My recent post, “Crossing Bridges,” dealt with an encounter I had with some local Bridge Police after a photography session on the Tacony-Palmrya Bridge. The encounter was largely positive, as the officers professionally responded to a 911 call, but during our conversation some incorrect information about “what Homeland Security says” was passed on. Namely, that pictures of the bridge are prohibited.
Pushing the encounter, beyond gently pointing out the information was incorrect, wouldn’t have served any purpose. The officers were kind, did not demand our cameras, and we parted ways cordially. I do, however, see it as part of my civic duty to try to work with the bridge commission both to clear up this incorrect information and create a way to make both the lives of police and the photography community easier. We have a right to take photos, they have an obligation to respond to 911 calls for which they have no direct knowledge. To that end, this morning I sent the following message to the Burlington County Bridge Commission,
Patrick Reilly, Director of Public Safety and Security,
The other evening a neighbor and I were taking pictures of the Delaware River from the walk on the Tacony-Palmyra bridge. The view up there is stunning and we’d been wanting to capture images from the vantage point for some time.
On our way back down into New Jersey we were approached by two bridge police officers who greeted us cordially and informed us, “Homeland security says no pictures of the bridge.” I wish I would have gotten these officers’ names to commend them, because they were obviously responding to a call and were very gracious as they did their due diligence.
The comment regarding what Homeland Security prohibits, however, is troubling – and the officer was working from incorrect information. According to the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org/news/you-have-every-right-photograph-cop?redirect=free-speech/you-have-every-right-photograph-cop) and this podcast (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4705698) taking pictures of bridges is not prohibited by DHS and taking pictures of infrastructure from a publicly open space is, in fact, a protected right under the Constitution. There may be other reasons to prohibit taking photographs from the bridge, but one of them cannot be “Homeland Security says no.” At any rate, taking pictures of the bridge from a public space is never a prohibited activity.
I do not fault the officers, again I am genuinely grateful for their due diligence in responding to a call in a calm and professional manner, but I do hope the mis-information about photography could be cleared up for the bridge police.
On the other hand, I also recognize the duty of responding to 911 calls on the part of the force and hope to work out some way to make dealing with photographers less of an issue should a call come in regarding their presence. I understand you have limited resources, and far better things to do then check in on a couple of guys with cameras. Would it be possible to work with the bridge commission to create voluntary check in and/or guidelines for photographers? Not to gain permission, which we do not need, but so police can respond with confidence, “Yes, we know who they are” should a call come in reporting activity. That way your resources are kept for more vital work, and photographers rights are protected.
I would be honored to work with the Bridge police to establish an positive interaction with the department and the photography community. Hopefully it can be a model of good will in an era where so much ill-will is being spread.
I look forward to your reply.
Wesley T Allen
I’m really looking forward to their response. Should one not come, I will follow up with a phone call.