The crazy police suspicion of photographers

by Chris Bertram on July 17, 2009

The latest episode of police harassment of street photographers is recounted by Henry Porter in the Guardian. There just seems to be an endless loop around this stuff: police officers stop/arrest/intimidate photographer, fuss in the press, lobbying of politicians, earnest denials and issuings of revised guidance by senior police, continued botherings despite guidance. Do, repeat.

What really astonishes me about this is that the alleged terrorism link is based on what seems to be a law-enforcement myth about the bad guys scoping out their targets using DSLRs and that the police are actually missing a major intelligence opportunity. Anyone who mixed with enthusiastic photographers knows that there is a bunch of people in every town and city who wander around looking at things, noticing the unusual, exploring side-streets and back alleys, and so forth. Even when we haven’t got cameras on us we’re looking, noticing, framing, making a mental note. You’d think that a smart police officer somewhere might have cottoned on to this and had the idea that cultivating good relations with such people, not acting so as to piss them off, might actually be a good idea. But no. The police mentality is to see such people as suspicious and possibly criminal and to intimidate them off the streets. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

{ 62 comments }

1

Alex 07.17.09 at 11:54 am

Whilst sharing their views about the threat of terrorism officer xxxxx [name redacted] stated she had felt threatened by me when I took her picture. I cannot recall exactly what she said but I do recall her referring to my size and implying she found it intimidating at the time

This was done in order to create the legal requirement for a charge under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the so-called “stalker legislation” which requires that you cause “alarm or distress” to more than one person (i.e. two police officers) and which is regularly used against protestors. Notably, Lindis Percy was briefly charged with “harassment” for causing alarm and distress to an US Air Force base by protesting outside it with a banner.

Once you’ve declared your alarm’n’distress (I am alarmed and distressed! Aren’t you, Sarge? Yup, alarmed and distressed.) you’ve got everything you need to take the guy down the station and slap a pretty nasty charge on them.

2

Salient 07.17.09 at 1:31 pm

Anyone who mixed with enthusiastic photographers knows that there is a bunch of people in every town and city who wander around looking at things, noticing the unusual, exploring side-streets and back alleys, and so forth. Even when we haven’t got cameras on us we’re looking, noticing, framing, making a mental note.

Which feels like surveillance, and I imagine the last thing any police officer wants is someone surveying their moment-to-moment activities.

The sheriff I know, because he used to visit a school I used to teach at, probably made a venial rules & regs infraction every 10 minutes. Example: I saw him walk up to a kid and dug in the kid’s front pants pockets from behind, pulling out a lighter from one and an empty box of cigarettes from the other. The kid complained, something whiny like “you can’t do that”: John just shrugged it off and said “and you can’t bring a lighter to school, son.”

He often joked about what he’d do if a kid pulled a this or pulled a that, and those comments if caught on camera (and no doubt thereby taken “out of context” in his opinion) might have endangered his reputation or job. He thrilled for the excitement of a kid back-talking or acting non-compliant.

He’d get irritated when driving behind someone going under the speed limit on the highway that cut through town and flash his siren to get them to pull over and out of his way (with a non-police passenger in the squad: me). So on, so forth.

I guarantee you, John wouldn’t want anybody video-taping him. In fact, when he came to break up a rather serious fistfight/wrestling-fight one time, I remember the first thing he did was to confiscate a bystander’s camera cell phone, which rather upset me as I was one of the teachers trying to stabilize the situation (keep the kids off each other’s throats).

3

the teeth 07.17.09 at 1:51 pm

@Salient — Bingo.

Go check out law enforcement message boards & look for camera discussions — the consensus seems to be that the proliferation of cameras (and particularly video cameras) has made it “impossible for us to do our job” (a phrase which I guarantee you can find very quickly in a half dozen spots.)

4

John 07.17.09 at 2:12 pm

“smart police officer”

Surely you jest!

5

Mikhail 07.17.09 at 2:47 pm

The problem with the UK media is that they never ask the right questions… As in the recent case of phones being tapped, including the then ex-PM’s – where was MI5, excuse me? Isn’t it their job to prevent this sort of thing… ?!?

