Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Met and Londoners

This supposedly amusing advertisement is intended to convey the message that the Metropolitan Police are keen to engage with the public.

Of course those of us who have engaged with the police don’t necessarily find it a very welcoming experience.

For example, last month when I was taking photographs of the BMW which crashed into The Bell, a police officer came over to me and gave me a good talking to. He aggressively asked why I was taking photographs of a crime scene. It was a repeat of my previous month's experience with a hostile PCSO when I photographed the double decker bus which crashed.

On this occasion I was faced with a real police constable. I was also equipped with a fresh understanding of the law and photography in a public place. I politely replied that as far as I was aware I was committing no offence. He then demanded to see my photographs. I declined, on the grounds that as far as I was aware I had committed no offence. He then aggressively said I needed police permission to take photographs of the crashed car. I politely replied that my understanding was that this was not the case and that I was committing no offence by taking photographs in a public place.

The officer then aggressively said I was impeding him in the exercise of his duties and I should stop taking photographs and go. But far from impeding him in his duty, which was plainly to keep people outside the area sealed off by police tape, he was the one who came over to me. I was not in any sense getting in his way. Because I was not seeking confrontation, I went away. But I went away with the learned experience that some police officers are belligerent liars.

No surprise there, perhaps, since aggressive and unlawful police harassment of photographers is now a national problem.

The police contempt for the lawful right to take photographs in a public place arrogantly extends to press photographers. During last week’s G20 protests in London

The National Union of Journalists and the British Press Photographers' Association denounced the use by the police of Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to prevent journalists and photographers from covering certain operations during the G20 protests on 02 April.

'A whole group of journalists was by the Bank tube station at one point,' BPPA's chairman Jeff Moore told BJP earlier today. 'The officers were using police dogs on one side to snatch and arrest people on the other side. The police walked up to us and asked us to move away
or we would be arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.'

It was an abuse of the Act, but who cares? The Met has since supplied a perfunctory and patently insincere apology.

Ironically, it appears to have been a banker with a mobile phone who filmed this unprovoked police assault on Ian Tomlinson.

But though the Met is hostile to photographers, it displays excessive zeal in photographing and filming people on demonstrations.

Ian Dunt at the G20 protest:

I spoke to a man named Andy. Andy is over 50, an IT worker, and, in his words, "can't find work for love nor money". He came to complain about how, in his view, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling had mismanaged the economy. With a beaming smile on his face and a placard with a cheeky joke about Britain's economic police, I warmed to him instantly. As we spoke, I noticed a policeman filming him with a video camera… Did this man deserve to be filmed by police as if he was a terrorist, and then kept in an area for hours on end, without access to toilet facilities or food or water, simply because he wanted to protest against British economic policy? Surely not.

Back to that poster. Even the Met’s advertising account tells a story.

The contract of advertising agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy with the Metropolitan Police Service expires at the end of March. They are being replaced by Gordon Brown's favourite ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, who gave him "Design services" during his Labour party leadership non-election "coronation" campaign. AMV BBDO have also been awarded the lucrative Home Office ID Cards propaganda account.

The poster alludes to the ‘Policing Pledge’

There is now a Policing Pledge. It’s a new set of promises from the police on the service they should provide and every force has committed to keeping those promises.The police promise to listen to your concerns, act on these concerns, and then keep you informed of the progress they’ve made. Each neighbourhood will have locally agreed priorities, as agreed by the community.

That’s assuming that the community bothers to involve itself with this consultation exercise and that the Met can be trusted to take a blind bit of notice of its results. According to the Home Office, 52.6% of Londoners say they have no confidence in the police. And complaints against police officers in England and Wales have risen to record levels. I wonder why that is?

(last pic The Guardian, previous pic Reuters, previous pics Sky TV, IndyMedia)