filed.

Agency Administrator Ralign T. Wells said MTA officers were not properly representing MTA policy when they ordered two amateur photographers to stop taking pictures and video of light rail trains earlier this year. Wells said he would apologize to the photographers and take steps to make sure that officers respect the First Amendment rights of photographers.

"We don't have a policy restricting photography," Wells said. "The actions of some of these officers are not reflective of the agency stance."

The MTA chief offered an explanation, but not an excuse, for why transit police officers ordered Olev Taremae of Bethlehem, Pa., and Christopher Fussell of Portland, Ore., to stop taking pictures and video in two separate incidents in February and March.

"There's just a high sensitivity post-9/11 to photographers. We obviously have to back off of that," he said.


The ACLU told MTA Transit Police Chief John E. Gavrilis in a letter Tuesday that it would file a lawsuit over his officers actions in the two incidents if the agency did not make amends to its clients and issue a new policy upholding the rights of photographers. The group gave the MTA until Sept. 1 to make those changes of face legal action.

Wells told The Sun his agency would settle its issues with the ACLU without any need for litigation.

"We're going to work with the ACLU on any of their concerns," he said. "In no way are we battling the ACLU on this. We are in complete agreement with them on this."

Wells pointed to a posted policy on the MTA web site that states: "A permit is not required for non-commercial, personal-use filming or photography by the general public that does not interfere with transit operations or safety."

However, the day before, an MTA spokesman seemed unaware of the policy and pointed a reporter to language emphasizing a need to seek a permit before taking pictures at or of MTA property.

The MTA is the latest of many transportation agencies across the country that have been forced to back down from formal or informal curbs on photography in the aftermath of 9/11.

Wells said the policy allowing photography had been restated to officers in February and March. He said the ACLU letter and a Sun article Wednesday about the controversy would be brought up at roll calls Wednesday and throughout the week.

Wells said MTA officers may approach a photographer and ask to voluntarily produce identification.

The MTA chief said officers who are found to have misstated Maryland law or MTA policy in exchanges with photographers could be subject to "administrative" discipline.

"The chief is very aggressive with taking administrative action with employees who are not in line with our procedures and rules and regulations," Wells said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:16 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: On the roads


Do I have the right not to be photographed on an MTA train?

COMMENT: It is a public place. There is no general right not to be photographed in a public place.

Anyone care to start a pool for how long before an MTA officer harasses a photographer?

Do not be fooled by the MTA Administrator's groveling.

He is only hoping to defuse the issue and get the ACLU to NOT file legal action. He knows that in court, the MTA
will lose and his agency will have to officially develop an acceptable and legal policy that must pass muster with
the court and with others outside the MTA, thus depriving himself and the MTA of unbridled authority, which they will retain if only an informal agreement is reached with policy and procedure vetted only by MTA itself.

I say to the ACLU: KEEP THE HEAT ON.

I'm actually disappointed that MTA has either caved, or didn't have a prohibition on photo taking. This is a homeland security issue. Public transit has long been a coveted target of terrorist throuout the world. For reasons that cannot be placed on the internet, a person stalking a public transit line can gain very damaging information. Restrictions on photography are essential to protecting passengers. As long as there is a forum in place for photographers with artistic purposes to gain prior approval from MTA before picture taking, these restrictions are a must for safety.

Someone high up is lying. I personnally worked on an MTA project and was asked by the MTA project manager to take pictures of the finished project. I had to call for an appointment with the MTA police and meet him at the Metro station. The officer followed me around like a puppy dog.

The problem is not with the MTA, ACLU or photographers. The problem is with the rogue employees who try to project their beliefs, prejudice and ignorance onto others. In my only encounter with MTA police, one of the officers acted so childishly that I don't doubt the photographers story for a second. How exactly does one get stuck in a MTA police uniform -- failing out of the big boys academy?

My guess is that harassing these photographers is not the first time the officers in question have fabricated the law to suit themselves. And unless disciplinary action is taken, there is no reason to think they will change.

"The chief is very aggressive with taking administrative action with employees who are not in line with our procedures and rules and regulations,"

So we have one of the guys on video -- what is his punishment?

Josh, that makes zero sense. If Terrorists are willing to go as far as to commit suicide in order to kill countless innocents, I am sure they can get away with it even without taking some photographs of some train equipment. The homeland security act is a sham and a waste of money, and a limit of our freedoms. Anyone recall this video that came out after 9-11?

I agree Bill. Living in Baltimore, we should all know if someone wants to kill someone, theyre going to do it. How the hell are pictures going to help a terrorist, and how would a lack of them hurt them. For $3.50 they can ride the train all day, or go to the website and get as much information as they want. To think terrorists need photos or even to stake out a place to make some plot to kill people is just ludacrist. When was the last time you saw a thug take a photo of another thug before he busted a cap in his buttox

10 to 1 this is the same smarmy official that ordered the cops to harass the photographers to begin with.