In this case, if the police are “alarmed and distressed” in the absense of a gun, then perhaps they are incompetent, lack training and should not be police in the first place?! If it can be argued that even proper training doesn’t prevent police officers from feeling “alarmed and distressed” in even a remotely-mildly stressful situation, how can it possibly be argued that they (a) can protect anyone? (b) can act rationally? and (c) protect public peace (they’re the ones breaking it usually! :-)

And since nobody is asking these questions in public, nothing can possibly change… ;(

6

Salient 07.17.09 at 3:14 pm

BTW Chris, in the US officers assigned to gang outreach and similar pursuits know this and do what you suggest. (And all you all officers out there, please forgive a little conjectural writing here, I want to pursue this and think about the “role” of police officer.)

Police officers need to be in control. That’s the whole point of being a beat police officer, not a detective or office officer: to be in control so that you may use this control to uphold law and order as you envision it. That’s also the broadest and most compelling reason for people to become police officers, insofar as they’re not just doing it for salary/benefits.

The people who (are allowed to) become police officers have a vision of what constitutes “law and order” that conforms sufficiently to the relevant set of social norms about law and order as approved of and acknowledged by the state, together with an appreciably assertive personality that clarifies and reinforces their control by discouraging non-compliance.

Telling a police officer they’re not following appropriate protocol is a provocation which cannot be matched by swearing or defamation. One defers to protocol, and one differs from protocol, according to the needs of the situation (how best to assert and maintain control), and to be told that protocol must govern your behavior by some prick bystander is completely intolerable.

(By contrast, tell a gang-outreach cop they’re not following protocol and they’ll say something like, “Maybe you have a point there. Well, here’s what my job is. [several points *, *, *, one of which is “try to help keep you from landing yourself in jail or dead.”] This is what I have to do. So how should I do these things?” Their assigned role is social negotiator rather than control-maintainer.)

Similarly, the easiest and most assured way to get arrested or detained without doing anything illegal is to walk away from a police officer as they’re talking to you. There is no surer sign that they have lost sufficient control over your behavior. Even cussing them out is less problematic; sometimes you just get a warning to shut up for that.

[Standard interpretive qualifiers to all of this, such as interpreting “police” as “most police” and “they” as “most of them,” apply. It’s meant to be sweeping and conjectural, not thoroughly accurate or well-documented. It’s also not meant to be insulting: I think this is generally the way beat police officers should think, given their role and social function.]

7

Paul 07.17.09 at 3:17 pm

Most cops are suspicious by nature and should be – to a degree at least. After all criminals use their wits to try to get away with doing crimes and not getting caught. So good sense would make me (if I were a policeman) be suspicious until I determined that a person had no nefarious or criminal intentions. And what makes you think that some (if not a lot) of policemen do not cultivate good relations with phographers who are potential sources of information ? When you assert something consider the WHOLE TRUTH of it instead of cherry picking…:-)

8

michael e sullivan 07.17.09 at 3:19 pm

Salient nails it at 6. These officers are not stupid. Their mandate and goal have absolutely nothing to do with keeping people safe. The goal is control.

9

Salient 07.17.09 at 3:21 pm

After all criminals use their wits to try to get away with doing crimes and not getting caught.

Yeah, but it’s not really the police’s main job to catch criminals. That’s a huge misconception. It’s their job to assert and maintain a degree of law and order.

If you have the choice between catching let’s say someone who is running away from a store with a pretty obviously stolen object in hand, and calming down the huge vociferous argument between shopkeepers and the shop owner that’s happening in front of the store and threatening to get out of hand, as a beat cop you should call for backup to chase the thief, then go calm the argument to re-establish order. That’s good cop thinking.

10

Salient 07.17.09 at 3:24 pm

Their mandate and goal have absolutely nothing to do with keeping people safe.

I disagree with this statement, though. Law and order broadly defined do tend to keep people safe from each other’s outbursts and desperate actions.

I think that most problems in law enforcement occur when “keeping people safe” broadly defined comes into conflict with other priorities. If you have someone acting wildly, putting them down with a Taser really is a way to keep other people safe from that erratic behavior. The problem is, the action is entirely disproportionate to the amount of flexibility with other priorities (e.g. respecting human dignity) that we want to afford officers in their role.

