Monday, October 21, 2013

Wrong Kind of Keystone

In the last couple of years the police have come in for heavy criticism, and a worryingly large number of matters are a long way from being cleared up or even explained. The Hillsborough affair looks, prima facie on the evidence disclosed so far, to show incompetence followed by panic followed by a systematic cover up organised from a high level. The De Menezes affair has revealed a story that is a long way different from the news that was released at first. The Ian Tomlinson affair was only resolved because someone happened to have a cameraphone to hand, and that led to the question as to how the thuggish officer involved had kept his job for so long. Plebgate is not resolved yet, and many people are worried about the authorities' lack of response to the revelations of CCTV.

Cheap and ubiquitous cameras are behind a lot of scandals being revealed  (the first that I can remember was Rodney King). Good. Let's make sure that police and public all make good use of the technology.

Nobody can take pleasure from seeing the hitherto high reputation of the British police diminished, but the best hope of restoring and maintaining it lies in throwing daylight on what goes on day to day. The best officers have a lot to gain, and the worst have a lot to lose, as they should.


  1. Agreed; so a bad sign would be if the police stopped people photographing them. Like this, for example

  2. If, historically, the law in England was maintained by peers (Anglo-saxon tithings, notions of policing by consent, trial by jury or lay magistrates, etc), then we have probably moved a long way from that ideal in, say the last hundred years. It is interesting to speculate that the technology might be enabling some redress of the balance.

  3. From the outside of the UK it seems the police are largely political and somewht indifferent to traditional crime.

  4. In Scotland, it seems, it is an offence to take a photograph if the subject is embarrassed -

    1. Photographing people in public has become difficult over the years. If the photo is published in the news media, it is not necessary to gain their permission. If It will be sold for advertising, the photographer has to get them to sign a release form which prevents them making claims for monies. Of course taking photos of anyone that could be misconstrued (such as them being outside a strip club) is not allowed.

      Even taking photos for the news is fraught with problems, so the way around this is to have anyone in the photo walking and use a slow shutter speed to blur their image.

    2. Officers in the performance of their duties are not -people-. They are officers, whose actions are no expression of their own private self. Or shouldn't be. Just last spring a prefetto, a sort of mandarin of ours, was caught in a cellphone video while giving a brusque and humiliating reprimand to a member of the public, on the flimsiest pretext. The member of the public had been making a point which was rather embarassing to his excellency...But when the video went viral, the minister herself was forced to apologize for the mandarin's arrogance. No such thing could have happened five years ago.

    3. "If [the photo] will be sold for advertising, the photographer has to get them to sign a release form which prevents them making claims for monies."

      Clearly it is in the photographer's interest to have them sign a release. But it is not, AFAIK, a criminal offence to take a photograph without doing so.

      "Of course taking photos of anyone that could be misconstrued (such as them being outside a strip club) is not allowed."

      "Of course"? Really? Until I read of the Edinburgh case, I was completely unaware that anyone had any right of privacy in a public place. Can you (or anyone else) point me to the legislation that makes it illegal to photograph people in a public place (in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK)?

    4. The link below gives up-to-date info on the laws of photography. It shows that some acts of Parliament can be open to interpretation. As is mentioned when a case was brought against someone who photographed an officer of the law.

      Photography and the law

    5. I'm not sure I see your point. I don't see anywhere in that Wikipedia article that "a case was brought against someone who photographed an officer of the law". I see mention of an incident where a PCSO alleged that it was an offence to photograph him, but the Metropolitan Police made it quite clear that he was wrong: 'Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel'.

      I see that the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 makes it an offence to publish or communicate a photograph of a police officer under certain circumstances, but not to take a photograph.

      In response to Anonymous' comment of 22 October 2013 11:47 (Incidentally, I have no way of knowing if you are the same "Anonymous" - it would be helpful if you used some sort of name), I also note that the Human Rights Act 1998 did introduce a right to privacy. Thank you for that; it does go some way towards answering my question about privacy (though I note that there is some controversy over that right). But even that only appears to be invoked when a photograph is published. I can see no law against taking photographs in public places (except in a few very specific cases).

  5. Most coppers always have and always will be thoroughly honest but there is a small minority who's activities are shall we say "questionable". The trouble is politics and the press pervade almost evverything these days, so small spats become major incidents in a second. And, are repated on the telly ever 15 mins. Therefore it is of no wonder why the public think every bobby is corrupt.

    There is a disconnect between the top brass, polictians and the rank and file bobby and the Police Fed has involved itself in areas where it should have left well alone.

    Whether the police were called plebs, of f******g plebs is a minor spat which initself was worht no attention at all but the actions of the cops is absolutely of concern and something needs to be done about it.

  6. I'de previously held the view that police officers were, in the main, honest people, doing a difficult job, with most having a great deal of integrity and sense of duty to the general public.

    This afternoon I sat through the Select Committee meeting where several police officers, of widely ranging rank, were called to give "evidence" regarding the Mitchell affair. Never in my life have I seen such a display of blatant dishonesty and arse covering. It was bad enough watching the blatant lies being told by the three Police Federation officers, Jones, MacKaill and Hinton, to some extent I can understand their view that they were above being questioned by a Home Office committee, as they were clearly arrogant and held the committee in contempt (and were reminded of this by Keith Vaz at the end).

    What was, perhaps, more revealing was the total incompetence displayed by three chief constables, who I'd frankly not trust to manage a public lavatory based on this afternoons performances.

    My hitherto fairly positive view that there were only a very small minority of dishonest police officer has been sharply revised. It seems that dishonesty and lack of integrity is now more widespread within the police service than I'd previously thought. what a sad and sorry state of affairs we have allowed to develop within those charged with protecting us from evil.

  7. Think of the police's reputation as a 'bubble' (economically speaking). Their heretofore high reputation was due mainly to the fact that widespread knowledge of their true activities was not available. Now that bubble is bursting and the police's reputation is moving towards where it 'should' be - in the sense of what it should be given their *actual* activity, not the behavior we expect of them.

    From *your* end, this may seem a bad thing - a cornerstone assertion of the criminal justice system is that the police force is good, honest, and forthright, committed to serving the public and upholding law. Now that that is being revealed as a façade, along with (and here I speak specifically of American problems - I have no experience of your CPS) the system of prosecutors its placing a huge burden squarely on the shoulders of the judiciary itself to uphold the reputation of the criminal justice system.

    Overall, I see this as a good thing. Yes it'll be painful in the short run, but without evidence of police misconduct there will be no real pressure to reform the police services.


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