Cops/Limited Access

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Last Friday night I was covering a fatel apt. fire. I was in the parking lot where several people,including children playing basketball,were. Several police officers came over and strongly ordered me away. I asked one of the residents if I could ssoot from her porch and I was told I t was ok. I did so! Until the police saw me and told the citizen she had no right to let me on HER porch. The police then,with more than needed force,removed me from the scene. We went right past the people watching and the kids playing ball. I am glad that I was rolling and the 2 compatition stations were also on. But, we still were ran offfrom the scene,however being the resourceful shooters we are, we were able to get pretty good video.You should know what you need to do so do it. GOOD LUCK


Well-known member
Some of the posters on this topic are the reason we're losing more and more of our civil rights to overzealous cops and law makers. If I hear someone say somthing to the effect of "If you don't have anything to hide, then you don't have anything to worry about, let 'em search you car just because he/she wants to" I think I'll scream. It's illegal. We have rights. Cops just can't make the rules/laws up as they go along(although some do and that's the problem). Now in the wake of 9/11, it's even worse because of the all purpose blanket statement "It's for national security", which seems to give the govn't carte blanche to violate, abuse, and suspend our civil rights all in the name of protecting us. I know I'm vering off topic slightly, but it's all connected.

I had a friend several years ago go out on a traffic ax and a new-to-the-area state trooper tells my friend he can't be there, but there are by-standers in the same spot and he's behind the police tape. He explains that he is where the general public is and that according to the (N.Carolina) law, he can be there. The trooper then starts on to a tirade about press/media credintials, North Carolina, as far as I know and as long as I've been shooting, does not issue general media/press credintials like in NY and other places like that. He then starts grilling him on who he is working for. After the arrest threats my friend tells him to go ahead, then the lawyers can have fun with the civil rights violations/wrongful arrest in court. He said you could just see the trooper getting mader and mader. Finally an officer that new my friend came over to see what was going on and told the new trooper that he was fine, he knew him and he was really shooting for the news.

My friend didn't make a new friend that night, but he stood up for his rights that an officer of the law was trying to take away, ILLEGALLY, and walked away the winner.


Active member
My 2 cents. I haven't read all of the posts so if I repeat something forgive me. I cover a lot of spot news and it is important to build a good working relationship with local authorities. Pick you battles carefully. Move up as close as you can and if they tell you to move back, then do so. If there are rubberneckers standing closer say, "What about them?" and then move back. By being polite and respectful you will be more likely to have access when the big stories come around. Being overly aggressive on all stories is only going to generate negative feelings with authorities. Save the aggressiveness for the stories that require it. Your great video isn't going to mean much if you are detained for interfering with an investigation.

[ June 06, 2004, 01:18 AM: Message edited by: Gabounk ]

chroma cranker

Active member
have you ever got to a scene with the other media and then the cops decide to put some more yellow tape up just for the you(media). if it is a situation where they already had time to set up tape, then usually there is not much to shoot anyway.


Well-known member
No question -- pick your battles. There is very little video available in the world worth getting hurt for, probably none worth getting arrested for (it's not your boss being arrested, it's YOU), and nothing worth getting killed over. If the cops are physically forcing you away from the scene, you've probably lost before the fight ever begins.

I do the best I can with each situation, but I never forget that I am a lot more important in my life than my boss. If I can't get the video without hurting myself, we're probably not going to have the video -- selfish of me, but what the hell ?

The difference between my perception of my 1st and 4th Amendment rights and the SWAT guy's perception of my presence in "his" scene is HUGE, but two things are important to remember before taking him on. First, the SWAT guy has guns, and is most likely to win this arguement. And second, the chances that my boss will back me up if I am assaulted and/or arrested are about as small as the chance that I can win the arguement with the overly zealous cop.

Do what you need to do. Just remember that everything in this world involves "cost vs. benefit". If the cost is much higher than the benefit, maybe it's time to cut your losses and cash in your chips for the day.

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member
When cops get away with barring the press, it gets easier for the next time... I stand up to them every time, without exception. If they allow the general public access then they cannot bar the media. If you do nothing about it, they will only get worse!

Under "stories" there is a newspaper article about me where a staff writer rode with me one night. Read what police officer Mark Tyndale said about me, he called me a pit bull when it comes to my rights. I have had training officers introduce me to rookies and the TO will tell the rookie not to argue with me about access.

Larry R. Erickson

Active member
These most recent posts are in response to "Photojo" June 5 post regarding his being assaulted by police officers, unlawful de-facto arrest and seizure of his person, he was also the victim of an unlawful order to leave private property which he had been given permission to be on which also violated his right to peacably assemble, and then of course he his free press rights were totally annihlated.

Just using the Supreme Courts completely misguided cases alone which state that the press has no greater right of access than does the general public - not to mention any idea of furthering a "newsgathering right" - is enough of a violation in itself.