11

Mikhail 07.17.09 at 3:27 pm

Salient: “to be told that protocol must govern your behavior” is normal and MUST be the case. Otherwise, anything can be justified, including police brutality, appication of too much force, etc. The police is bound by the laws and rules just as we are. It is ridiculous to assume that while we are bound, they are not. Admittedly, the laws and rules are somewhat different, but they are there, and there for a reason…

12

Phil 07.17.09 at 3:35 pm

Egon Bittner said, as I remember, that the definition of a police officer’s job is dealing with anything that falls into the category “something that should not be happening and about which someone needs to do something right now”. He wasn’t joking. How that plays together with the maintenance of the authority of the police officer as law-giver is an interesting & complex question, which is generally resolved in practice by defining challenges to that authority as something that should not be happening, etc.

13

ajay 07.17.09 at 4:02 pm

the so-called “stalker legislation” which requires that you cause “alarm or distress” to more than one person

Really? But surely most stalkers only cause alarm and distress to one person (ie the target)? Seems an odd criterion to give.

14

Phil 07.17.09 at 4:13 pm

ajay – it’s a fudge. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which was precisely “stalker legislation”, defined harassment as a ‘course of conduct’ which involved causing alarm or distress to the victim on two or more occasions (which meant, among other things, that there was no such thing as a single offence of harassment). The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 revised the 1997 Act thus:

(3) A “course of conduct” must involve—
(a) in the case of conduct in relation to a single person (see section 1(1)), conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person, or
(b) in the case of conduct in relation to two or more persons (see section 1(1A)), conduct on at least one occasion in relation to each of those persons.

Section 1(1A) was also inserted by SOCPA (I’m sure you were wondering).

Essentially, SOCPA created a new offence of “intimidating conduct designed to stop persons going about their lawful business” (to quote the explanatory text) and brought it under the heading of ‘harassment’.

15

minneapolitan 07.17.09 at 4:26 pm

Laws are cobwebs for the cops and chains of steel for the poor — what else is new?

Here in the US, it’s pretty standard that cameras will be confiscated by the police, at their discretion, and never returned, or be returned damaged, or they’ll give you the runaround for 18 months if they think they can get away with it. It would be nice if we could have some civil rights legislation that would specifically outlaw this practice, and the practice of rounding up several hundred peaceful, lawful protesters at the start of multi-day protests, but recent experience suggests that this is unlikely to say the least.

So much for procedural liberalism.

16

soullite 07.17.09 at 4:49 pm

Police are, in fact, scum. They always have been, they always will be. Nothing but thugs for people who already have too much power in this society.

17

Phil 07.17.09 at 5:01 pm

The Metropolitan Police have pusblished some advice about the rights of photographers. It would be useful for anyone taking pictures in London to carry a printed copy and show it to the police if they are ever stopped:
http://www.met.police.uk/about/photography.htm
Of course if would be better if the advice was a bit more complete:
http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=865254

And it would be even better if we lived in a world where you don’t have to carry with you printouts that explain your legal rights to those who are supposed to be upholding the law.

18

Peter 07.17.09 at 5:54 pm

Heh. I always thought that it was only in America where everyone was overcome by Islam-will-Conquer-the-World-and-haul-us-off-to-the-ovens panty piddling paranoia. Guess the British are piddling their panties too, or more precisely piddling their knickers.

To repeat my favorite line:
Militant Islam is as grave a danger to Western civilization as a baby rabbit is a danger to an elephant.

19

Gareth Rees 07.17.09 at 5:56 pm

Essentially, SOCPA created a new offence of “intimidating conduct designed to stop persons going about their lawful business.”

Police officers must be guilty of this offence on a regular basis.

20

alex 07.17.09 at 6:05 pm

Of course the police are scum. Next time you get robbed, call a pseudo-lefty wanker, and they’ll be able to explain why it’s all your fault for daring to possess items of potential resale value, and then everything will be alright.

SOME police are scum. Others, most, really, are just trying to keep people safe. Opinions will vary on what that ought to involve, but if we forget the basic point, we don’t have a civilisation any more, and nothing really matters.

21

johnston 07.17.09 at 6:24 pm

“if we forget the basic point, we don’t have a civilisation any more, and nothing really matters”

Yeah! Either we have a repressive state apparatus designed to imtimidate, injure and kill or we have chaos! Those are our only options!

Police are scum. That they occasionally do good as an unintended consequence isn’t good enough reason to put up with them.

22

Randolph 07.17.09 at 7:46 pm

Ah, terrorism–the bad cop’s best friend. Small, easy-to-conceal cameras have been common since the 1950s. These days they are cheap and widely available. Why anyone would worry about a photographer with a big obvious camera is beyond me.

