I knew that it was going to happen to me eventually. Yesterday evening, while spotting at a new-to-me location at JFK, I was approached by security not once but twice. Lets start with my account of what occurred, and then I will discuss my reactions to what occurred. Here's an edited version of how I described it on the Spotter Blotter page on NYCAviation.com:
...After a few minutes shooting from there (ed. the corner of the garage nearest Terminal 4), I noticed that there was an FJC Security SUV that had stopped a short distance away. After several minutes he starts honking at me (and I will agree with others from previous incidents that this is a terribly unprofessional way of getting somebody's attention. An older Asian security guard gets out of the vehicle and approaches me. "Excuse me, we don't want you photographing up here. I don't want you photographing up here." I calmly but firmly responded with "I'm sorry, but who doesn't want me photographing up here" since he apparently couldn't get his story straight. "the Port Authority doesn't want you photographing up here. It's against the rules." I said, "I'm sorry, but the Port Authority has no rules against photography." The guard picked up his radio. "He says there is no rules against photography...." as he trailed off. Moments later he got back into his vehicle where he waited, and I went back to shooting, with the full knowledge that I was doing nothing wrong. The SUV stays parked in the same spot and while I am by no means blocked in, I did feel a bit uncomfortable at this point since I din't feel like I could move back and forth around the upper deck.
About 15 minutes later another FJC SUV arrived and the 2 chatted for about 5 minutes. Then the second one pulled up along the rear of my car and the male African-American gentleman called out very professionally with a "how ya doin?" He briefly chatted with me regarding how its not their rules its the Port Authority's rules, to which I once again asserted that the Port Authority actually has no rules for or against photography. Then came the biggest whopper: "well you're really supposed to contact the Port Authority before you come up here and get authorization." He mentioned that somebody from the Port Authority would be up to speak with me before pulling away to chat with the Asian guard briefly after which they both took off. The entire encounter took roughly 25 minutes and other than the times that I was speaking with them I kept doing my thing. I remained calm though perhaps slightly flustered the entire time, though I was definitely assertive of my rights.
40 minutes later I am on the T7 side shooting the CX oneworld 777 when another FJC SUV pulls up very close behind me in the no parking area in the corner. This time it is a younger, female African American guard. "Escuse me, you can't be takin picshas up here" (misspelling intentional) I was flabbergasted! I wheeled around to speak to her. "It says right here that you aren't supposed to take pictures without authorization," as she pointed about three-quarters of the way down a handwritten page on a writing pad. Again, I asserted myself: "There are no rules against photography. I just finished dealing with this a little while ago." She picks up her radio and rolls up the window as I wheel back around to catch the CX 777 taxiing back towards the terminal. As I am shooting, I hear her back away a bit, before pausing for a short time and then pulling away. The whole confrontation from the time she showed up until the time she left took maybe 2 minutes, with the actual communication being maybe 30 seconds...
For those of you out there who are not spotters at JFK, there's a bit of lingo in there and its a bit dependent on knowing the location, But the important part is the details of the 2 encounters that I had in a relatively short time span.
Now, looking back on what happened yesterday, here are some of my thoughts on what I experienced.
- Getting stopped for the first time is a rite of passage for any spotter. While I don't necessarily think that this is a good thing, it is just the way that it is. It will happen again someday, and at some point I will probably be chased off by somebody who has the authority to do so (ie a police officer, not a security guard).
- How many times do spotters need to be approached before it is considered to be harassment? I'm speaking in both the individual sense and the group sense here. Surely the guard involved in the second confrontation would have heard the discussion over the radio less than an hour before. And these confrontations at this particular location happen with a fair amount of regularity, and unless the spotters leave voluntarily to diffuse the situation, we are left to do what we are doing pretty much every time.
- Speaking of leaving voluntarily, that is not something that I am willing to do in circumstances such as those that I described above. To the best of my knowledge from reading the official rules of the airport, there is no mention made of photography, either for or against, other than at the TSA Checkpoints.
- If the guards had called in the Port Authority Police, I was willing to state the following, "To the best of my knowledge there are no rules against photography on airport property other than at the checkpoints. If you simply do not want me up here I will leave voluntarily." However to the best of my knowledge, in the few previous instances where the police have been called in, they have generally diffused the situation in favor of the spotters.
- If you are working as a security guard, I expect you to act with at least some basic level of professionalism. Honking your horn at me to get my attention is not an acceptable method. Nor is pulling your vehicle to within a few feet of me while my back is turned. A simple 'excuse me' from a short distance away is the proper way to get my attention.
- Nothing is accomplished by raising your voice or getting defensive in situations such as this one. Keeping calm kept the situation under control.
- Eighteen friggin dollars to park there for a few hours and this is what I get?!
After this whole incident occurred, it was suggested to me that if I felt that the situation was getting out of hand or that I was being harassed, that I should proactively contact the Port Authority Police. At no time did I feel that was necessary last night, although I was aware that it was an option. There have definitely been instances in that location where a police presence was desirable or even necessary. This was not one of those cases. It was simply a case of security trying to scare us off with no written basis in the public realm for doing so.
So would I go back there again, knowing full well that this could occur again? I absolutely would! I know what my rights are, and I know what the rules say. Both are in my favor as an enthusiast. That being said, both of these encounters were a complete waste of my time. Clear rules specifying that photography is permitted would greatly reduce if not eliminate situations such as these. I will continue to hold out hope that that will happen.