Terrorists don't need to take photos for their nefarious plots. They just use Google.

Josh and other people who fail to understand the following.....IF a crime is committed and there are dozens of photographs of the location, taken by decent amateur photographers (at their own expense), there are that many more records of who was present at or near that time. Amateur photographers provide a free security backup....if only smart-ass cops and security guards could understand this.

Josh is an example of those who seek to voluntarily abandon our freedoms in the name "homeland security".
I'm nor friend of the ACLU, but at least in this case they are actually defending our liberties. Go Chris! Go!

This is obviously a CYA issue for Wells who probably has political ambitions. The fact that a spokeperson for MTA doesn't know the policy demonstrates the arrogance of Wells and Grevalis. The ACLU needs to file a lawsuit and get a monetary settlement. Not until O'Malley and the MDOT Secretary and Wells have to explain a large settlement will this matter be resolved. As for disciplining the officers ... it was probably a good ole boy party. We'll never know how they were disciplined due to personnel issues (a good ole boy cover)!

What are terrorist going to blow up in Baltimore? Baltimore has never been a terror threat or on any list. Anything they would blow up for the most part would be a service to the city and the country. This is ridiculous. MTA Police are police officers who couldn't pass the psycolgoical tests credible agencies require. Wells and the Chief of MTA police should be disciplined for allowing ignorant employees (Spokesperson for MTA who doesnt' know policies ... my dad was a spokesperson for FedEx for years in Memphis and where there was a question there was an attorney to turn to) is embarrassment to Maryland and Baltimore. Just as the Sheila Dixon debacle fades this comes up.

It's great to read the comments in support of the freedom of the photography, something that I have done myself off and on over the past 20 years. However, in looking at the comments as someone who knows Mr. Wells personally, I can state without any doubt that he is not opposed to the hobby of transit photography in any way, as he has a lifelong interest in the field. I've personally watched him looked over historical albums of old MTA and BTC photos with great interest, and even given him a few photos from a collection I have, of some of his favorite buses from the past 20 years.

What too many people fail to realize or consider is that today's present is tomorrow's history. One need only look in historical photo books of Baltimore's past, from photos of the Downtown Shopping Area to the streetcars that once plied our streets, and think of the photographers, whom at the time, were simply taking a photo of what was then around them, just as this young man was attempting to do.

to anonymous be a man or woman and put your name to your comments. Obviously you don't realize that ALL police officers in the state must meet the same criteria. Everyone wants to have all of their rights preserved but feel safe. How is that possible? Sitting at station with no trains in sight across from the State Office Complex and the 5th Regiment Armory next to Congressman Cummings office filming is supposed to be no big deal. That is of course until something tragic happens then everyone screams about what were the police doing. You can't have it both ways. Before you make him a victim get the whole story.

Well said Kenny, you sound logical and cop haters will always be out there. Why don't the media go to the Chief of police and make respond and tell the public why he orders his officers to stop unidentified people from taking recodings of public transportation? It is easier to insult the street cop for doing the job they have been trained to do than ask the policy makers. the administrator Wells was just a part time bus driver a few years ago and will not have any idea what police do...make the Chief of police answer for his officers and thier decision

Dixie and Kenny, have you actually watched the video? If what these Officers are saying is to be taken as "law," we will never see or hear a home Ravens or Orioles game broadcast again since they will need consent of all in attendance who can be overheard.

For that matter, we using your logic, should have to require permits to purchase cameras, separate permits to photo or film anything that could be of interest or violate the wire tapping laws cited in the video. There goes any record of tourist trips, graduations, sporting events, leisure trips to a zoo or park, etc.

Benjamin Franklin once said "those who would give up essential liberty to achieve some temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." So true.

He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.

If you idiots think the cops were right in stopping this guy from taking pictures you should move to Russia, Germany, or any other country that doesn't value the freedom of its people.

Then come back and tell us how you feel.

Let me be clear I'm not saying give up your liberties but can you explain to me how a train enthusiast can be recording an empty train station? Lets be realistic. Those things listed by AJ are a totally different circumstance. You have a man who is intentionally deceptive, sitting outside filming an empty track bed coincidentally across from high profile targets. one thing has nothing to do with the other. What is aestetically pleasing about a track bed? There is no art or astounding structures to photograph so who wouldn't be suspicious. It's the totality of the circumstances not just an isolated piece to be reviewed that's all we should consider. For those of you who like to quote historical figures why do you lock your doors at night? Because your security means more to you than somebody having freedom to access you and your stuff!
Here's some history for you...ordinary people rest well at night knowing rougish men stand ready to do harm on their behalf!

We all know the public transit story: everyone’s unhappy for whatever reason they choose as “topic of the month,” but this time around though, I found something a tad more interesting, and that’s Bombardier’s latest multibillion dollar victory. Maybe I’m just a sucker for corporate drama, but this may be worth a glance for you as well:

In any case, enjoy :)

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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