23

Chris 07.17.09 at 8:01 pm

I think that most problems in law enforcement occur when “keeping people safe” broadly defined comes into conflict with other priorities. If you have someone acting wildly, putting them down with a Taser really is a way to keep other people safe from that erratic behavior.

This is the biggest potential problem with police – that almost unnoticeable slip from “keeping people safe” to “keeping other people safe”. “Putting down” *anyone* with a Taser is 100% guaranteed to keep one member of the public quite unsafe indeed – and that’s true regardless of whether their behavior posed any threat to anyone whatsoever. But once you mentally separate “troublemakers” from the people you are supposed to be protecting from troublemakers, and combine that with the control issues identified in comment 6, you end up tasering deaf people for not responding to your spoken commands.

24

Salient 07.17.09 at 8:23 pm

Salient: “to be told that protocol must govern your behavior” is normal and MUST be the case.

Well yeah, Mikhail, but I know the direct consequences of making this statement from copious personal experience. :-)

25

Salient 07.17.09 at 8:28 pm

But once you mentally separate “troublemakers” from the people you are supposed to be protecting from troublemakers, and combine that with the control issues identified in comment 6, you end up tasering deaf people for not responding to your spoken commands.

Agreed, and I feel obligated to mention I’m working locally to get Tasers banned in my community and in my state, even though the police force hasn’t adopted them yet, here. I’m doing this for exactly the reasons Chris mentions.

Of course I think the “control issues” as Chris characterizes them are inherent to the job and that we need to craft regulation

Basically, this means we need to be especially selective in who we allow to be police officers: people who feel a bit baffled when they are introduced to protocol governing police behavior because they feel a deep and comprehensive aversion to the behaviors prohibited or restricted, people who feel sustained empathy toward the individuals Chris called “troublemakers” just as they do toward everyone.

26

Salient 07.17.09 at 8:36 pm

Police are scum. That they occasionally do good as an unintended consequence isn’t good enough reason to put up with them.

[Insert insults here, including a provocative statement to the effect that you’re essentially advocating the mass assassination of police officers. OK, that gets venting out of my system. Trying again.]

Police are scum. That they occasionally do good as an unintended consequence isn’t good enough reason to put up with them.

* Law enforcement is necessary, and is good insofar as it is coupled with just law and enacted by empathic human beings.

* The number of empathic human beings working in law enforcement is not zero.

* Allegedly “law-enforcement-less” societies generally develop their own authority structure, sometimes contesting authority structures, with their own parallels of law enforcement. These are generally neither constrained by just law nor enacted by empathic human beings.

* Cases of law enforcement misconduct are both deeply saddening and instructive as we continue to build, and advocate for, a just society. How can we best ensure the investiture of state power in a police force maximizes the accomplishment of social justice as we comprehend it?

* I am not an anarchist, and I am not particularly predisposed to put up with the more stupid and naive varieties of anarchism which demand the abolition of state power without recognizing what develops from such a vacuum.

Dispute as you will.

27

dsquared 07.17.09 at 9:12 pm

The thing that always sticks in my craw is when the police complain about the amount of paperwork they have to fill in and all the bureaucracy that accompanies every arrest. When they really ought to know why there’s so much paperwork and so much surveillance of them; it’s because they’ve repeatedly shown themselves to be (rather like the rest of us) inclined to criminal behaviour if not strictly monitored.

28

johnston 07.17.09 at 10:39 pm

Salient wrote this: “you’re essentially advocating the mass assassination of police officers,” and then I stopped reading.

29

nickhayw 07.18.09 at 4:27 am

I’m surprised there’s so much anti-police vitriol circulating above. Salient’s points seem to me entirely sound. Perfectly co-operative societies are, to my mind, an impossibility: to the extent that there will always be people who seek to exploit others, there will always be a need for coercion (preferably by law).

I’ve never understood the knee-jerk reaction people get to police: ‘they’re scum’, ‘they’re terrible’, ‘let’s get rid of them and go live in an anarchistic utopia’. Police are not scum. They’re people too. And they’re the people that are there to apply the law to those who can’t apply it to themselves.

