Aug 16 2013

Boston speed trap gets Cop Blocked

Dr. Q

On Wednesday, I met up with KT and NEF of MassOps to check out the Republican National Committee meeting in Boston. We weren’t sure what to expect because the meeting hadn’t been mentioned by any news outlets until very recently and we weren’t able to find much information about it. We were interested in knowing if there would be any heightened “security” in the city for the event, such as TSA bag searches on the subway or militarized cops standing guard. The event turned out to be very low-key and there was no police presence at all from what we saw, so we ended up leaving pretty quickly.

We all chatted for a while and NEF decided to head home. KT and I headed back to the RNC meeting one last time to see if anything had changed. Finding nothing of interest, we started walking back down the sidewalk and we saw two motorcycle cops standing on the opposite side of the street. I stopped to take a few pictures and we noticed that one of the cops was using a radar gun to check drivers’ speeds.


We decided to warn the people driving by about the speed trap, so we headed over to a Post Office just down the street and KT bought a cardboard box for a few dollars. We ripped off part of the box and KT used a sharpie she carries around with her to write “Speed Trap” on it in bold letters.

As we started walking back down the street, a man walking with what looked to be his girlfriend or wife and their daughter spotted my shirt and told me that he had seen the website before and enjoyed it. I gave him a Cop Block business card and we showed them our sign and explained what we were about to do. The man and his girlfriend/wife thanked us and told us they appreciated what we were doing.

We stood on a median down the street from where the two motorcycle cops were located. KT held the sign and I periodically checked to make sure that the cops hadn’t spotted us. Both of us had cameras ready in case we were approached by the police.


We both waved at drivers and encouraged them to put their cell phones away if they were talking on them. It appeared as though nearly everyone driving by saw the sign. Tons of people thanked us, gave us a thumbs up, or honked at us to show their support for what we were doing.

After we had been warning drivers for a while, two state police vehicles drove past us. One of the state cops who was driving actually stuck his head out the window of his vehicle and flipped us off. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not recording our entire outing, so I didn’t get this on video.

After the staties drove past us, they presumably tipped the two motorcycle cops off about what we were doing. A minute or two later, one of the motorcycle cops rode up to us, stopped his bike, and tried (but failed) to convince us that what we were doing was a waste of time.

After the first cop left us alone, KT continued to stand with the sign and I walked up the street to confirm that we had broken up the speed trap. When I saw that both cops were gone, I headed back to meet up with KT. As I got near where KT was standing, she was approached by the second motorcycle cop. Both of us were caught off guard (in retrospect, we shouldn’t have been), but we managed to get videos. KT told me that before either of us turned our cameras on, the cop got her attention by yelling “Hey, Einstein!” at her.

After the second cop rode off, we walked down the street and spotted both of the cops stopped on the side of the road. They chatted for several minutes before riding off.

The first of the cops who approached us told us that our sign “doesn’t work,” but it was pretty obvious to us that it had. From what I could tell, not a single driver was pulled over while we were out with the sign and the cops gave up as soon as they found out about what we were doing.

KT and I decided that the cops probably went to a different location to set up a new speed trap, but between the time we were warning drivers without the knowledge of the cops, the time the cops spent figuring out where to set up the next trap, and the time it took to travel there, we had disrupted their activities for some time. We probably saved some people from getting stopped and ticketed and we did it on very short notice with a budget of only a few dollars.

The best part about doing this sort of activism was the reactions we got from the people driving by. I can’t remember the last time in my life — if there ever was one — that I was thanked by so many complete strangers for something I did.

Check here for KT’s video of the first cop and here for my video of the second cop.

Aug 9 2013

Radley Balko on the Militarization of Police

Dr. Q

Definitely check out Rise of the Warrior Cop. I pre-ordered this book and read through it in a few sittings. It’s a brilliant and infuriating book that I can’t recommend enough. Also worth checking out is Radley Balko’s old report Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America which can be read online for free. And check here for Radley Balko on police militarization in Boston.

Jul 6 2013

Cops harass photographer for taking pictures of airplanes

Dr. Q


On July 3rd, Matt Modica went to Bayswater Street Park in East Boston where he hoped to take some photographs of planes at Logan Airport. He was able to take some pictures, but not as many as he wanted. He ended up having to leave the park after being accosted by two bullies with badges.

“There are a lot of people that do aviation photography in and around Boston and the park I was at is a very popular place to go for good pictures when certain runways are in use like they were yesterday,” Modica explained to me during an interview the following day. “It isn’t uncommon to see people there with cameras and big lenses. I’m relatively new to aviation photography, but even after going to various areas around Logan, I had never had any issues until yesterday.”

Modica, a Chelmsford resident, works full-time at a camera store, does some freelance photography work, and also enjoys taking photographs and videos as a hobby — especially of trains. Modica has a Facebook page and YouTube channel where he shares his countless pictures and videos of trains.

When I asked Modica why he is so interested in trains, he said “I grew up in North Chelmsford right next to the line that the Bow Coal trains run on. I saw trains all the time as I child. Maybe that’s why. It has been a hobby for a long time for me.”

