Journalists and photographers griped at a public hearing on Tuesday that the New York Police Department has harassed them and blocked them from doing their jobs amid the pandemic and protests over the killing of George Floyd.
At a heated, two-hour web hearing conducted by the NYPD over the department’s proposals to tighten its rules governing the suspension and revoking of press credentials, journalists raised hackles over the treatment they’ve gotten from cops.
“In New York City as a working journalist, at the hands of the NYPD, I have been arrested, detained, have had my gear confiscated, press badge taken away, pepper-sprayed, hit with batons and riot shields and suffered various injuries,” said multimedia journalist Michael Nigro, who was laid off at Buzzfeed in 2018.
“The NYPD press badge in certain situations — not all — is not so much a badge as it is a bullseye, a means for the NYPD to control and censor the press,” he added.
The NYPD specifically wants to be able to revoke credentials for a simple arrest — not a conviction — or if a journalist fails to comply with “with a lawful order by a police officer” or if they “attempt to interfere with a police officer’s official function.”
The police were ordered to come up new procedures after a legal battle with freelance photographer JB Nicholas who was arrested while covering a building collapse in Midtown Manhattan in 2015 and lost his credentials for a year. He sued and eventually won a lawsuit in federal court, in which his credentials were restored.
“Increased scrutiny of policing by the public and the press has suggested an urgent need of reform,” said Claire Regan, president of the Deadline Club, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She said the organization “vehemently opposes efforts by the NYPD to amend the rules and make it easier for press credentials to be suspended or revoked.”
Another heavyweight attorney, Norm Siegel, blasted the NYPD for pushing to have suspension hearings presided over by the head of the NYPD’s Department of Communications and Public Information.
“This needs to be changed so that an independent neutral person, a non-NYPD person, presides over a hearing,” Siegel said. “Otherwise, there is a conflict of interest. Remember, the burden of proof at the hearing is on the NYPD. Make the hearing officer a non-NYPD person.”
He also said that suspending credentials after a “lawful arrest” should be changed so that credentials can be suspended only after a “lawful conviction.” Ultimately, he said the NYPD should find a way out of the credentials business entirely.
“The history of the NYPD and how its exercise of authority and jurisdiction over the issuing of press credentials has been unsatisfactory,” Siegel said. “Transferring the authority to another entity is warranted.”
Dan Herrick, a photojournalist whose work has frequently appeared in The Post, said he was harassed by a cop while photographing ambulances arriving at the USS Comfort hospital ship during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although pedestrians and passing cars were closer to the ship than he was, he said an NYPD officer demanded he stop taking photographs from that location, telling him he was “going to be investigated by NCIS,” or Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
As photographers and journalists sometimes jostle with police, photographer Craig Ruttle said “it has become this device that they can use against you,” referring to his press badge
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