View Full Version : Bradley (BDL) and the ACLU

2014-09-07, 12:34 PM
Anyone who photographs at airports where law enforcement is harsh may want to give this thread a careful read.

If you've spent much time around Hartford/Springfield's Bradley Airport (BDL), you know that it can be a challenging place from a law enforcement perspective. While I haven't experienced or heard of anyone being arrested for photography there, there are many stories of being thrown off the property for taking pictures. At one time we had an arrangement like the one that is currently in place in Boston, whereby we'd e-mail operations and let them know we'd be out there. Bradley's operations were spun off to a new quasi-government agency, Connecticut Airport Authority, a couple of years ago, and things took a sharp turn for the worse. We were thrown out of our favorite location on Perimeter Road on multiple times, and also from the airport terminal.

After getting hassle after hassle, one of our photographers contacted Bradley officials, who agreed to meet with the two of us. Present at the meeting were Bradley's Director of Operations, and the Connecticut State Police lieutenant in charge of the CSP staff at the airport. The meeting was generally cordial, but at the end of it, we were told that we were not permitted to take pictures anywhere on airport property except the cell phone lot. The cell phone lot is a very poor location for photography. Our point was that we should be allowed to photograph from any area otherwise open to the general public, and both airport reps disagreed. A couple of points they made:

- Photography is illegal due to federal regulations anywhere inside airport terminals
- While the Perimeter Road is open to the public and frequently used by joggers, cyclists, walkers, etc. "we know everyone out there as they all work at the ANG base near there, so it's OK for them to be there. We can't waste police resources responding to complaints about photographers from the public, so you can't be out there."
- They felt the airport was being very generous in providing us access to the cell phone lot.
- Director of Operations: "Every time you tell me a story about getting thrown off the Perimeter Road, it makes me feel good, as that means the police are doing their job."
- Our favorite locations are hills surrounding the runways on the Perimeter Road, and they said we can't be up there due to liability concerns. Since those areas are not otherwise open to the general public, we didn't dispute access there.

After getting home from the meeting, I went to the ACLU of Connecticut web page and filled out a complaint form. Lo and behold, about three weeks later, they responded to me that they were interested in the case. Apparently airport photography enforcement is an area they're targeting lately. Long story short, they sent a letter to the Director of Operations stating that photography is a protected activity, and asking him to cite the relevant statutes that allow him to prohibit photography. The ACLU attorney expected BDL to come back with some blanket security rule that allowed them to do as they pleased.

About three weeks after that, the ACLU received this response from Bradley's General Counsel:


The ACLU issued this press release after receiving the letter:


Which resulted in a national Associated Press story being released, which was picked up nationwide. The AP article isn't great as it contains inaccurate statements by airport officials about the old special arrangement to let them know we'd be at the airport photographing, but the ACLU was pleased with the coverage and felt we came out ahead. Here's an example story from MSN Money - the quote from the airport about trying to provide access and us turning them down is false and makes us look bad, but the theme is that photography is a permitted activity:


JFK seems like a pretty reasonable place, but this tactic might be useful at places like ISP and EWR, or some of the towns around BOS where the local police have been heavy-handed. The ACLU was a pleasure to work with.

Anyway, this seems an effective means of fighting back. We have yet to see how this plays out in the field, but the ACLU has said they will back us up if we continue to get harassed.

2014-09-07, 03:06 PM
That's pretty amazing. Great work!

John, if you'd like to write an article about this for our website, to make sure the facts are all straight, I'd be more than happy to report this. Please email me ([email protected]).

Jared Blech
2014-09-07, 06:38 PM
I would love to get this sorted out for some of the more sensitive locations for JFK, but my attorney side tells me that it's just not possible to reason with the PANYNJ.
Anyways, great post, very well written! Don't you just love when the good guys come out on top!
Cheers, Jared

2014-09-07, 06:51 PM
Nice work!

2014-09-07, 08:00 PM
Awesome work and glad to see another airport back to being tolerant of spotters.

I do think this can be beneficial in presenting a case to EWR, PA of NY/NJ, and Elizabeth PD. Maybe, just maybe we can open up EWR into a more spotter tolerant airport.

