150 photographers seek answers at NYPD meeting for RNC

Aug 15, 2004

By Todd Maisel

(NEW YORK, 1 POLICE PLAZA) — Photographers will have maximum access to demonstrators and incidents in New York City during the Republican National Convention vowed Paul Browne, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information for the NYPD. He promised media representatives at the August 12 joint meeting of the National Press Photographers and New York Press Photographers that his office will be available 24 hours a day to intercede with police and photographers to maintain freedom of the press. Commissioner Brown also promised the nearly 150 photographers from throughout the country that police will respect all out-of-town media credentials, as long as they have photo identification and the credentials are not expired. This also applies to foreign press, though some may need temporary credentials issued if theirs are not in English and recognizable to members of the NYPD. Others could request assistance from the NYPD if they believe their credentials might be a problem.

NYPD representatives from Browne's office will be available at various sites to assist photographers who have problems with police. A command post will be established for media to talk with police officials at West 31st Street just west of 8th Avenue, to be staffed 24 hours a day. Police Plaza is already staffed for media requests 24 hours a day for in-person or call-in assistance at 646-610-6700. In addition, Browne said police will have a command center with Secret Service at the Republican National Convention inside Madison Square Garden for the duration of the convention. This site is accessible only to those with RNC credentials issued by the Senate Press Gallery. Also, a space and a riser will be constructed in front of 5 Penn Plaza on Eighth Avenue that will serve as the main site for press briefings by NYPD and other government officials.

To inform the media of events and updates, the NYPD will put any media members on an eMail list. Any members of the media who want to be on the mass eMail list may send inquiries to bsessa@nypd.org. Browne, who spent half his career as a reporter at the New York Daily News, said the eMail listing will make available a constant stream of information on demonstrations, daily events, and incidents involving arrests at various planned and unplanned sites around the city.

"This is an important tool to know what is going on, not only at the convention itself, but other events around the city and even at the US Open," Browne said. "It does no good for us to sit on info and this way we make it as relevant as possible. If there are arrests for disorderly conduct, we should try to answer what did 'discon' mean here - did someone block traffic or something else like smash windows at Starbucks? If we know there are 20 people at Wall Street, we will put out an advisory."

Press and treatment at public incidents

Police officials vowed to provide as much access to incidents as possible, though photographers are advised to give as much space to police to do their job as possible. Photographers wearing any type of riot gear, including helmets, are advised to make sure they are marked with clear "press" identifiers so as not to be confused with some of the anarchists who may be wearing helmets to demonstrations. He also said police "do not use tear gas" and so gas masks are not necessary, though pepper spray is sometimes used with large unruly crowds.

Chief Michael Collins of DCPI said police are also being told not to obstruct photographers from taking photos.

The NYPD Patrol Guide, code 116-53, clearly affirms the First Amendment of the Constitution as it states:

Members of the service will not interfere with the video taping or photographing of incidents in public places. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or harassing the photographer constitutes censorship. Working Press Cards clearly state, the bearer "is entitled to cross police and fire lines." This right will be honored and access will not be denied. However, this does not include access to interior crime scenes or areas frozen for security reasons.

"My best advice is if there is a problem situation, don't get too close, especially if there is pushing and shoving," Chief Collins said. "Most people have problems when everyone is too close and then there are sometimes media arrests, mostly inadvertent, and sometimes cameras break when people get too close," Collins said. "Let us know if something is going on, and we will run out and try to mediate a situation so that access is maintained."

He further advised media not to argue with officers and to call DCPI for assistance. "It doesn't help if you call and there is screaming going on. Cops won't come to the phone to talk to us, but we will come down as quickly as we can," Collins said. "Sometimes we can get on the radio and talk to on-scene commanders and try to mediate a solution so that access to an incident is maintained."

Some photographers wanted to know what is meant by "respectful proximity" when an arrest is occurring. "At what point does it become unfair access?" one shooter asked.

Chief Collins said some hardcore anarchists will get arrested, but police will work with "arrest teams in a disciplined fashion."

