Delaware Police Issue Photo Policy after Harassing Railfan

Back before railfans were considered terrorists during a 1939 camera excursion in Ohio. (Source: Wikipedia).


Railfans and photography have long gone hand-in-hand considering trains and cameras evolved around the same time during the 19th century.

But it was only after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that railfans became synonymous with terrorists, even though there has been no evidence that terrorists use cameras to photograph their targets before destroying them.

But try telling that to the cops and security guards throughout the country who constantly harass, threaten, assault and arrest citizens for photographing trains.

Last month, the ACLU stepped in on behalf of a man who was told by Newark police he couldn’t photograph trains unless he provided identification.

Because the ACLU’s complaint, the City of Newark issued a new policy instructing cops to leave photographers alone if they are taking pictures of trains.

I haven’t been able to find the actual policy online, but if you find it, please post it in the new section I created in the forums for police department’s photo policies along with any other policy you may find.

This can be handy for readers to print out in case they plan on taking pictures in that respective city.

From last month’s ACLU press release:

A railway enthusiast was prevented from photographing a special train locomotive by Newark police because he declined to provide them with identification. Now, in response to a complaint presented by the ACLU of Delaware on his behalf, the City of Newark has issued a policy directive instructing its police force that taking photographs of trains and railroad equipment is not suspicious activity that entitles the police to demand identification.

Mr. Daniel Dedinas, a railfan whose hobbies include photographing trains, was near the train tracks behind the FedEx store on Newark-Elkton Road, waiting to photograph the unique locomotive as it passed through Newark. He was stopped by two Newark police officers, who acknowledged that they had no probable cause to believe he was committing or about to commit a crime. Mr. Dedinas gave the officers his name and address, but standing on his right of privacy, he refused to give the police his driver’s license or other identification. In response, the police told him he could not photograph the train until they confirmed his identity. Before that was accomplished, the locomotive passed by.

The First Amendment protects people’s right to take photographs of activities taking place in public, including passing trains. Further, Delaware’s laws grant police the authority to demand identification, but only when there is reasonable ground to believe that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Newark police have now been instructed that taking pictures of trains and railroad equipment is not grounds for stopping individuals.

Richard Morse, Legal Director of the ACLU of Delaware, said, “members of the public often meet resistance when they try to take pictures of railroad equipment, even though photographing trains is a common hobby. Newark’s directive to its police force is an important recognition of photographers’ rights under the Constitution.”

After ACLU-DE intervened, the City of Newark and the Newark police acted quickly to retrain officers on stop and identify laws, thereby protecting the First Amendment rights of other railroad photographers and members of the general public. Mr. Dedinas also received a letter from Newark confirming his right to photograph trains.

About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • Saul B

    This would appear to have happened in Newark, Delaware, not Newark, New Jersey.

    • Fotaugrafee

      I noticed that as well. Newark, Delaware is a significantly smaller city than Newark, NJ. Adjoining state, yes, but about 150 miles apart.

    • Carlos_Miller

      Thanks, just fixed it

  • Joel Turner

    Typical of eastern block states.

    • americanexile

      I’ve been stopped multiple times in North Dakota photographing graffiti on trains. Disregard for the law extends well beyond the east coast, buddy.

  • Difdi

    And yet the damage is already done. Due to the prior restraint, the train passed by unphotographed. The system considers that a person has been made whole simply by release from unlawful detention or restraint, unless the person proves otherwise. On the other end of things, police who engage in behavior like this, that they reasonably should know is a violation of the law, are never punished even as far as an arrest (or having to explain why they shouldn’t be arrested).

  • Rusty Gunn

    Give a guy an inch and he’ll take a mile. Give a guy a gun, badge & uniform and he becomes a dictator.

  • nrgins

    Hey, those rail cops gotta have SOMETHING to do, right?

    • Luxomni

      Not “rail cops”, city police. “Yard Bulls” know where you can stand and where you can’t, and will even, on occasion let you know where the best views are.

  • BJ

    The historic photograph and caption help illustrate just how ludicrous the situation has become in post 9/11 USA. The obsessions around safety, security and control are far-reaching and entrenched. It must stop and I believe the hysteria will subside with time. But for this to happen a small minority of people must insist on change. There is hope.

    • Fotaugrafee

      Uhhh, as an employee of the railroad industry for the past 13 years, the “safety” is nothing new post-9/11. That comes as a result of employees doing dumb shit on the job (“rules written in blood”), and the came protocols are expected of ‘foamers’ when they’re near the tracks, too. Even when I’m out & about, I wear my boots & orange vest, just so I’m visible & not seen as a threat or daisy-picker. Many railfans think they know it all, and the reality is outside of putting a camera to their eye, they know very little about the dangers other than what they see on the internet (or TV).

      • jch9596

        True, but after 9/11, I noticed it became much more apparent that some LEOs and railroaders were much more persistent when trying to get some photogs from photoging. In my little part of the world, I have been lucky and not had an encounter in four or five years, knock on wood.

  • Rail Car Fan

    Well at least one city gets it…, that is until their cops do it again!

    Rail Car Fan

  • Proud GrandPa

    Ordinarily I am no fan of the ACLU, but in this case I congratulate the ACLU on defending photography rights.

    • Denny

      What problem could you possibly have with the ACLU. Is photography the only right you believe in?

    • Elliott Whitlow

      They occasionally get it right, even a broken clock is right twice a day..

  • Jaysin R Clifton

    I thought they all had a policy that uneducated cops cannot just make shit up and try to force their will on everyone

  • io-io

    So when the police do it again, what is the penalty?

    Do they have to go back to the station and sit in the corner with out desert?

    No, next time they will need to under go additional training. What needs to happen is for the officers to loose a months pay or be terminated for cause.

  • tiny

    who is saying when this happened? last month, well,,,well. take a look at what happened a few years ago in that same city, that city is a big joke. and bunch of jackasses to boot! this happened back in july/2011 or so.