Feeds

Police chief: Yes, my plods sometimes forget photo laws

9am morning judgment not ubiquitous

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

The Metropolitan Police Force cannot be guaranteed to abide by the law when it comes to allowing the public their right to take photographs.

That was the startling admission made last week by Met Police Commissioner John Stephenson under sharp questioning from Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Dee Doocey during a Police Authority Meeting on 22 July in City Hall. Video footage of the exchange is available on the Metropolitan Police Authority site, with relevant footage from around the 68 minute mark.

Doocey asked the commissioner: "Are you confident that your officers are aware of the law when it comes to members of the public taking photographs in public places?"

In response, Stephenson talks initially as though this issue is in the past. He said: "It is a stated fact and public record that we did go through a period when there was a spate of these types of incidents. And I admit, I could not be confident at that time, because they were happening, and it was a matter occasionally of morning despair of what we were doing on occasions around it.

"The problem is, of course, getting 33,000+ police officers and 4000+ PCSOs to exercise the judgement that you have at 9am in the morning. At the result of that, we did issue very precise guidelines to officers, did an awful lot there.

"John Yates said at the time to everyone – and we did a huge amount to get out this message because it was costing such a disproportionate loss of reputation for us – that there is no restriction on people taking photos in public places or any other building other than in very exceptional circumstances."

He admitted that he was aware of a recent disturbing incident that took place in Romford, which according to Doocey represented "eight minutes of two of your officers intimidating somebody".

She continued: "At one stage they say that they don't need a law to stop them photographing, but much more worrying, they don't need a law to take them away. It’s not a question in my view of… It’s so serious that it don’t think it should be somebody giving them words of advice and I don't also agree with you that it is a question of officers using their discretion.

"This was very black and white: Two of your officers who, despite the fact that I know you have given them guidelines because I have a copy of it, who totally disregarded them and were either so completely ignorant of the law, or decided to ignore the law – they were just going to say they knew the law better than the person they were talking to – they were very seriously intimidating. I find it quite worrying that I don't think you are taking this quite as seriously as I think you should be."

This forthright attack on the actions of some police officers appears to have put the Commissioner on the back foot. He pointed out that he had never claimed the officers in the Romford case had shown the right judgement and that he was not aware of a number of other incidents that Doocey alluded to, but that nonetheless he would be prepared to look at other cases to see what was going wrong.

Behind this lies the issue of whether these are just isolated incidents that occur around photography, or are evidence of a wider problem with police culture. At the time of the Romford incident, The Reg phoned one of the Met Police call centres to ask about the law on taking photos in London. The advice we received then – before the call handler decided to terminate the call - was seriously misleading and not consistent with the law as it stands.

We asked the Met for official comment as to why, despite the numerous efforts made by Assistant Commissioner John Yates and other serving officers to get the message about photography across, such incidents kept occurring. They suggested that these incidents were a very small part of the whole story of London policing, that to expect zero incidents was unrealistic, and that when such incidents occurred, they tended to be blown up out of all proportion by the press.

An alternative explanation, suggested to us by current and recently serving police officers with whom we have spoken, is that such incidents represent a far more disturbing aspect of police culture. They suggest that a small minority of officers see the law as being "what they say it is", and these officers are quite prepared to take their chances, on the basis that the number of times they will be caught out by being recorded is likely to be few and far between. ®

Application security programs and practises

More from The Register

next story
UK.gov's Open Source switch WON'T get rid of Microsoft, y'know
What do you mean, we've ditched Redmond in favour of IBM?!
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
US Social Security 'wasted $300 million on an IT BOONDOGGLE'
Scrutiny committee bods probe derailed database project
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Australia floats website blocks and ISP liability to stop copyright thieves
Big Content could get the right to order ISPs to stop traffic
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.