Old 09-16-2007, 03:03 PM   #1
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Default LEO tells me train photography is suspicious

At about 5:15 on 9/15/07 I was in Spartanburg, SC trying to shoot the helper unit on a loaded train. I was near Wofford College near where the Clinchfield ended and the helper loco was halfway over the trestle with “Wofford” written on it, a place I’d wanted to get a shot since I first saw it in 1999.

The nose and cab of the unit was still behind a tree, so I made myself be patient and wait it out, standing on the shoulder of a road on the right of way in plain sight on a sunny day with a camera around my neck. A few cars passed as a crew member was on the rear of the train doing whatever has to be done to get the unit to work in tandem with the head end power.

Perhaps five to ten minutes after I stood there, a City of Spartanburg police car drove slowly past. Even though I did not turn back or look over my shoulder, I was aware that my patrol car stopped on the side of the road. Truth be known, I was in a bad mood already due to several things, none of which had to do with trains, photography or LEOs. So I told myself to be calm, answer his questions and not make a scene which I may have done in similar circumstances and moods if my wife and kids weren’t in my car across the road.

The officer came up and spoke to me. He was pleasant and non-confrontational. The words attributed to him and me are to the best of my recollections four hours after the event. He said, “Just taking pictures, are you?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah.”

“Is it a hobby?” he asked.

I said, “Yeah, I just like to do it.”

He said, “You do understand that it looks suspicious, don’t you?”

Going through my head, I thought to say, I can’t help how what is normal to me might look to someone else. But I didn’t.

He went on to tell me that no one called this is, but as he passed, he thought it looked odd to see someone standing near a railroad track with a camera. Again, that seems totally normal to me, but then again, I’m a photographer of trains. He said that since 9/11, we have to be careful because that’s – pointing to the still stopped train – is what they’re going after.

Again, going through my head, but unspoken, I thought, “No, they wouldn’t go after a coal train. They’d go after a hazmat train or an Amtrak train.”

He asked to see my ID, which I fished out for him. If I had thought about it for a moment, and if my wife and children weren’t watching, I may have given thought to telling him I shouldn’t be forced to show him my ID for doing nothing wrong. Of course, he may have said, “Well, you did park on the side of the road.” In any event, I gave him my license.

By now the train had started to creep, so I said, “Do you mind?” gesturing toward the train. He indicated I could go ahead and while I made sure my camera was going to start back up – a three and a half year old 300D does have a bit of a lag time when it’s asleep – he went to his patrol car to radio in my specifics.

By now, there was a general merchandise train creeping up behind the loaded coal train, so at least I had something to do while he waited to hear back from dispatch. In fact, I haven’t looked at the shots since then, but I think I may have overexposed the helper shot because I didn’t have a chance to adjust for a lower sun angle while talking to the officer. So the second train crosses the Wofford bridge and comes to a stop presumably to make a few switching moves as the officer comes back.

He hands me my license and again says I have to understand that taking pictures of trains looks suspicious. Again I wonder why I’m supposed to care what people think of what I’m doing when what I’m doing is perfectly legal and I’m doing it in broad daylight on the side of a road. He then went into a monologue on how terrorists take pictures of things they are going to hit. Now I admit that I have never heard this. I’ve never seen proof that terrorists take pictures of their targets before they bomb them.

But let’s assume this is true. Then shouldn’t people like me actually be encouraged to be out and about is plain sight? I mean, if more of us are out there, then we can keep an eye uot for real, actual terrorists? Why should honest, tax paying innocent civilians be made to feel they shouldn’t enjoy their hobby?

He wasn’t finished yet. He then said, “I’m not going to tell you not to take pictures of trains, but you should go to the office and tell them you’re here. It’s right up the hill there.”

Yeah, right. Because train crews and yard masters have nothing better or more important to do than have railfans come up and bother them.

I said, “Well, I’m not going to do that. I’m not on their property and I wouldn’t be.”

He said, “That’s the advice I gave you. You don’t have to use it. But it might help them out to know you’re down here and what you’re doing.”

What I wanted to say: “I have a camera around my neck. I thought it would be easy to figure out.” What I actually said, “I appreciate the advice. I work as a photographer for a TV station. This is what I do for a living and this is the first time this has happened to me in four years.”

We went our separate ways. I decided to leave his fine city, but did manage to shoot the helper side of the coal train one last time crossing an ACL RR-marked bridge on my way out.

Still not sure exactly what to think of the situation. This happened to me before in Spartanburg and the LEO then was down right rude and obnoxious. This fellow was very cordial and almost nice to me. I think his opinions on things are screwed up, but he’s welcome to them as I am to mine.

