""Student lands in legal trouble for photographing police cars""
Too Bad..... I usally Ask Permission First. What are your thoughts on this article???? I think the police were out of line this time.
He says it's a hobby. Police cite Sept. 11 security fears.
By Jonathan Gelb and Benjamin Wallace-Wells
Inquirer Staff Writers
Mohammed Budeir says his hobby is harmless.
As with devotees around the country, Budeir says he enjoys taking photographs of police cars to post on the Internet. Sure enough, the Web is full of such sites created by those who, like Budeir, are drawn to the esoteric pursuit of collecting such pictures.
But in an anxious post-Sept. 11 world, his hobby has put him at odds with police in Willistown Township in Chester County, after they discovered Budeir, 20, a Villanova University student from Wayne, taking pictures of police cars without their permission last month. Police charged him with trespassing and disorderly conduct, saying the FBI had warned them to look out for would-be terrorists taking photos of emergency vehicles.
So are police getting excited over nothing? Or is there reason to be concerned over Budeir's behavior?
In the next few months, the Chester County District Attorney's Office will answer those questions in part by deciding how vigorously to prosecute the case.
In the meantime, Budeir and police remain deadlocked over the meaning of a case that both sides agree would have been a non-issue before Sept. 11.
Budeir, a U.S. citizen of Syrian descent, wanted the photos for his own collection, said his attorney, Richard Meanix.
"It would seem that his crime is not a real serious one," Meanix said.
He said Budeir is part of an online community - composed largely of former police but also including civilians - that is fascinated with police vehicles.
One such site, copcar.com, gets between 4,000 and 5,000 Web hits a week, said owner Dave Arnold, a retired Colorado police officer. Arnold said private citizens sometimes hoard police memorabilia for the sense of power and the thrill.
A quick Internet search reveals dozens of such sites, some that include photos of police cars from departments in the region, including those in Philadelphia, Norristown, Chester City and West Chester.
To some law enforcement officials, however, such sites could be dangerous.
"Our hypersensitivity is about people taking detailed photos of a police car to duplicate those markings," said Joseph Angelino, chief of police in Norwich, N.Y., and an expert in police collectibles. He said there was heightened concern among authorities that police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles could be cloned.
Willistown police said Budeir was acting "suspiciously" on the two days in August when he came to the police station to take photographs, though they stop short of alleging that he is involved in any organized crime ring.
Police chief Hugh Murray said a Willistown officer first noticed Budeir in the station's rear parking lot taking photos of police cars with a digital camera on Aug. 1.
The officer became suspicious - not because Budeir was Middle Eastern, Murray said, but because the department had received the FBI warning earlier in the week.
Budeir complied when asked by the officer to delete the photos and was told not to come back unless he had official township business, Murray said. But according to court papers, he returned the next day, when another officer saw him taking pictures of the cars.
When confronted, Budeir explained that he was taking the photos because he posted them on the Internet as a hobby. But the officer became suspicious when Budeir could not name the Web site where he displayed them, Murray said.
Budeir did not return calls for comment. No one answered the door at his Wayne home.
Last week, Budeir waived his preliminary hearing in district court in West Chester. In doing so, he applied for the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, an informal probation for nonviolent offenders. Entrance into the program would allow Budeir to perform community service while on probation and then apply to have his arrest expunged from his record.
If he is not approved for the ARD program, he would have a preliminary hearing and the case would proceed toward trial.
First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Carmody said the process of deciding whether to approve Budeir for ARD may take "a couple of months." Carmody said the office will weigh the seriousness of the crime, whether he has a criminal record, and "particularly, the fact that he was asked to go away and then came back."
In the meantime, the case has one clear meaning for Budeir's attorney. "It is an example about how careful one must be in his actions after Sept. 11," Meanix said.
Contact Jonathan Gelb at 610-701-7627 or at firstname.lastname@example.org