Modica had been taking pictures at Bayswater Street Park for about half an hour when he was approached by a corpulent bully wearing the colors of the Massachusetts State Police.

“I was just sitting there taking pictures for a while,” Modica recounted. “After shooting a couple planes, I looked up from my viewfinder and saw the first cop approach me.”

“He asked what I was doing. I told him I was taking pictures of the planes. He asked why. I said it was a hobby. He asked for ID. I asked why. He said I needed to be identified. I asked what crime I was being investigated for and then he started raising his voice, just repeating that he needed to identify me, and that’s when I grabbed the camera.”

When he took out his video camera, the cop told Modica that it was illegal to record him under the state’s wiretapping statute which is false. Modica told the cop about the recent court decision in Glik v. Cunniffe — a case where a federal court ruled that openly recording the police in public is a well-established right — and began recording him anyway.

Modica estimates that about a minute and a half passed before he turned his video camera on and began recording the cop.

After Modica began recording the cop, whom he identified as Officer Doucette, a second cop, later identified as Officer Chan, arrived at the scene and the two began conferring with one another.

Doucette approached Modica for a second time and puzzlingly told told him that while he was not being detained, he was not free to leave. He told Modica that he was “investigating a crime.” When Modica asked what that crime was, the officer answered with a made-up crime: “suspicious person in a private park.”

Incredulous, Modica asked him what statute “suspicious person in a private park” was listed under. The cop was unable to answer the question, but he began pestering Modica to identify himself again.

Modica approached Officer Chan and asked why he was being detained. “Uh, this private property,” he stammered. “This is owned by Massport, did you know that?” Massport — short for the Massachusetts Port Authority — is a government agency, which means that the park is actually public property.

Modica knew the park was public property, but offered a diplomatic response. He told Chan that if Doucette had simply told him he was on private property in the first place and asked him to leave, he would have done so. This wasn’t good enough for the cops. They wanted Modica, for whatever reason, to identify himself. Modica again asked what crime he was suspected of and the cops finally decided that he was trespassing. The officers then continued bullying Modica, demanding that he identify myself.

Finally, Modica called their bluff. “I’m gonna be honest, sir. If you required my ID and you had the legal right to take it, you would’ve arrested me by now,” he said. Modica asked the officers to call a supervisor to the scene.

Officer Chan went off to call a supervisor while Doucette continued to stand by and harass Modica. When the supervisor arrived several minutes later, he first spoke with Doucette and Chan, then approached Modica and told him he was free to leave.

Modica left the park and headed to a Dunkin Donuts. He had been detained by the police for about 20 minutes and he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I asked Modica if this was the first time he had been harassed over his hobby. “Oh no, not at all,” he replied.

Modica said he was once harassed by an MBTA employee who told him he needed a permit to shoot video of a train. This incident was discussed by journalist Carlos Miller on his Photography is Not a Crime blog.

Although he was not completely sure, Modica believes the police who harassed him at Bayswater Street Park were probably called by an overly suspicious man. This man is seen in the video glaring at Modica while standing with his arms crossed. Modica said many of these incidents of harassment begin the same way. “When doing my railroad videos, I’ve gotten called in on a number of occasions,” he said. “People just seem to think that as soon as you point a camera at a plane, train, or bus that you’re a terrorist.”

Modica is not against police, but said he is concerned about abusive police officers and the lack of accountability they face.

“In principle, the police are necessary for a society that maintains order, however, the police, being law enforcement officers, not only should be following the law, but I think should be held to an even higher standard. They should be role models for citizens,” he told me.

“The sad fact is there are so many crimes that police can get away with just because they are the police. Obviously there are a lot of good, law abiding cops out there, but unfortunately there are also a lot of dirty cops out there.”

Modica said he wasn’t planning on filing a complaint or taking any other action against the cops who harassed him at the moment because he is “dealing with a bunch of other legal stuff including a pending lawsuit against the NYPD.”

Modica said he is suing the New York City Police Department because he was wrongfully stopped and detained by a police officer while driving in the city. “I wasn’t officially arrested,” he told me, “but the cop was all mad at me and made me sit in handcuffs for a half hour while he tried to figure out a crime to charge me with. But, in the end, he didn’t have anything on me.” Modica said he’s currently working on a lawsuit against the NYPD over this incident.

I asked Modica if he felt deterred from taking pictures by police harassment.

“Nope,” he said. “If anything, it makes for great video footage. I want the world to see what happens. I don’t post my opinions or anything, I just let people see what the police are doing and draw their own conclusions.”

Correction (same day as the original post): When I originally posted this article, I reported that Modica was detained by the NYPD for his photography. He informed me that I misunderstood him and that he was actually pulled over while driving. The post has been slightly altered to reflect this.