My wife said I should have given him a business card with my web site and YahooGroup listed. I don’t think it would be a good idea at all to list my YahooGroup on there. It would probably frighten them to know that we discuss what goes on with the railroads as much as we do. She then said maybe I should have given him my TV station card. But I don’t know. I wasn’t on the job and at the end I did mention my station by name at the end.

The fact that he stopped to see what I was doing didn’t bother me. I don’t like that he asked for my ID or that he called it in. By that point, anyone should have been able to see that I’m a harmless photographer. You know, truth be known, some guy standing in the open shooting a train doesn’t bother me. It would be the ones that ride by in their cars slowly, but don’t stop, that bother me.

Oops. I hope the Cayce PD isn’t reading this.
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Old 09-16-2007, 04:46 PM   #2
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Well, as I often say, the day I had to pass thru a metal detector to view the Liberty Bell was the day that fear defeated reason in this country. (It was also a big day for irony as well.)

Sadly, your experience is all too common. Seems as if restraint won the day, on both sides. As I'm sure you know, railfans elsewhere have been detained or arrested, or forced to delete all their pix from their cameras as an officer looked on. A friend of mine, when stopped under circumstances similiar to yours, was only able to convince the local LEO that he was not a terrorist by scrolling thru the pix of his 2-yr-old grandson that just happened to be in his camera along with his railfan photos.

I've often thought of what I'd say under similiar circumstances, and I s'pose I'd just go with the simple truth: that I'm a big kid who's been taking photos of trains for 30 years. I did have a local LEO pull up beside me once as I photo'd a thru-freight on the CSX Philly Div. He didn't get out of his car tho. And after I got my photo, I waved to him and walked back to my car. Surprisingly, he just waved back. Maybe he was a railfan too.
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Old 09-16-2007, 05:11 PM   #3
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My wife said I should have given him a business card with my web site and YahooGroup listed.
That's what I do, and that's why about a half dozen LEOs around the region have my railfan busniess card. And as far as them reading my Yahoo! Group, fine, I have no problems with it, but they have to become members first!
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Old 09-16-2007, 06:57 PM   #4
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It happens. They are just doing their job. I have had many people question what I am doing. FYI, if an officer asks for identification, you are required to give to to them.
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Old 09-16-2007, 07:51 PM   #5
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Recently a few railfan buddies and I were talking about railfanning and interaction with law enforcement .

We noticed a sort of pattern in that older railfans like myself (age 57) seem to have virtually no problems with being hassled by law enforcement. On the other hand the younger guys all have had several somewhat unpleasant episodes.

Maybe old guys look more harmless or less suspicious, but for whatever reason I for one have been approached a couple times but never hassled or threatened by the police.
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Old 09-16-2007, 08:38 PM   #6
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Could have been worse. I got frisked on the sidewalk of a bridge over a busy highway (and BNSF and UP mains). I was shooting south of Saginaw, TX, and the spot I was shooting from was right next to an airport. Two LEO's pulled up from either end of the bridge simultaneously, they had me put my stuff on the ground, hold my hands on my head, and proceeded to frisk me. After discovering a billfold, keys, and cellphone, they proceeded to go through my backpack, which had a tripod, and issues of Trains, Wired, and TRP. After announcing I didn't have any surface to air missile launchers in my bag, he ran my ID and they left. Needless to say I won't be shooting there again...
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Old 09-16-2007, 09:47 PM   #7
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Interesting thread; and timely for me since just this morning at 1:30, while off the ROW and on tribal grounds. A westbound autorack in the hole at Ute called in this strange vehicle (me). I was off the ROW, with parking lights on, along with my dome light. After she called it in a second time I walked on to the row with reflective vest on, camera and flashlight which I shined on myself and of course the camera less than 50 feet directly from the engineer. But just silent from the engineer until I turned where she called dispatch a third time requesting assistance from the special agent.
I returned to my truck, calmly took my vest off and replaced my camera and headed back to the I-15 at 20 mph. Later still a mile off the interstate I noticed lights. I drove up slow and was stopped by a tribal police officer who had been called by UP RMCC. I calmly ID'ed myself showing him my DL and offical ID.
I admit to being frustrated only since I didn't get the photo I wanted. As to the Tribal officer he was professional and after ID'ing myself, our converation was along a professional lines.
But as more and more restrictions or limitations continue for rail fans within Clark County or Southern Nevada I start to wonder when will it stop. NscaleMike who posts some excellent work here has been stopped by BLM rangers and UP Special Agents. I've had my contacts with UP SA's and now with local police.
But I also received complements from UP for reporting sparking rear wheels of a grain train that two other meets had missed. My reporting of person placing debris on the tracks.
In Northern Nevada a small group of railfans and concerned persons have patroled near the tracks reporting damage, trespassers, graffitti artists among other incidents.
Railfans may not know the workings of a locomotive but they do have a general idea of what doesn't belong from debris, specific persons and of course different items on a train. BNSF is the only Class one I know of that has sort of enlisted railfans to be eyes and ears. In regional locals Union Pacific has down the same but on a more limited basis. I'm unaware of anything on the east coast.
Hopefully there can be a compromise between the two groups in the mean time showing ID to a Peace officer or Special Agent is no big deal, officers check persons all the time a quick warrant and vehicle check , maybe a field interview card and unless there are problems the person is on their way. That the way it will be for some time to come.
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Old 09-16-2007, 07:49 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crusader
As I'm sure you know, railfans elsewhere have been detained or arrested, or forced to delete all their pix from their cameras as an officer looked on.
I have read those cases and am relieved I've never had one. I will say this; no one will ever convince me to delete my pictures from my camera. Ever.