Yes, wherever a person is given the ability to exercise power over another, there will be potential for abuse. And that is why, as dsquared points out, police are routinely inundated with paperwork, vetted by ombudsmen, scrutinised by other agencies, etc. etc.

Let’s not forget that the police routinely clean up the messes we’d rather not know about.

Of course taking photos of police is going to piss them off. It’s not completely analogous, to be sure, but I would venture that nobody likes to have their picture taken when they’re just trying to do their job.

(Unwarranted detention is a different matter, as are tasers – but still, the police are there to be co-operated with. If you don’t want to co-operate, then they’re not going to like you – again, notwithstanding occasions where co-operation is harmful to your person and/or an infringement of individual liberty).

30

Barbar 07.18.09 at 5:01 am

If you don’t want to co-operate, then they’re not going to like you – again, notwithstanding occasions where co-operation is harmful to your person and/or an infringement of individual liberty

Yes, I too am sick of all the criminals in this comment thread who are complaining about being locked up by the police (notwithstanding the commenters who may have more legitimate points to make).

31

vals 07.18.09 at 6:49 am

Two police officers beat up and racially abused two street-homeless men outside my local winter shelter. They confiscated a passer-by’s phone and deleted footage of the incident. An internal police inquiry eventually found that the police had done nothing wrong (there was no footage, was there?), so it was us (the shelter coordinator, the homeless men, the pastor and a nurse manager, the passer-by) against them (two police officers). The local police “have form”, as we say round here, for assault. As far as I’m concerned, the more cameras, the better.

32

alex 07.18.09 at 7:38 am

Police solve murders, too. They occasionally even manage to get a conviction for rape, or for racially-aggravated arson. They even catch loonies preparing white-supremacist bombing-campaigns. They support the victims of terrible crimes, and work to give them some peace through justice. Really, as noted above, the alternative to having police only bears thinking about if you are a complete idiot. But likewise, making the police work well for society, in the name of a principled definition of justice, is hard work. It probably ought to be, just not quite as hard as current antiterrorism hysteria is making it.

33

Paul 07.18.09 at 1:25 pm

Part of the police mandate is to arrest criminals and uphold the law which means enforcing it ! However, even the police have to abide by the law or else suffer the consequences. The majority of people in lock up committed the crime. They generally blame everyone but themselves for their travail and some of them play on this tactic because it sometimes works to their benefit. It’s called running a game. High profile criminals (some) are made into media darlings and icons of the Left. Witness Mumia – can you name the policeman that he killed ? I doubt it.

34

Paul 07.18.09 at 1:28 pm

Police aren’t scum (though there are some dirty cops), but a lot of the people that they deal with and arrest one could be called scum.

35

johnston 07.18.09 at 2:01 pm

… and then I came back and read some more. You’re really skittering all over the place, there, Salient. “Doesn’t want to put up with police, does he? That can mean only one thing… he wants to kill ’em all!” I must be an anarchist! I’d demand an apology if I didn’t think you knew you were being ridiculous.

I maintain: police are scum.They’re usually angry, mean, short sighted, unused to thinking (critically or otherwise), and even the best of them (those empathetic few you mention) are infected with a gang mentality that makes them uniformly close ranks around the worst of them. They’re resistant to openness, clarity and (especially) civilian oversight. They’re too prone to think of themselves in their current state and organisation as the only solution to an absolutely intractable problem, and subsequently overestimate their own importance. It’s them as they are, or else chaos, and that’s the only choice you got. Seems a lot of people here agree – we simply must have a police force that feels free to terrorize the homeless, poor, and non-white because how else will the middle class feel safe?

36

alex 07.18.09 at 2:32 pm

“angry, mean, short sighted, unused to thinking (critically or otherwise), and even the best of them (those empathetic few you mention) are infected with a gang mentality that makes them uniformly close ranks around the worst of them. They’re resistant to openness, clarity and (especially) civilian oversight. They’re too prone to think of themselves in their current state and organisation as the only solution to an absolutely intractable problem, and subsequently overestimate their own importance…”

Any of that analysis you couldn’t apply to, say, social workers, lawyers, hedge fund managers, politicians… anyone except you? Trouble is it stops being useful the moment you dismiss the entire group as ‘scum’. And on my reading, I’d say nobody here actually agreed that the police should be free to “to terrorize the homeless, poor, and non-white”. Quite the opposite in fact. People just didn’t like you being an arsehole.