Jun 20 2013

Boston police pose as punks to bust DIY rockers

Dr. Q

New video in Reason TV’s “Don’t Cops Have Better Things to Do?” series:

Boston cops are so eager to bust DIY indie-rock shows that they won’t simply wait to respond to noise complaints that might arise. Instead they’re going online posing as punk rockers to bust bands before they perform. It’s part of a citywide effort to crack down on basement and warehouse shows spurred by a recently passed nuisance control ordinance.

Slate’s Luke O’Neil sets the stage: “Almost everyone in the DIY scene has had an experience with phony police emails, direct messages on Twitter, and interactions on social media. For some it’s become just another part of the promotion business—a game of spot-the-narc in which the loser gets his show shut down. According to one local musician who asked not to be named, the day before a show this past weekend, police showed up at a house in the Allston neighborhood, home of many of these house shows, claiming that they already knew the bands scheduled to play. The cops told the residents of the house that they found out about the show through email, and they bragged about their phony Facebook accounts.”

“This week the St. Louis band Spelling Bee posted a screencap of emails from an account that they believe was used by the police in a sting before their recent Boston show. It reads like an amazing parody of what you might imagine a cop trying to pose as a young punk would look like.”

“‘Too bad you were not here this weekend,’ ‘Joe Sly’ wrote. ‘Patty’s day is a mad house I am still pissing green beer. The cops do break balls something wicked here. What’s the address for Saturday Night, love DIY concerts.'”

Don’t cops have better things to do? Well, yes, especially in a city with more pressing problems, like, say, unsolved murders. The Boston Globe calls the “painfully slow rate at which most killings are solved” one of Beantown’s most “intractable problems.”

So instead of playing pretend online, maybe cops could spend more time in the real world catching real criminals.

Jun 19 2013

New Bedford officers get four day suspensions for role in man’s death

Dr. Q

The Standard-Times reports that five police officers have received four day suspensions for failing to get medical attention in a timely manner for a man who was dying of a drug overdose.

Five police officers on duty when a man died in their custody each received a four-day suspension without pay, despite disciplinary recommendations that ranged from six months’ suspension without pay to termination.

The settlement reached between the city, the officers and the police union in August 2012 concerns the early morning hours of July 22, 2010, when Erik Aguilar, 42, overdosed while handcuffed and officers did not attempt to provide medical care until nine minutes after he stopped moving, according to investigations of the incident.

A March 2011 police review found that the officers had neglected their duties and failed to perform according to department rules and regulations. The review called the incident “an embarrassing disgrace to the New Bedford Police Department and a case of absolute negligence on the part of the … police officers on scene.”

Commenting on the suspensions, Police Chief David Provencher said Friday, “Am I completely satisfied? No, but I also understand that it was important to get the disciplinary action sustained and I think to that end, it’s an outcome that’s effective.”

The settlement, which also requires the officers to undergo three days of unspecified training, was based on the city’s calculation that a state arbitrator would have given the officers an even lighter punishment, Mayor Jon Mitchell said.

“The arbitrators are notoriously lenient and that’s a problem in my view, but that’s the system we operate in and I have to play by those rules,” Mitchell said.

While the officers all got off with slaps on the wrist, the taxpayers of New Beford will probably have to fork over some money to pay for what these officers did since they are currently being sued by Aguilar’s family.

Jun 15 2013

Palmer settles suit with man who was arrested for trying to record auction

Dr. Q

The Town of Palmer has agreed to pay a $5,000 settlement to Ian Freeman who was falsely arrested by police last year for trying to record a public auction. Police arrested Freeman at the behest of the town manager who took it upon himself to personally ban cameras at the public building where the auction was taking place despite not having the authority to do so (Source: The Republican).

Details here:

Ian Freeman, the New Hampshire man arrested in October for disorderly conduct for attempting to videotape a public auction, was paid $5,000 by the town of Palmer as part of a settlement, the town manager confirmed Thursday.

Town Manager Charles T. Blanchard said the town opted to pay the $5,000, which represents its insurance deductible, to end the case, and avoid the potential of future civil rights suits filed on behalf of Freeman, 32.

Last month, the remaining charge against Freeman – a municipal ordinance violation for being disorderly before the October auction – was dismissed in Palmer District Court. Back in December, a criminal disorderly conduct charge against Freeman in connection with the case was not prosecuted.

Freeman’s case was taken on by the American Civil Liberties Union. Freeman is a journalist and blogger who runs “Free Talk Live,” a radio show in Keene, N.H.

“The $5,000 settlement, in conjunction with dismissal of all charges, we believe vindicates the First Amendment rights that were at stake in this case,” said William C. Newman, director of the Western Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Blanchard said he does not regret having signs posted at the Town Building that warned visitors not to videotape, as the auction did go off without any problems. The signs have since been removed. They were placed throughout the building on the day of the auction of town-owned properties on the advice of another lawyer, Peter Brown, as there were concerns that supporters of Joseph “Jay” Noone, including Freeman, would disrupt the auction. Noone’s Main Street property in Bondsville was part of the auction

Here’s the video of Freeman getting arrested:

Disclosure: When I lived in New Hampshire, I was acquainted with Freeman. We were never close friends, but we were on good terms.