Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chicago Cops, CTA Employee Don't Know CTA Photo Policy

I was harassed on Thursday, May 7 by City of Chicago police officers and a CTA employee for taking photographs at the CTA Howard Station. None of the men knew CTA’s own policy regarding photography. (Click on photos here to enlarge them) I was at the station to revisit the scene of a weird incident that happened on April 25. That incident involved a man who was bleeding heavily near the CTA bus turnaround between the Howard train station and Gateway shopping mall, anchored by a Dominick’s grocery store. Initially, police thought he had been shot between 7:45 and 8:00 p.m. The bleeding man lay on the ground and was not transported to St. Francis Hospital in nearby Evanston until about 9:45 p.m. The fact that the man was allowed to languish on the ground for approximately two hours is strange enough, but at 11:20 p.m. the police issued this bizarre statement by e-mail: "Per Area 3, their investigation revealed the incident on the 7500 blk of N Paulina not be of a criminal nature after discovering that the M/44 subject appeared to be suffering from a medical condition and had NOT sustained a gunshot wound." How did the CPD officers on scene, not to mention paramedics, need over an hour to determine that it was not a gunshot wound? It challenges the imagination. Police went to the nearby Dominick’s to obtain video of what might have happened. Still unaware that the suspected gunshot wound was “a medical condition,” they even pulled over a car seen in the video that they suspected might have had something to do with what was initially assumed to be a shooting. (For more about that incident, see "Shooting at Howard El Station Mystery Deepens.") The problem with cops going to Dominick’s to obtain video of something that happened at or near the Howard station is simple: There is no clear line of sight between Dominick’s and the train station or anything else east of their parking lot, and there are no security cameras at CTA’s Howard Station. Standing in front of Dominick’s, you cannot see the station at all. I wondered why would the police go to Dominick’s for video? We know they did from police scanner chatter. Surely, I thought, CTA must have installed security cameras in a hub station that they just spent over $50 Million renovating. So, on May 7, I went to Howard Station to look for cameras there and to photograph both the station and the exterior of Dominick’s. As I exited the train at Howard, I stepped onto a crowded platform, camera in hand. I photographed the interior of the station as I walked through its public areas. I was in plain sight of several CTA employees, and I made no attempt to hide what I was doing, Nobody said a word to me about taking photographs. CTA’s "Photo & Video Policy," as posted on its own website, says this: The general public is permitted to use hand-held cameras to take photographs, capture digital images, and videotape within public areas of CTA stations and transit vehicles for personal, non-commercial use…. Large cameras, photo or video equipment, or ancillary equipment such as lighting, tripods, cables, etc. are prohibited (except in instances where commercial and professional photographers enter into contractual agreements with CTA). I should note that I took the photos for "personal, non-commercial use," since I've put them on my personal blog site, and I do not intend to sell them. CTA does not define "personal use." As I walked out of the station and into the bus turnaround, I approached a CTA employee. My camera was still in my hand, in plain sight. I had no large equipment or ancillary anything with me, only a small Canon PowerShot A530. We smiled at each other, and I asked him why there didn’t seem to be any security cameras in the station and whether Homeland Security requires them. “Who do you work for?” the CTA employee asked, in that you’re-trouble-now tone. The short man wore a short-sleeved white shirt and cap. He looked like Napoleon and was doing what so many “public servants” do: Divert, obfuscate and attempt to confuse in as rude a manner as possible. I told Napoleon that it was none of his business who I work for. If he had asked me politely why I was taking the photos, I might have told him about the April 25 incident and the police confusion and the Dominick’s video. He had asked the wrong question in the wrong way. He could have said something polite like, “Well, sir, I don’t know anything about CTA security camera policy, I’m sorry. Say, what are you taking pictures of?” Instead, what seems to be a possible Napoleon complex got the better of him. Many public servants seem to consider the most basic of questions to be a disturbance. It was apparently a slow day for Napoleon, and he was probably bored. I walked away from him, not in the mood for confrontation. He was not why I came to Howard Station. I went into the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, got a coffee, came back into the bus turnaround plaza and continued to photograph it as I walked north toward Howard Street. That’s when two deputy dawgs showed up, each in his own Chicago police car. The polite cop was Officer Harris in car 2454. The sadistic old cop was Officer Steele in car 2424. They asked me what I was doing. I said I was enjoying a sunny day and taking photos, and asked them if it's illegal for me to be taking photos of a public facility or of the open plaza. "Maybe, depends," said Office Steele. (Depends on what?) He asked for my I.D., which I gave to him. They filled out a contact card. I asked Napoleon for his name, figuring I have the right to know the name of my false accuser. All he gave me was badge number, "23932." As they were wasting my time and theirs just off of Howard Street, drug deals were going down in the neighborhood. Domestic violence was occurring nearby. Loitering and criminal trespass was taking place, all within spitting distance of where two cops and a bored CTA employee were trying to get to bottom of why an old white guy was quietly taking photos of a public transportation hub wherein the official policy allows photos to be taken. The cops and Napoleon either don’t know the CTA policy or they were just eager to engage in a little sadism to break up an otherwise boring day. I was only in public areas as I walked through the station after getting off a train. As I stated above, I took photos openly, not trying to hide my camera (CTA policy says nothing about concealed cameras). More of the CTA photography policy: All photographers and videographers are prohibited from impeding customer traffic flow, obstructing transit operations, interfering with customers, blocking doors or stairs, and affecting the safety of CTA, its employees, or customers. All photographers and videographers must fully and immediately comply with any requests, directions, or instructions of CTA personnel related to safety concerns. I was not impeding traffic of any kind. I was blocking nothing, nor affecting anyone's safety. Napoleon, badge “23932,” did not request that I leave the station premises. He actually gave me no instructions other than to not take photographs, but I already knew that he had no authority to do so because CTA’s own policy allows me to do what I was doing. His question about who I work for had nothing to do with safety. If I worked for a terrorist organization, which I don't, I would not have answered, "I work for World Conquest Terror, Inc. You should have me arrested right now." Let me ask all the terrorists out there: Would you answer that way? No, of course you wouldn't. Officer Steele seems to be a frustrated old policeman who feels it's necessary to lob insults at citizens to make himself feel important. The CPD’s “diversity training” apparently doesn’t teach cops how to deal with somebody like me, a non-violent, over-50 white male sipping coffee, wielding a non-lethal, inexpensive digital camera, and not causing any trouble. Harris stood by quietly, not saying much. Steele accused me of being "on medication," which I’m sure was designed to get a chuckle out of Harris. I did not hear him chuckle. Steele taunted me about the possibility of being "taken in," and generally tried to intimidate and humiliate me, but his bully behavior did not have the desired effect. Like any bully who doesn't get a whiff of the desired smell of fear, he gave up and drove off. The cops and Napoleon left, seemingly disappointed that I was not intimidated. As they drove off slowly, I resumed my photography. In retrospect, maybe the cops actually did know that I was doing nothing illegal. After all, they did not arrest me or ticket me. The more I think about it, the more I believe that only reason Napoleon and Officer Steele detained me, asked for my I.D. and asked stupid questions was to break up their boredom. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but the only alternative is that they simply do not know the rules. Congratulations to the bored CTA employee and to officers Harris and Steele. We’re all safer for your heroic vigilance. RELATED: Chicago Police Need Customer Service Training CommieBama Hats and More Chicago News Bench RSS Feed Follow ChiNewsBench on Twitter