37

johnston 07.18.09 at 2:46 pm

“Any of that analysis you couldn’t apply to, say, social workers, lawyers, hedge fund managers, politicians… anyone except you?”

How many of thems peoples got guns and truncheons? And handcuffs and pepper spray and tasers and plastic tie-wraps and battering rams and surveillance equipment and radio networks and a gang of people under enormous social pressure to uphold any lie about their co-workers, no matter how implausible or odious? How many get ordered by the state to go crack skulls and show the flag? How many of them are de facto above the law? Police are given enormous special power and as a group they abuse that power beyond all tolerable degree. Police are scum.

“Trouble is it stops being useful the moment you dismiss the entire group as ‘scum’. And on my reading, I’d say nobody here actually agreed that the police should be free to “to terrorize the homeless, poor, and non-white”. Quite the opposite in fact. People just didn’t like you being an arsehole.”

You’re right. That’s only the massive implication of what they think, and if I suggest that police organizaztions as they stand should be massively reorganized along different lines… then I must be an anarchist who wants to, to paraphrase Salient again, kill ’em all!

38

sg 07.18.09 at 2:47 pm

I don’t think police are “scum” but the argument that there are just a few bad police that spoil an otherwise noble (or even just mundanely bad) force is also pretty tired. Anyone watching the footage of that policeman murdering a man at the G20 summit can see pretty clearly that his comrades weren’t exactly fussed by his actions, and they didn’t even try to help.

Police forces maintain a culture of brutality, corruption and ineptitude so long as this silly idea persists. They need tough, combative and continual oversight, and where organisations like the IPCC fail (as they clearly are), ordinary people have to do it by, for example, filming cops. That’s exactly how that murderer at the G20 got caught – the police force at every level were covering it up, and the IPCC went along with it.

39

johnston 07.18.09 at 2:55 pm

“Of course taking photos of police is going to piss them off. It’s not completely analogous, to be sure, but I would venture that nobody likes to have their picture taken when they’re just trying to do their job.”

Hey, I can sympathize. If every time I kick the shit out of a homeless person who gave me the stink eye some busy body tried to record my violation of the law, I’d confiscate the evidence toute-de-suite. Shit, who are they to judge, or, as the case may be, to submit evidence to others more qualified to judge whether or not I was breaking the law? And this is the worst part: they do it before I even have a chance to get my story straight! Honestly.

40

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.18.09 at 4:33 pm

They’re too prone to think of themselves in their current state and organisation as the only solution to an absolutely intractable problem, and subsequently overestimate their own importance

I don’t know, there’s probably some of that too, and obviously it’s difficult to generalize, but I got the impression that quite often it’s not megalomania. I suspect mostly they just go on doing their own thing: extorting local businesses, some low level criminality, that sort of things. In those few incidents where I had to ask for their help, it seemed like they were always annoyed by having to perform their official duties. As if it was a waste of their time, distraction from some other, more important tasks.

41

heckblazer 07.19.09 at 3:49 am

I’d agree that the police need to be watched like hawks, because if they don’t have adequate supervision you get stuff like the LAPD CRASH Unit. I don’t think that’s because cops are inherently evil scum, but because as instruments of state coercive violence they have lots of power with the potential for abuse. That they tend to stick together and watch out for each may not be desirable but is perfectly understandable; when you are constantly confronted with dangerous and violent situations you’re likely to give the guys watching your back the benefit of the doubt.

I think the original argument about cops not liking being photographed was merely trying to say it’s an understandable attitude given their milieu, not that it was objectively correct. There’s a reason why in the US there’s been a trend towards dashboard cameras on police cars and videotaped confessions. Such videos allow abuses to be documented, and simultaneously can absolve police officers of false charges.

42

Phil 07.19.09 at 3:29 pm

Coincidentally The Register (IT news website) recently posted two related stories:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/15/tall_photographers/
And this is pure genius:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/17/street_view_assault/

43

virgil xenophon 07.19.09 at 7:18 pm

There has been some GREAT commentary here–on both sides (as it were) of the discussion, with several salient points made, not the least by “Salient” himself. As a denizen of New Orleans (and of Cali–I’m BI–coastal, that is) which had (and still has) one of the most corrupt police depts in the nation (if not the world) and though now marginally less corrupt and far less racist than 40 yrs ago, I have had first-hand experience with much that is wrong with policing. OTOH, I have also had friends from college who were policeman (for a while, at least) so I have also been privy to an “insiders” pov also. And at age 65 I’ve been around the race-track enough times to see waves of “reforms” of various levels of effectiveness come and go. Thus I feel a few points have been left out of the discussion here to this point.