All this and some of you still preach this "pick your battles" crap! Hey dudes guess what the war is over! While your fellow photojournalists are being shot and killed in Iraq by your own soldiers or their film is being destroyed because they dont like the images we shot, and your government has been holding one of your own imprisoned at Guantanomo Bay for over two years, and cops are dragging others off porches while covering apartment fires and prosecutors are filing criminal charges against others for refusing to cease their coverage at TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, others are being tossed around and injured by police while still others are having their equipment confiscated, one even sat in jail for months accused of starting a brush fire (guess they couldnt find any other likely suspects so hey why not that photographer who keeps "showing up" at our scene's.....)

All this and your still waiting to pick your battles? In the words of that well known ABC News correspondent "GIVE ME A BREAK" You should be encouraging and supporting him to at least file a complaint with his states attorney general or the Civil Rights office in DC AND the BEST THING - to retain counsel and sue their ass's off and NOT settle out of court!

Welkom to The United Police States of Amerika, comrade photojournalischka, please to leet me inspekt your kamera to insure no film or tape is inside, da?


Frankly its a wonder that we were allowed as much access at Reagan's funeral... But then I dont suspect that the police had to much say, Nancy had it all and she certainly wouldnt have shirked her responsibilty to her husbands memory from public life now. Its to bad that most police officers viewing these events and seeing how neccesary and important a free press is will not take away from it anything to apply in their own interaction with the press, but one can hope....

[ June 13, 2004, 02:29 PM: Message edited by: Larry R. Erickson ]

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member
DFW Nights

I missed one of your earlier posts but just have to respond.

The last time I was bothered by a punk cop, he twisted me up and arrested me at about 3AM. that morning I filed a written, 6 page complaint with internal affairs. That night when he returned to work, he was visited by internal affairs just before roll call. He was taken outside where he turned over his city issued 9mm and his badge. It took 6 months but he was fired.


Well-known member
I teach my photogs...when you get to the scene, shoot as much as you can before you get noticed by the cops. Most of the time they are fairly busy and it takes a while before they notice you. when they should already have good vid. If they tell you to move, do so. Like some of y'all have already said..."pick your battles". just my two cents.

Dave K.

I've often worked Spring Break beach scenes in Florida in which police action was absolutely brutal. When the PD was notified about such methods and the patrolmen called on it, they went before their own review board and received a clean bill of health -- despite video showing them recklessly beating students.

Moral of the story, they run a closed shop and only answer to a closed police review board, so better to just do what they say and avoid confrontation.


Active member
Yes Larry, pick your battles is the correct motto. Ask any military man and they'll tell you that there situations that you simply cannot win at and the cost is too great to attempt to do so. So I pick my battles, choosing the ones that are likely to result in something meaningful coming about and not likely to have me end up in jail. Because that is a very real possibility if you push too far with the wrong guy...and yeah, you may be right and he may be suspended, but it's still your ass that spent the night in jail and is footing the legal bills.

Because most stations won't back you, they'll say the right things but when it comes time to open the checkbook it's not going to happen. So be polite, be unobtrusive, get your video while you can, and above all, don't be an ass. Play nice with them and they'll play nice with you 90% of the time.

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member
Just remember, we do have rights under the law and the Constitution. When we back off because of an unreasonable and unlawful order by a cop, we are giving up our rights. Alot of cops don't like the media because of the Rodney King video. They just don't want to be caught on tape doing somehting wrong. When they keep you back because you are media and ignore other citizens, they need to be dealt with right then and there. If not, it will get worse!

When someone tries to bully me by hiding behind a badge, I refuse to "play nice". they set the stage, I play by my rules that are backed up by the law.

[ June 24, 2004, 11:27 AM: Message edited by: Terry E. Toller ]


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Well at least there are a few good cameramen here !!!

I guess when you work for a station its easy to say I couldn't get the shot because the cops made me move.... Sorry, Don't play that game..

I stood up to a cop and its now in federal court.
The funny thing is that every Lt,Captain and even the LAPD risk management after looking at my tape that the cops gave back to me after a year and a half said "Get Yourself An Attorney"

I took a bullet for the team
I sent out press release's and held a news confrence right in front of La Habra PD right where the PD didn't want it and I released the video that day and you bet everyone ran it along with radio and the paper....

Stand up for your right..

If Cops don't know the law it doesn't exsist untill a fedral lawsuit is filed....Here is what happened to me.

Whittier Daily News, The (CA)
April 12, 2004

Photographer sues La Habra police
Freelancer accuses officer of using excessive force

