As yet another senior copper reads the riot act to his fellow officers over the policing of photographers, concerns are growing amongst senior ranks that this is all too little too late – and that serious damage has now been done to relations with the public over this issue.
John Yates, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations, put out a message yesterday reminding all Met Police officers and staff that people taking photographs in public should not be stopped and searched unless there is a valid reason.
The message has been circulated to all Borough Commanders and published on the MPS intranet, and reinforces guidance previously issued around powers relating to stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT).
"People have complained that they are being stopped when taking photographs in public places," said Yates. "These stops are being recorded under Stop and Account and under Section 44 of TACT. The complaints have included allegations that people have been told that they cannot photograph certain public buildings, that they cannot photograph police officers or PCSOs and that taking photographs is, in itself, suspicious.
"Whilst we must remain vigilant at all times in dealing with suspicious behaviour, staff must also be clear that: there is no restriction on people taking photographs in public places or of any building other than in very exceptional circumstances - there is no prohibition on photographing front-line uniform staff - the act of taking a photograph in itself is not usually sufficient to carry out a stop."
This follows a similar warning to his fellow police officers last week by one of ACPO’s leading lights, Chief Constable Andy Trotter in the pages of the Independent. He said: "The last thing in the world we want to do is give photographers a hard time or alienate the public. We need the public to help us."
This, in turn, comes less than a month after Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Denis O’Connor warned: "British police risk losing the battle for the public’s consent if they win public order through tactics that appear to be unfair, aggressive or inconsistent. This harms not just the reputation of the individual officers concerned but the police service as a whole."
Senior Officers are worried – and with good reason. Just this weekend, the Daily Mail picked up on the story that El Reg has been reporting for the last year and a half, detailing some of the worst incidents that have beset photographers over the last few years. Most seriously, from a police perspective, it included a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to your rights when stopped by the police.
Millions of middle-class Mail readers now know that if you are stopped under s.44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, you do not have to volunteer your name, address, date of birth, DNA or reason for being there.
Over the last few weeks, in incidents across London - some concocted by reporters, some the genuine result of encounters between police and photographers - the police have been encountering this new bolshiness at first hand. If it's all just a passing fad, the police will cope: if, on the other hand, it is the start of a new disrespect for the police - the slow death of policing by consent - then the rules of the game will have changed, perhaps for good.
Those wondering why this has come about need only click here (YouTube vid) to view the latest episode in the ongoing saga, forwarded to the Register last night. As far as we are aware, the PCSOs in this clip are genuine: the Met have confirmed that the markings appear genuine, but have declined to comment further. ®