Gwen Snyder was waiting for the Broad Street Line last night when a train pulled up filled with what appeared to be trash — and not just typical SEPTA trash (like the nasty half-eaten food often left on seats) but big bags of refuse. Snyder's curiosity was piqued, and she began to take photos and video with her cell phone.
Police ordered her to stop and, she says, threatened to make an arrest.
"A train pulled up that was filled with piles of full plastic bags," says Snyder, a West Philly resident and organizer for the labor rights group Jobs with Justice, who was waiting for a northbound train at the Walnut-Locust stop. "It seemed weird, I started taking photos, and almost immediately there were a couple cops right in front of me, blocking my phone and telling me to delete the pictures. ... They threatened me with arrest, we argued, I guess it just seemed like too much hassle, because they finally backed down."
She did not delete the photos or video: The latter shows a hand blocking her lens and a voice saying "erase your pictures," and Snyder pretending to have trouble figuring out how to work her camera.
According to SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams, the money train transports both trash and treasure. And those "police" weren't cops, but "armed revenue attendants."
"It was indeed a revenue train that the reader encountered at the Walnut-Locust Station. In addition to collecting tokens from the turnstiles, and cash from the cashiers and token machines, the 'money train' also collects trash from the stations." Williams said that "security concerns" might have prompted them to request "that the reader not record their routines and actions." But she says that no one should have threatened Snyder with arrest.
"Is it proper for them to act disrespectfully to one of our customers or to threaten arrest? Of course not," says Williams. "If it happened the way you are saying, that was not the right way to handle the situation."
Williams says that riders do have the right to take photographs of the money train — it's just that SEPTA would prefer they didn't. "SEPTA would appreciate customers refraining from photographing the attendants as they perform this potentially dangerous job" because "we don't necessarily want someone to know the routine or procedures."
And they really don't want anyone getting inspiration from the 1995 film Money Train. Though in the film, it is transit cops (played by Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson) who do the robbing.
Anyhow, Williams says that SEPTA's photography policy dictates that "customers can take photos in the public areas of SEPTA facilities." And while SEPTA police are supposed to ask questions, they should not stop a photographer "unless criminal activity is indicated."
Police interferring with civilian recording and photography of law enforcement actions has drawn controversy around the country — including in Philadelphia, where police have repeatedly arrested people for recording them. In September 2011, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey instructed officers to "not interfere with any member of the general public or individuals temporarily detained ... photographing, videotaping or audibly recording police personnel."
A SEPTA money train full of trash bags.
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