Since 2003, the New York Police Department has been filming protesters at political demonstrations, regardless of whether anything illegal’s going on. The Village Voice says that police aren’t so keen on surveillance when the cameras are turned on them–particularly when those cameras show them abusing free-street-parking privileges. Last month, two volunteers from the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives were detained for taking pictures of police officers’ private cars, which were parked on the sidewalk outside the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown. The volunteers say they were held and questioned at the precinct for about 20 minutes and instructed to erase the pictures.
One volunteer says the officers listed several reasons they could not photograph cops’ personal vehicles–including concerns that if the license plate numbers were published online, gang members could track police to their homes. Another volunteer quoted an officer as saying that the USA Patriot Act was involved. Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union says the incident is troubling. “There are no prohibitions against photographing in public spaces,” Dunn notes. “They can’t mandate anyone to destroy photographs. If they said [the volunteers] could be held, that sounds like coercion to me.”