Quote:
Originally Posted by PLEzero
It happens. They are just doing their job. I have had many people question what I am doing.
I see a difference between the LEO stopping to see what I am doing and running my ID through the system when he sees I am just an ordinary photographer. Note in my post I never said he should not have stopped.


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Old 09-20-2007, 06:36 PM   #9
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This story makes me wonder if there might be a market for safety-orange photog vests with "Railfan" or "Rail Photographer" on the back.
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Old 09-20-2007, 08:00 PM   #10
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Old 09-21-2007, 02:55 AM   #11
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Only time i have had a run in with RR police around here was one friday afternoon i was just outside the city. Along the CN east west main, Someone an hour earlier driving a ford explorer tried to commit suicide by stopping on the tracks. He just let me know to stay back from the tracks and keep the truck out of site as the crews had orders to stop if an explorer was trackside. I called it quits and headed home for the day to avoid any problems.

But for the most part i don't get bothered as most RR Police around here know my vehicle, And a few crews on CN are family friends.
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Old 08-24-2009, 05:31 PM   #12
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I would have gone along with that whole rigamarole, except for the last line...that is very much over the line. It's not even telling you not to take photos of trains with some security of the nation BS, it's way beyond anything reasonable.
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Old 08-24-2009, 06:00 PM   #13
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The last line was over the line and impropper. You need to write a letter to the chief of the town and tell them about the entire incident. What is especially disturbing is that the officer believes it is "his town."

Be polite and 100% honest in your letter. Do not fabricate a single event or exagerate a single event. Explain everything exactly as it happened and ask for clarification seeing as your actions were absolutely legal.
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Old 08-24-2009, 07:05 PM   #14
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The last line was over the line and impropper. You need to write a letter to the chief of the town and tell them about the entire incident. What is especially disturbing is that the officer believes it is "his town."

Be polite and 100% honest in your letter. Do not fabricate a single event or exagerate a single event. Explain everything exactly as it happened and ask for clarification seeing as your actions were absolutely legal.

What he said. Except that I would send it to Chief of Police, the Mayor, and if you're a resident of the town in question, I'd also send it to your city council person.
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Old 08-24-2009, 07:47 PM   #15
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Did anyone read Don Philips' article this week? He was out of line starting with the "silly hobby" comment. At some point, you could have asked what he thought you were doing because it should have become obvious you were, in fact, doing what you said. Someone called you in. He had to come out. Fine. I get that. But he then took the lead in making you feel like you had to leave and to stop doing what you wanted. You need to pursue tis because otherwise he gets the message that what he did was correct. Make fun of someone, harrass them, intimidate them and get what he wants.

You shouldn't have let him do that. But now, you need to pursue this in the ways others have mentioned.
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Old 08-24-2009, 09:04 PM   #16
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I'd been questioned so many times at the tunnel here at home it progressed from "what are you doing here" to "why are you doing that at this hour" to "got any good shots yet?"

Thank goodness the police officers here have some common sense.

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Old 08-24-2009, 09:12 PM   #17
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I only had one LEO start to question my hobby, and I have to admit it really got me annoyed. Unlike Gerald's covnersation, this happened to be a totally nice guy otherwise, but I still sent a letter to his supervisor.

