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NFTA to develop policy on public photography

The NFTA is developing a new policy regarding how officers deal with public photography and videography, in response to a controversial YouTube video involving one of its officers.

In the video, an unidentified transit police officer is seen and heard threatening physical harm on a person with a video camera, who had been recording activity at Lafayette Square following a fight.

The officer, whose name has not been released by Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials, approaches the camera-holder in the video and delivers a profane message.

"If you take my picture again, I'm going to [expletive] break your face. That's not as a police officer, that's as a person," the officer states in the video, which was uploaded to YouTube on May 28.

However, it has been determined the incident occurred in the summer of 2010, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA director of public affairs. Officials did not become aware of the incident until the video was posted much more recently, Hartmayer said. As of Wednesday, it had generated more than 27,000 views.

In response to the video's posting, the officer was suspended for two days without pay and also assigned to remedial training.

The YouTube video also drew the attention of the National Press Photographers Association, whose general counsel responded by sending a letter to the NFTA outlining photographers' First Amendment rights.

The attorney, Mickey H. Osterreicher, is a former Buffalo Courier-Express photographer who now specializes in media law in the area. Upon receiving the letter, NFTA Police Chief George W. Gast arranged a meeting with Osterreicher.

"It was a low-key discussion about First Amendment rights and photography in public places," Osterreicher said. "People have the right to take pictures in public places."

The meeting was productive, he said, and the NFTA is in the process of establishing a photo and video policy similar to one Osterreicher helped Amtrak draft in 2009.

"It's something that should have never happened," Hartmayer said. "Chief Gast did take immediate action."

NFTA officials recently cleared Transit Police Officer Adam M. Brodsky in a separate April 8 incident during which he used pepper spray on an anti-war demonstrator in downtown Buffalo.

According to an NFTA review, Brodsky followed proper procedure.

Footage of the encounter also was posted on YouTube, and protesters arrested at the scene have been critical of the internal review.

e-mail: jbolitho@buffnews.com

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