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Police & Photography: Stupidity, Incompetence or Arrogance?

Further to my posting on Police Stupidity more photography related stuff has come to light.  The Register has more on this story, a continuation of the Kent Police showing their arrogance/stupidity/incompetence (delete as appropriate):

If the law doesn’t quite fit, then Kent Police are not above making it up as they go along. That is the conclusion of local photographer Alex Turner who, following his arrest last week for being too tall – and possibly looking like a terrorist – was stopped by police again on Sunday, and required to hand over ID.

The article goes on to contain analysis and opinion from Anna Fairclough, a lawyer with lobby group Liberty.

“Where the police have suspicion that someone is committing another offence, they are permitted to carry out an arrest if they believe this is necessary to establish name and address.

“This feels like it could well be an unlawful arrest. It also appears to be yet another example of the police misunderstanding and misusing over-broad terrorism powers. As has already happened with s44 searches, the misuse of anti-terror laws makes us less safe, because it creates an atmosphere of hostility and non-cooperation by the general public towards the police.”

A demonstration is now planned near Chatham High Street on 15 August in order to assert the right of photographers to continue to photograph in public, in the face of police bullying.

Is it not ironic then that Kent Police have several items of photographic equipment up for auction?

From where did they get these items? One has to wonder if any of them were wrongly seized by officers quoting the wrong legislation.

What is done with the personal information of those who buy any of these items? Do they go onto a little database of subversives, terrorists and photographers?  Are the buyers apprehended when they arrive at a Kent Police station to collect them?  Or do they get their doors kicked down in the middle of the night in a raid where all the person’s computer and photographic kit gets seized?

These may be cynical questions but given recent police conduct they are justified.  Were this a one off incident I doubt I would spend as much time as I have on this and the previous entry on this topic (you can see what merits “suspicious behaviour” in the eyes of Kent Police here)  However, last year Kent Police arrested someone who had the temerity to ask a Police officer to identify himself.  One could say that Kent Police have a bit of form in this area.

It’s not just Kent Police who are on Orwellian (and some argue legally dodgy) ground.  Greater Manchester Police have issued cameras to some of their officers and have filmed over 900 “suspects”.

“That’s fine,” you may say, “they’re only filming known criminals”.  Read the report carefully and you will find that isn’t strictly true:

Footage of the suspected criminals in Trafford has been collected since 2006 and their images added to a database.

But they do not have to have committed a crime and anyone simply associating with offenders can be targeted…

But as well as known offenders, other criteria for an individual being filmed in the street includes:

  • Intelligence suggests they are associating with prolific offenders
  • They have been stopped in an area of high crime under suspicious circumstances
  • They are suspected of committing criminal offences or causing anti-social behaviour

I see weasel words in play here.  How is “associating” defined?  You’re walking home from a particularly good concert and chatting about other concerts you’ve seen with the people also walking with you.  One of them has a bit of form, “knock off Nigel” if you like the BBFC’s attempts to cut down piracy (which I don’t, I think they’re pathetic).  Does comparing notes with that person on say, David Coverdale’s singing mean you’re “associating”?  Does that mean you will be targeted and filmed?

Most cities have an “area of high crime”.  Sometimes coming home late from work I’d pass through one such area.  Does that mean now that you will be targeted and filmed?

Then there is “suspicious behaviour”.  The biggest weasel phrase of the lot.  Who defines what is and what is not “suspicious behaviour”?  Kent Police seem to have an odd view of it.  Indeed, the most recent report on the Chatham High Street issue suggests that some officers are making up the legislation. On one hand the Police are objecting to being photgraphed, filmed and identified.  On the other they are taking cameras out and filming people.

How can one trust the Police now?

I can’t say for certain where the problem lies in the Police approach towards and use of photography.  Perhaps the officers at the front line aren’t being adequately trained.  Perhaps the top level of the Police is not providing the leadership they should.  Perhaps the station management, Chief Inspectors, Inspectors and Sergeants aren’t passing on the guidance correctly.  Perhaps there is a belief in the Police Service that they are beyond question and can do whatever they like.  There is definitely a problem with the Police’s approach to photographers.  Their credibility is now taking even more of a hammering.

How the Police respond to Alex Turner’s complaint and how they handle the upcoming demonstration in Chatham will be monitored with great interest.  And you can bet it will be reported by the blogosphere even if the mainstream media ignore it.

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