"We will have spotters who will look within a peaceful crowd to see who is throwing a brick, bottle, or anything else and then the arrest team will go in like a wedge and handcuff the person," Chief Collins said. "If you are not trying to penetrate the police, you should have no problem. If an officer stands in the way, you must take his advice and move back. Don't argue with an officer during an arrest. Look for a sergeant or anyone in a white shirt for assistance. But do try to call us too. Try to use common sense - keep a distance of 10-15 feet, but understand, things are happening quickly and maybe you might get handcuffed, but if I could get there, I can 'unarrest' you."

Some of the larger demonstrations may have thousands of people, whereas the largest protest in Boston at the DNC may have had about 300 people. Police say organizers expect the United for Peace and Justice Rally to attract 200,000 people, beginning on August 29. This rally and march will begin organizing on Ninth Avenue to Fifth Avenue between 15-22nd Streets, will proceed north on Seventh Avenue to 34th Street, and then move to the West Side Highway and downtown to Chambers Street, near Pier 26. Officials are currently seeking overhead views from buildings, but they emphasized that areas around Madison Square Garden will be tough because of Secret Service counter-sniper teams that will be on rooftops and in buildings. A possible overhead location, with building owner cooperation, may be found before the protest, police say. Some portions of this demonstration may splinter off in different directions from the main march, police believe.

Officials say a stage may be erected on 31st Street to accommodate a rally there too.

Access around RNC

Anyone seeking to enter the RNC, including the Farley Post Office, must have RNC credentials. Areas around the Garden however will be open to all members of the media with photo ID press credentials. Press will enter the garden via the Farley Post Office and then cross the specially-created bridge, built just for media personnel so that additional magnetometers are not necessary for security screening.

[Figure C: Diagram of inner and outer security perimeters around Madison Square Garden, including both fixed and mobile checkpoints.

Vehicle access will be restricted to those who have the proper credentials to enter the immediate site around the Garden. There are eight so-called "sally points" which are mobile checkpoints manned by police. A steel barrier is raised or lowered to allow a vehicle in, and then, once it is inside the checkpoint, the barrier that it entered raises and another barrier is raised as the vehicle is checked with special cameras and detectors. Limos, delegate buses, and vehicles making deliveries will mostly enter and leave the sites. About 10,000 police officers will be deployed in and around the RNC site for security and checkpoints.

Browne said all working press will be able to access the immediate area around the Garden with photo ID. There will be checkpoints at various locations around the Garden where there will be one or more ID checks.

Terror in the city?

Members of the media are advised to leave any area that is attacked by terrorists because of the possibility of chemical, biological, or radiological weapons. Photographers should listen carefully to emergency responders in the event of an attack and to "self-evacuate," Collins said. "You shouldn't necessarily rely on emergency people to come to your aid if you can help yourself." Police expressed confidence in their ability to prevent an attack with numerous types of detection equipment at their disposal.

Photography restrictions?

Police officials emphasized that there are no photography restrictions on members of the media in any area under their jurisdiction. Some shooters have been prevented from taking photos in the subway, but there are no laws on the books that prevent photographers from taking photos at this point. In fact, it is legal for civilians to take photos on subways.

(The MTA is attempting to pass a law preventing non-media members from taking photos in the subways and stations. It is opposed by the NPPA.) Officials say anyone taking photos of sensitive sites on mass transit -- i.e., train tunnels, surveillance equipment, power supplies, etc .-- could expect to be questioned by police. However, Browne said NYPD policy is to facilitate photography.

There are laws against taking photos at Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority bridges and tunnels. Those taking photos at checkpoints should approach personnel at the site, state their purpose, and show identification. In most cases, photos will be permitted so long as they are not of the entrances to the tunnels or bridges.

Those seeking to take more photos of any of the structures can call TBTA spokesman Frank Pasquale at 646-252-7417. Pasquale has a history of being very cooperative and accommodating for legitimate media. Photography at Port Authority bridges and tunnels will attract the attention of police at those facilities, so be ready to answer questions and produce identification for authorities.