2014-09-07, 09:13 PM
Well done, John!

2014-09-08, 09:24 AM
Maybe, just maybe we can open up EWR into a more spotter tolerant airport.
Anythings possible! Who would have thought two months ago I'd be on the Landmark ramp photographing planes with the guy that reported me last November!

Good job up in BDL!

2014-09-08, 02:24 PM
Wow! Well done John! ... amazing. Good to know the ACLU is willing to go to bat for aviation photographers over police harassment!

2014-09-19, 07:42 AM
Looks like BDL took notice of what happened, so they have started to erect "No Trespassing" signs around the airport perimeter road.
So, deal with a cop asking you to move nicely, and keep your playground, OR, get the ACLU involved and have the airport play hardball.
THINK before you act folks....if this happened to a small town airport like Bradley, imagine what your "activist" t-shirts will start at JFK.
I really don't care if we lose the garages to spot from, but, there are others here that really use them wisely.

2014-09-19, 10:32 AM
Looks like BDL took notice of what happened, so they have started to erect "No Trespassing" signs around the airport perimeter road.
No trespassing signs on a public road? Then all the cyclists, joggers and walkers mentioned by the op are trespassing, the airport should have made it a private, gated road if they didn't want photographers out there.

We can't waste police resources responding to complaints about photographers from the public, so you can't be out there."
Simple solution, advise dispatcher to tell caller "And? what do you want us to do? Photography is legal"

Landing Lights
2014-09-19, 01:09 PM
Simple solution, advise dispatcher to tell caller "And? what do you want us to do? Photography is legal"

They still have to check it out if a 911 call was made. However, their logic of prohibiting spotting because the 911 calls "take valuable police resources" is a load of crap. Its the job of the police to respond to calls, and there are plenty of needless calls that they have to respond to. Good on John and the rest of the spotters there for standing up to CSP and CAA and fighting back. Because the bigger risk here is that the community does nothing and other airports follow suit.

I have been following the situation at BDL since the spring, and it is clear to me that the new administration doesn't like the spotting community and wants them gone. They really haven't even been willing to have a meaningful discussion on the topic. This is a community that flourished for many years while the airport was under DoT control.

2014-09-19, 08:05 PM
Ben, what's happening at BDL? Why is ACLU involved? Are they on spotter's side? If so, why would the signs impact spotting from public places?

2015-02-26, 08:50 AM
Any updates on the situation at Bradley? As I might be popping by here in the summer...

2015-02-27, 07:21 PM
Sadly and unfortunately, my favorite spotting lots near the runway 6 on Route 20 has been closed because the federal government took the property and build a new entrance road to the Connecticut Air National Guard where the C-130s are based. :frown: Yes, it broke my heart!!!

2015-03-02, 04:39 PM
I feel like a nice response might be to arrange a spot in...invite lots of folks from Boston, Rhode Island, and NYC to come up and spot BDL for the afternoon. Coordinate w/ ACLU. I'm sure the BDL folks would be thrilled.

2015-06-17, 11:59 AM
I will definitely be visiting BDL in a couple of weeks. Is it possible to get some photography in at the 24 side in the morning? Or is the situation still volatile and the authorities will still not have it?

2015-06-22, 10:55 PM

My advice is don't go to the 24 side because there are a lot of signs (No Trespassing) everywhere on the perimeter roads. If CSP (CT State Police) see you there he or she would either ask you to leave or give you a ticket for a simple trespassing ($92.00 fine) or possible you get arrested. Keep in mind, BDL is NOT very friendly to the aviation enthusiasts/Spotters/Photographers. They DO NOT want you to take photos of the airplanes or watch the planes. Yes, very sad indeed!! :-(

2015-06-23, 04:43 PM
For what it's worth I've been in touch with the CAA regarding other aviation photography business away from BDL. Next time I am in touch with them I intend to bring up the BDL hostility in hopes that they back off a bit and give us a chance to do some spotting.

2015-06-26, 07:32 AM
Thanks for the advice BDL guy! Very sad indeed.