About a month later I got a phone call from the head of the department (can't remember the rank, but it was a very high officer) apologizing for the entire incident and telling me that if any of his officers ever stopped me again, to have them call their field commander and ask them what the rules regarding rail photogapher were, so that I would be able to continue taking pictures. Moreover, he was going to talk to all of his officers the next day to instruct them that it was not their place to comment on citizens' hobbies.
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Old 08-24-2009, 09:22 PM   #18
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Joe/Charles -

I think I'll take your advice and write a letter to the Chief of Police. I was really steamed after it happened (I was ranting to AB-2 immediately afterwards). Unfortunately, I did not get his badge number, but I think date and time should be sufficient in the letter.

John -

I am not a resident of the town, but was visiting a friend in a nearby town, so I stopped at this location. The officer wanted to know all about that too, including his address.

The town of Brielle is a shore town, and for those unfamiliar with shore towns, the police force doubles during the summer months. During the off-season, everything is fairly laid back, but during the summer months, the police are very quick to find reasons to issue citations and violations.
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Old 08-30-2009, 07:58 PM   #19
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The town of Brielle is a shore town, and for those unfamiliar with shore towns, the police force doubles during the summer months. During the off-season, everything is fairly laid back, but during the summer months, the police are very quick to find reasons to issue citations and violations.
He is probably a seasonal officer, class 1 or what ever they call them, I forget. If I recall, they Police or Railroad police can not make you delete your photos from your camera as long as you are taking pictures from Public property. It is considered personal property (the pictures).

Ever sine 9-11 everyone has become panic stricken. The Government is always feeding the media stuff be on the look out for and you get some over zealous citizen calling in there is some suspicious activity. The next thing you know you are being questioned to what you are doing. The problem is, in my opinion, out of the norm. What exactly is out of the norm? Ask 5 people and you will get 5 different answers. There are a lot of hobbies out there that people think are nuts, rail fanning is 1.
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Old 08-24-2009, 09:24 PM   #20
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Small towns with big police forces, and new cars are a huge warning sign to stay away

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Old 08-24-2009, 09:40 PM   #21
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Small towns with big police forces, and new cars are a huge warning sign to stay away

Loyd L.
Amen to that.

I was shot in the leg by someone with a paintball gun in a car speeding past on the Rte. 57 bridge in Cresson, PA., in 1999. As luck would have it a local LEO drove past with 30 seconds of the incident and I flagged him down, and explained to him what happened including a description of th car. Though he was kind of sympathetic, we explained that the car was likely too far away for them to catch, given all the backroads and whatnot. I went looking for the guy, but could not find him. Still, great response from the cops... I mean I was merely shot in the leg from a passing car, no big deal.

For the record, I have not been back there since and they have not received any of my tourist dollars for the local cops. Bet if I had been dringking beer underage they'd have been all over that
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Old 08-24-2009, 11:16 PM   #22
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I've been questioned once or twice. I was in South Charleston one night trying to get a shot of P051 going over an underpass when a cop pulled up and asked us what we're doing. I think he found it a bit odd for two guys to be in a church parking lot at night.

He was a nice guy, we just told him what we're doing, and he continued along his way.

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Thankfully, the city of St. Albans (where I spend the most of my time) has a railfan for a cop!

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Old 08-25-2009, 04:37 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chase55671
Thankfully, the city of St. Albans (where I spend the most of my time) has a railfan for a cop!
Chase

Not always a good thing, the cop in Hilliard, Ohio is a railfan, he tends to ask more questions about what you're doing even though he already knows the answer... Though he probably gets a kick out of doing this..

Columbus though tends to just ignore me, though someone called me in once, I already took the shot and was leaving, the next thing I knew is 4 police cars were boxing me in, I told them what I was doing, showed them the picture I just took and they sent me on my way, the whole thing took about 3 min.
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Old 08-25-2009, 04:32 PM   #24
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Not always a good thing, the cop in Hilliard, Ohio is a railfan, he tends to ask more questions about what you're doing even though he already knows the answer... Though he probably gets a kick out of doing this..

Columbus though tends to just ignore me, though someone called me in once, I already took the shot and was leaving, the next thing I knew is 4 police cars were boxing me in, I told them what I was doing, showed them the picture I just took and they sent me on my way, the whole thing took about 3 min.
Were you standing on a bridge when this occurred? Someone probably thought you were going to commit suicide, if so.

Which in itself is kind of ridiculous. Would someone commit suicide with their SLR around their neck and a scanner in their pocket?

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Old 08-25-2009, 04:42 PM   #25
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Would someone commit suicide with their SLR around their neck and a scanner in their pocket?

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