Author: Susan McRoberts, Staff Writer
Section: News

LA HABRA -- A freelance news photographer has filed a federal lawsuit against the La Habra police, claiming an officer used excessive force and violated his civil rights at the scene of a traffic collision. Troy Case said Monday he was pushed, injured and "slammed to the concrete" by
Officer James Mota as Case videotaped the rescue of a woman injured in an Aug. 10,2002, collision.
Case and his Montebello attorney, Luis A. Carrillo, announced the filing of the
suit at a news conference in front of the La Habra police station Monday. "It's pending litigation, so I can't comment on these things," said police Chief Dennis Kies , who is named as a defendant. "But I wonder, instead of trying to
sensationalize it in front of the media, why didn't Troy Case just let it go to court?
"I'm confident that my officers did the right thing," he added.
Case's video camera recorded the incident when Mota approached Case and told him to get out of the street and up onto a nearby sidewalk. In the police report, Mota claimed Case was belligerent and resisted arrest. "The tape presents a dramatically different account," Carrillo said.
When the criminal case went to court last year, the charge of resisting arrest was dropped and Case pleaded "no contest" to disturbing the peace. "No contest is not an admission of guilt," his attorney said. On the videotape, Mota can be heard saying, "Put your camera down or I'll drop it." Case protested,"No, you can't do that," Case tells Mota on the tape. Mota proceeded to repeat "I can't do what?" numerous times as he wrestled Case to the ground and handcuffed him. Case said his neck and shoulder were injured badly enough to keep him out of work for a year and a half. "Hopefully, I'll be able to go back to work soon here," he said.
Case has held valid press credentials for four years. The full-time Vons truck driver said he sold video and still pictures of news events to local media outlets in his spare time.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Friday, alleges that Mota assaulted and battered Case and arrested him without probable cause.
Kies, the city of La Habra and the Police Department are also accused in the action
of "knowing full well" that policy would "permit and cover up" the use of excessive force.
The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of monetary damages.
"I want justice for this police officer," Case said. "What he did to me is not fair. It's wrong. I went to the hospital that day in handcuffs. It hurts."

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member
A second thought to the "Pick your battles" idea:

That is actually a wise statement. BUT, not because of the importance of the story or where it will fall in the lineup but because you are defending your RIGHTS.

CA law gives journalists absolute access to accident scenes. However, and this is a BIG however, the supreme court ruled that if a cop even *thinks* there might be a crime scene, he can keep the press at bay. So, at an auto accident, you are taking a chance in pushing. Most accidents involve some violation of the law, too fast, unsafe lane change, running a stop sign... Hence, a crime scene.

If you are absolutely sure that it was purely an accident such as a wheel came off the car or the person had a heart attack and ran off the road, then you are in the clear. But how many times do we know all the facts before the final report? Plus, don't forget, the cops will lie their fat butts off to make false arrests stick and get that reward box of donuts from their pals...

[ July 11, 2004, 04:46 AM: Message edited by: Terry E. Toller ]
I'm from a smal market in maine and I guess things are a little diferent up here. The press and the police have a VERY good relationship. Most of the time we'll see the same cop at a number of scenes over a period of time and we're on a first name basis. At traffix AX scenes, the only issue we've had is if th AX if a fatal. Then a cop normally comes over and just explains that we can't cros the tape and can shoot whateve we want. up here they know the media doesn't air bodies or limbs or anything like that. The same thing with fireifghters at fire scenes. The only problem I"ve ever had i my 2 1/2 years here is with fire investigators. but the fire investigators up here just hate life in general, so they probably go home and kick the dog after a day at work.


Well-known member
Here in SLC, the cops are pretty cool with us in situations like that. But, if there is a cop who gets pushy with me I'll be professionally polite back but then ask them why the public gets to be where they are and not me. If that doesn't work then I'll simply ask to see a PIO or commanding officer.
Photographer is also right on. If you can get on a cop's good side early then they'll remember you later on and may not be so pushy. I've had a number of cops let me get in places that the other media hasn't gotten to yet, because of the way I act to the cops.

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member
I constantly get good information or access from cops that know me. I have been on the good side of cops for almost 33 years. BUT, when a cop exceeds his authority, I don't put up with it. There are a few cops that hate me because I stood up to them. The good news is, they are the new guys and their superiors tell them to back off and leave me alone.

I stand up for our rights and it all works out for the good. Just as mentioned by a cop in the story Kevin has posted about me, I don't put up with being pushed around. But, cops respect me.

Then again, I have jumpped into a couple of fights and helped cops in the past. Most of them know that if I am on scene, I would help them if things get ugly. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I am playing cop, I just love to mix it up with the bad guys and know that I can't be arrested for kicking some idiot's butt. It's so much fun...
Adding my two-cents...

In my nine years and five markets, I've encountered several agencies that are either media biased or media saavy.

The media saavy markets conform to the "pick your battles" philo. Most officers are fine as long as you don't cross tape and know how to stay out of the way of emergency personnel as they get their job done and you do too. To them, we are players as they are.

However, the media biased markets are completely different. For reasons unknown to me, they will keep you as far back from a scene as they can. They will be as belligerent as possible. To them, we are civilians with no right to access, even though other civilians are standing right in the scene.

I will fight for my right of media access as long as I photog. I confront them all the time. If I'm arrested, so be it. I roll tape on the guy who tells me I can't go farther. I stick a mic in his face, too. I play it for his captain, or his chief. I'll air it if it's a good example of how law enforcement keeps the people denied their right to know what happens in their own neighborhood.

There is never a good reason to not get the story because a rogue cop backed you away. Those who make the arguement that you just get what the cops will let you don't have the passion for storytelling.

Terry E. Toller

Well-known member

As for jumping into fights being nuts, maybe. But when I see a lone officer in trouble and someone or several people are fighting him, I will help. Besides doing what I believe is a civil responsibility, it's just fun! You would be surprised at how exciting it is to mix it up with people who have no respect for the law. For me, it's better than drugs or alcohol...
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