June 03, 2008

Security Tightens In Denver Ahead Of DNC, Film Crews And Photographers Targeted

Heading out to take some video or snap a few photos around Denver and don't have press credentials?

You may want to think again:
Normally, shooting a few seconds of video along Interstate 25 for a gas price story would be a typical day in the duties of a news crew.

But Monday, two 7NEWS staffers saw firsthand what security concerns can be like now, with the Democratic National Convention less than 100 days away.

"I think the deputy, whoever it was, did what she had to do," said Deputy Cocha Heyden with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.

The incident took place at the Castle Pines exit on Monday.

The deputy asked who the two men were and what they were doing.

They answered that it was a gas price story for the news.

She wanted identification and later called the newsroom to confirm the men were legitimate.

"That's very suspicious. Why is someone out there filming something?" Heyden said.

No one was threatened or arrested and the whole matter lasted only seconds.
In a world filled with every sort of camera--from professionals to cell phones that pack photo and video capabilities--the notion that anyone would film something shouldn't be foreign, even to the Douglas County's Sheriff Department.

According to this line of thinking, anyone with a camera outside should be considered "very suspicious":
Douglas County and the state's homeland security office saw the event as an appropriate response by a very observant officer.

"I think it's something that people should take comfort in, in that we have law enforcement officers out there. We've got trained individuals that are looking for those kinds of things that could be, terrorist activities," said Mason Whitney, director of the state agency.

The Emergency Operations Center in the south metro area will be staffed 24 hours a day by federal, state and local law enforcers in late August.

"I think it's only prudent to be more aware and probably be looking for those kinds of activities as we get closer to the DNC," Whitney said.
One would think that the news crew was surrounded by signs from the company's logo on the vehicle they used, to their cameras and other equipment that would have identified them as part of a news organization. Professional and even amateur photographers and videographers aren't so "accredited." But as the article points out, "sensitive" areas will be particularly scrutinized:
Over the past year, roughly 200 Colorado police officers, sheriff's deputies and others have taken a three-day Terrorist Liaison Officer class, learning about critical infrastructure areas -- including highway bridges -- that must be protected.

"It's fairly new," Whitney said.

The Douglas County deputy had not taken that class, but, like so many others across Colorado, receives constant threat assessments as part of her daily routine.

"Well it's unfortunate that we have to be more suspicious since 9/11 but I think that since that incident we had to rethink and relook at what's out there," Heyden said.
But law enforcement can't do this alone--they'll need backup--and will rely on the regular folks to spot any "activity":
In fact, Heyden encourages citizens to follow the same approach; if you see something, say something.

"Cars driving around in neighborhoods more than once. Whether people are looking for open garage doors, looking for the routine of a bank employee, looking for the routine of a convenience store clerk. Deputies are trained to look for those things normal citizens aren't," Heyden said.

If asked to identify yourself while taking pictures outside, Heyden recommends calmly explaining why you're there and slowly providing identification.
Note the word "slowly"--any quick action such as reaching into your pocket or fumbling around with a camera bag could have you in handcuffs before you know what hit you.

As a blogger who frequently makes use of photos and video to augment posts, as well as shooting for my own use, this additional scrutiny (and from the article's example, paranoia) is both troubling but unsurprising. Locations such as airports, military bases, hospitals and any public building (law enforcement, city hall, etc.) should be monitored in a way that reflects the vulnerability or sensitive nature of the place. Looking for suspicious activity (including but obviously not limited to the use of cameras) in and around such facilities should be expected.

But contacting anyone who is using a camera outdoors anywhere in the city to verify their identity and ascertain their reason for being there? Sounds a little too "Big Brother" for this blogger, but also completely unenforceable. Anyone familiar with recent protests knows that over half of the crowd usually carries a recording device of some sort, often with the result that police observers and protestors end up videotaping each other videotaping the other side. Everyone else with a camera snaps photos, and with the near ubiquity of cell phone cameras, close to the entire crowd will snap a picture at some point or another. Will we all be stopped and asked why we are filming?

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