Press photo group concerned about NYPD restrictions

Derek Green | Newsgathering | Feature | July 20, 2011

The National Press Photographers Association on Tuesday sent a letter complaint to the New York City Police Department expressing concern about the department's handling of two newsgathering incidents involving the association's members.

The two incidents, one involving the handcuffing and detention of a press photographer recording a police encounter in Manhattan and the other concerning apparent press restrictions on access to a public street near a Brooklyn crime scene, are in "total contravention" of the NYPD's policies, the letter says. In addition, the restriction on press access in the second incident is also unconstitutional, the NPPA argues.

Mickey Osterreicher, NPPA's General Counsel, wrote the letter. He said in an interview these types of incidents are particularly concerning to him because of their frequency. "More and more people continue to be stopped by the police on a daily basis throughout the country" for documenting public events, Osterreicher said. Such confrontations with the NYPD are all the more concerning because they run counter to NYPD policy. "They are simply disregarding their own department's policies," Osterreicher said.

The NPPA's letter describes the first incident as involving an NPPA member being handcuffed and detained after videotaping police activity on 42nd Street. A police officer demanded identification from the photographer while the photographer was recording the separate police incident, the letter says. After the photographer had finished taping, he was handcuffed and detained for approximately 10 minutes, without explanation as to any charges.

The letter contains a link to video footage of the incident.

"What is most disturbing is that the officer in question repeatedly requested to see [the photographer's] identification even though he was wearing an NPPA Member ID on a lanyard around his neck. That ID displays his name and photograph as well as the expiration date of the ID," the NPPA's letter says.

The second incident involves press access to a public street near a crime scene in Brooklyn. Osterreicher's letter says the police had blocked media access to the street, while at the same time allowing public access. The press continues to receive conflicting information from the NYPD as to their access rights, with some officers stating that the street was open while other officers prohibit the press from accessing the street, according to the letter.

This access issue is especially disturbing, in Osterreicher's view. "While the press may not have any more rights than the public in terms of access, they certainly don't have any less rights, either," he said.

The NPPA's letter requests that the NYPD establish a "formal and consistent chain of command to avoid the 'he-said/she said' that is apparently ongoing in Brooklyn." The NPPA filed the letter as a formal complaint and requested that the NYPD commence formal investigations into the incidents and refresh its officers on its press policies.

The NYPD's Public Information office did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.