I’m willing to admit that the policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job, but it’s the essence of our society that the policeman’s job should be hard. He’s there to protect, protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals, that’s an incidental part of his job. The free citizen is always more of a nuisance to the policeman that the criminal. He knows what to do about the criminal …
– Orson Welles
Yesterday the European Court ruled that the UK’s provision to randomly stop and search people who did not appear to be doing anything suspicious, criminal, or counter to the public interest was illegal. Unsurprisingly, they believed that the complete lack of controls on the power meant that the police could use it abusively.
While the Home Office says they will appeal, and claim that searching people who appear to be doing nothing wrong is vital to our safety, we here at the Big Bad Blog are applauding the EU court’s decision (full text here) — even though the police in the UK plan to ignore it, at present.
Partially, this is because stop-and-search-in-case-of-terror is the London police’s favourite tactic to use against photographers and tourists, and a favourite topic of this blog. This decision gives us an opportunity to outline a number of instances that have occurred over recent months while we have been busy at our day job. And on holiday.
In December, the royal family went out in public. In response, the police confiscated any cameras they found amongst members of the public. Apparently the police agree that they were wrong — people should have been allowed to keep their cameras in accordance with a ‘longstanding agreement’. Wrong. People should be allowed to keep their cameras because they own them, and police cannot confiscate personal property just because the Queen is nearby.
Also over the Christmas holidays, a man was arrested for taking photographs of posters, police declared that photographers need to carry identification with them at all times, and then backtracked, and photographers were stopped by the police for taking photographs of Christmas lights and a church. The news came fast and furious, with even the Association of Chief Police Officers expressing concern over the trend.
Perhaps more insightful views regarding many of these events have been offered by the Independent, here and here, but we will try to say something here on the Big Bad Blog.
Between their treatment of photographers and security checks on airplanes, it seems a wonder that the UK has ever successfully foiled a terrorist plot. The police seem to think that the bigger the camera is, the bigger the threat. Tripods are considered particularly dangerous. Why not randomly stop people because they have their phone out? Almost every phone doubles as a camera these days, and the proof that police have used to demonstrate that terrorists might actually film is clearly not from an SLR camera, but from a mobile phone.
Police’s continued ill-treatment of photographers raises a couple of questions:
Are police not properly equipped or trained to deal with terrorists?
One must wonder — if officers truly believe that somebody with a DSLR camera and a tripod is dangerous, they cannot be very good at the part of their job which involves identifying terrorists.
It could be from the the top down, with police chiefs distributing instructions to target photographers.
Alternatively, from the bottom up, with officers feeling that they should be doing something but not knowing what to do.
Either way, the repeated targeting of photographers could indicate that the police do not know what they are doing.
Is it all for show?
The alternative is that the police do know what they are doing.
If that is the case, and photographers are not terrorist threats, then the problem is that fighting terrorism is not done on the streets by beat cops, but in places lacking public visibility. The police feel the need to do something public, and have chosen photographers as a group both large and small enough to target.
If this is the case, chiefs of police ought to refer to the quote from Mr. Welles, at the top of this article.
Compromising the freedom of citizens for appearance’s sake is not a welcome strategy in a free society.
Photograph by MARC VALLÉE