yonas1 11:21pm, 11 April 2007
Good evening,

About 20 minutes ago, I was taking photographs in the Gallery Place Metro station. I took a couple of tunnel shots and a slow-shutter train shot. Shortly thereafter, I was approached by a police officer who found my picture taking "suspicious" and she asked me for identification. She took down all of my information and put me through a brutal questioning session. I answered all of her questions truthfully, but she was so obviously skeptical. She even called in for backup! I mean, I know our police have to be cautious and all, but what the fuck! It angered me to an immense level, but I did a pretty good job of controlling my temper. I was so humiliated to have a cop on either side of me while everyone walked by, wondering what was going on.

I just wanted to put this out there -- if you like taking pictures in the metro, please be careful of paranoid cops. They were apathetic when my car got broken into three different times and apathetic when my good friend was held up at gun point in broad daylight, but when it comes to photographers in the metro their instinct calls upon them to act swiftly to save the world.

Please beware.
Werewolf Puppy PRO 11 years ago
Hi, thanks for the warning.

There is a thread about photographing subway stations: www.flickr.com/groups/dcmetro/discuss/142321/
yonas1 11 years ago
@Werewolf pup

Thanks for the link. I found some good info on that thread.
fd3sdriver 11 years ago
Please get yourself a copy of your right as a photographer here;


I ALWAYS carry it with me!
yonas1 11 years ago

Awesome. Thanks for the link!
lightboxdc Posted 11 years ago. Edited by lightboxdc (member) 11 years ago
PLEASE file a complaint with Metro about what you encountered. Metro policy allows non-commercial, no-tripod photography without a permit. These incidents continue, and I think they'll only stop after Metro addresses this in their internal training.

I would also encourage you to correspond with elected officials who serve on the regional authority that controls Metro. Here in DC, for example, councilmember Jim Graham is a voting member of the Metro/WMATA Board of Directors. If you live in DC, he's an excellent rep on that board. You may have an elected official in your area who serves on the board, and/or CC all members of the board regardless with your concerns.

The WMATA/Metro board members are:
Hoffmann PRO 11 years ago
I second lightboxdc's comments above. Definitely file a complaint with metro.
JoshuaDavisPhotography 11 years ago
DCist has blogged about this post, there are some useful comment there.
alex.DC PRO Posted 11 years ago. Edited by alex.DC (member) 11 years ago
Um, this is probably a little controversial to point out in a photography forum, but real attacks have occurred on metro systems in the UK and Spain. People have actually been killed. There is plenty of evidence that attacks are likely to occur again. It is also a fact that terrorists actually have photographed targeted sites in the past (although I doubt they do it with a nice SLR or with concern for composition and lighting.) Bush Administration fearmongering has made saying such things sound hokey, but unfortunately it is true.

The cops have an incredibly difficult job in defending the Metro system, and it is very difficult to determine who is suspicious and who is not. Interacting with the public by occasionally asking questions is pretty much the only way to do this. I suspect their tendency is not just to notice photographers, but anyone who seems to be doing something other than what Metro is for -- transit.

There is no indication that the original poster was actually forcibly detained, just questioned -- and I'm a little skeptical of the claim of "brutal questioning," especially since it took place right there on the scene. Maybe the first cop called for backup because she wasn't certain of the regs, and needed her supervisor to clarify?

Every time I ride the Metro, I see tourists taking photos with no hindrance from anyone. To me, the bottom line is, yes, know your rights and carry a copy of them around with you (if you must -- I've never been stopped and don't feel I need them). But leave the attitude and excessive righteous indignation behind. It's not going to help anyone.
rtisbute PRO 11 years ago
I have heard of this so many times... Travel in photographer pairs and capture the maddness!!! Then there will be proof.
thecurtis 11 years ago
I was aproached the same way by a Metro Police Officer while taking pictures in a tunnel. She was nice about it though. Sorry your encounter was not very encouraging.
.sanden. PRO 11 years ago
I took this in DC, I had a few odd looks but no one ever approached me.

yonas1 11 years ago

Thanks for the useful link. I will definitely file a complaint.


Thank you for your opinion and valid outlook. Yes, I am very aware of and have not forgotten the attacks in the UK and Spain. I feel terrible for the victims, but I do have to point out that aggressive attacks like that do not require photographs of "structural" segments of a particular location. There is sadly (and this is scary) no way to stop something like that unless every single bag/briefcase/suitcase/backpack is checked one-by-one or unless a metal detector is installed.

And yes - the officer put me through some pretty brutal, extensive, and unnecessary questioning. I'd like to bring to light, at this point, that you were not there. The reason she called for backup is because she wanted an officer to keep an eye on me while she filled out the paperwork. She did everything short of getting my blood type and social security number.

This isn't about "attitude" or "excessive righteous indignation," and you're smart enough to know that. This is about being able to enjoy life, being able to live every day without the excessive paranoia and fear that is force-fed into every American's brain by the Bush administration.

I appreciate the law enforcement in the metro, but with just a little more analysis and a touch of common sense, these types of harmless situations could be avoided altogether.

Again, thanks for your outlook and comments.
alex.DC PRO 11 years ago
Yonas -- fair enough.

But -- I'm curious -- she actually went as far as to take a report? On what basis? Did you get a copy?
yonas1 11 years ago

I'm a wee bit hesitant to call it a "report" exactly. I hate to sound naïve, but I'm not sure what it was! She did pull out a form and copied all the information that was on my Driver's License, copied down my cell phone number, and my office number. She also appeared to be writing down my answers to her other questions regarding the photography. Unfortunately, it never came to mind for me to ask for a copy. Should I have?
Jon's snaps PRO 11 years ago
yonas1 - I wouldn't worry about the report. If you got her name and badge number you can always call the precinct HQ and ask about it. Having worked back home in a law enforment agency, we always had to take notes and file "incedent reports" whenever we interacted in a meaningful way with a member of the public, Not neccissarily for further investigation (with this administrations fear mongering you never can tell though!) but mostly for accurate record keeping and legal liability.

If you haven't heard anything then I wouldn't worry.

I can sympathise with you - its a difficult grey area when standing for your rights whilst being aware of the current security situation and the paranoid climate it creates amongst the public and law enforcement.
rubyshoes 11 years ago
@yonas1...We discuss this in my photography classes at Montgomery College...It is a new day for all of us in a hobby/profession where we document our environment, particularly in a crowded urban area. I don't agree with it AT ALL, but it's reality - people will be paranoid and people will question you.

I consider myself lucky when no one asks me what I'm up to, rather than being surprised when they do. My friend is a photographer, and he was taking photos off of a parking garage deck in Bethesda. A woman approached him and asked him if he was a terrorist! INSANE. I mean really, if I thought someone was a terrorist, like I;'m going to call them out by myself in a parking garage? Anyway, this is what our media-saturated/code orange world (and, as alex.DC pointed out, some very real threats) has caused.

Hang in there, know that if you do no wrong, you're likely to be okay However, you never know when you'll run into cranky law enforcement folks vs. those who are just giving friendly warnings. You did right to be calm and represent yourself well...it's the best way to defuse such situations.
tzakielmuto 11 years ago
It says right in the metro policy documents that photography is allowed, sans flash and tripod. I looked it up after a woman complained to me about it.
CherryRodeo [deleted] 11 years ago
I just returned from DC and was told to stop photographing at Union Station and at the Judiciary Square metro stop. Both security officers were polite about it. The metro stop officer said I could photograph people but not structures.
lightboxdc 11 years ago
Cherry: Did you get a name for either officer?
Groups Beta