Those having problems with private security or other agencies in the city may call DCPI for assistance as NYPD considers photography in the city their jurisdiction. Problems have also been encountered from National Guardsmen augmenting security. Most are told not to prevent photographers from doing their jobs, but some have interfered in media operations - threatening some press with arrest. DCPI can assist with any problems in these cases too. NYPPA and NPPA leaders say outreach will be done with Department of Defense officials on these matters. Officials advise no matter what police or others try to do to prevent photography, "Don't argue with them." Instead, contact DCPI at 646-610-6700.

Schedules for convention

The following is a schedule for the week of the convention provided by the NYPD. It does not include inside RNC events. These are subject to change. Locations will be announced.

Saturday. August 28

  • Christian Defense Coalition, midnight, Saturday into Sunday, 31st Street and 7th Ave.
  • Planned Parenthood, 11 a.m. 31st Street and 7th
  • Green Party rally, noon (12 p.m.) 31st St. and 7th
  • Mets at home, 1 p.m.
  • Latin Music Fest TBA
  • Middle East Peace Coalition, 3 p.m. 31st and 7th
  • RNC Media Party, 8 p.m.

Sunday, August 29

  • Manhattan Half Marathon, 7 a.m. Central Park
  • Code Pink Women for Peace, 8 a.m. 31st and 7th
  • United for Peace and Justice, 10 a.m. Lower Manhattan 14th Street, 15-22nd Street (see description)
  • Mets home game, 1 p.m.
  • Christian Defense Coalition, 2 p.m. 31st Street and 7th
  • Delegates Broadway shows, 4 p.m.

Monday August 30

  • RNC opening, 10 a.m.
  • US Open Tennis, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • NYC AIDS Housing Network and Hip-Hop Summit action at noon, from Union Square Park, up Eighth into demo area which is all of Eighth Avenue and as much as needed 31st Street south
  • Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights, 1 p.m. 31st and 7th
  • Mets, 7 p.m.

(While the RNC is in session, Seventh and Eighth Avenues will be locked down, with vehicle and pedestrian diversions. Heading south on Seventh Avenue, diversions will be at 42nd Street. Diversions will occur one hour before the convention begins, for a total of 13 hours all week. For a maximum of 18-20 hours, areas from 42nd to 23rd will be closed to traffic on Seventh and Eighth; at least 1-3 lanes will be open at other times.)

Tuesday, August 31

  • US Open Tennis, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Yankees home, 1 p.m.
  • NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action), 8 p.m. 31st and 7th Ave.
  • Postal Unions protest, 2 p.m. 31st and 7th
  • People for the Americans, 5:30 p.m. Central Park

Wednesday, September 1

  • Anti-gun display, 6 a.m. Union Square Park
  • The line, 8 a.m. employment line (There will also be a group who will be creating an unemployment line from the Garden up Broadway, with each demonstrator holding a pink slip. No permit was needed for this.)
  • US Open Tennis, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Mets, 7 p.m.
  • Yankees, 7 p.m.
  • Central Labor Council, 4 p.m. 31st and 7th
  • National Organization of Women, 7 p.m. Central Park
  • NYC Host Committee concert, 7 p.m. Central Park
  • RNC starts at 8 p.m.

Thursday, September 2

  • US Open, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • A major demonstration(s) is expected, though none are scheduled with permits issued
  • Mets, 1 p.m.
  • Yankees, 7 p.m.
  • RNC in session 8 p.m.

Friday, September 3

  • US Open, 11 a.m.
  • Delegates, candidates leave city

Communications

Most news organizations will have T-1 lines inside the Garden and those with RNC credentials will be able to gain access to the Farley Post Office. There are numerous Starbucks, Kinkos, and T-Mobile stores that offer T-Mobile WiFi access throughout the city. Also, Verizon WiFi currently works throughout the city and sites are available on the Verizon Web site on the Internet.

(Compiled and written by Todd Maisel. Maisel is a member of the photography staff of the New York Daily News. He was chair of this meeting, serves as secretary of the New York Press Photographers Association, and is a member of National Press Photographers Association.)