Firstly, most people self-select themselves into the type of work they to to the extent possible. Exceptions aside (which there will always be) the sort of personality that becomes a fighter pilot is not the sort of person who aspires to accountancy–and visa versa. That said, the sort of individual who ends up policing tends to be, in the main, of the personality type (and it matters not whether he is drawn to policing by sheer economics or by free-choice unfettered by financial considerations or limits imposed by education) which combines aggressiveness (many are ex-athletes), an average level of intelligence, and a belief in the status quo–all tending to the psychological predilection for the exercise of power and control–all “officially” sanctioned. Such types are not prone to play Hamlet when sizing up a situation either by dint of their personality, background or training.

Combined with the above is the fact that very often severe departmental penalties are
meted out for actions taken outside the red-tape wrapped, bureaucratically dictated standard “school-solution” to any given problem. Application of flexibility and “nuance” is NOT generally rewarded by superiors. Indeed, inflexible bureaucratic rules and regulations are seen by bureaucrats who design them as EXACTLY the MOST EFFECTIVE was to insure uniform and appropriate treatment
of the public rather than trusting the judgment of people whose capabilities (IQ & personality-wise) vary widely–even as the local beat police still have a great deal of flexibility because of the fact they’re the only one around in authority when things happen. Which brings us to the cameras, which are seen by the police as limiting what little official flexibility (as opposed to the practical reality of it all) they do have by forcing them to “work to rule” as you Brits are wont to say. This is seen by the police as a hamstringing factor on general principles alone; hence their frequent antipathy shown towards bystanders with cameras.

Add on top of this as fuel to the fire the combustibles of race and PC–especially in the UK involving the Muslim population–and both the police on the beat and their superiors take the path of least resistance by refusing to attend to serious offenses committed by the PC favored element while leaning heavily on more trivial offenses by the more pliant, less politically favored/protected majority (one see’s this perfectly spot-lighted by videos showing police handling rock throwing Muslim demonstrators with kid gloves while handling peaceful counter-demonstrators roughly indeed)–which the result that the law-abiding types are driven up the wall and use cameras to document this fact–which in turn drives the police crazy as their actions in this regard cannot withstand the light of day and wide-spread exposure to the weight of public opinion.

Also not mentioned here is the rampant cynicism engendered by constant interaction with the dregs of society, which creates a jaded police force that treats even innocent housewives equally as they would hardened criminals. While perhaps inexcusable in theory (dealing with an innocent majority public is supposed to be something they are trained to do) in actual practice it is certainly explainable and well understandable even if not condoned. This fact too–an occupational hazard–is a constant irritant that sticks in the public’s craw yet will never go away as long as there are criminals and police.

All in all, these are institutional societal problems to be “managed”, not “solved,” as they are an inherent part of any society’s social make-up. Needless to say however, left unsaid here, is the intuitively obvious fact (as well as the historically demonstrable one) that many of the social fissures that exaggerbate conflicts in police-civil relationships are far fewer in number and less severe in racially and culturally homogeneous societies like Japan and the way the Scandinavian countries USED to be. This too, is a PC “inconvenient fact.”

44

belle le triste 07.19.09 at 8:53 pm

“exaggerbate” is my new favourite word

45

Tim Wilkinson 07.19.09 at 9:01 pm

oldish email about an article on the latest Terrorism act and its impact on photographers:

2009/2/4

Is there any truth in this?

http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=836675

——————————————————————————————

Yes. Number of interrelated nasties going on and they are ‘kin disgraceful so I make no apology for ranting about them:

1. The well documented and entirely predictable phenomenon of supposedly ‘anti-terrorism’ powers being used for other, Wolfgangian, purposes – if the powers are there, they will be (ab)used.

2. The failure of those entrusted with the task of legislating (i.e. MPs) to scrutinise bills properly; instead relying on legally worthless, factually unauthoritative and motivationally suspect assurances from government and party officers (ministers, whips) about how legislation will be interpreted by the courts or various branches of the executive or how it s ‘intended’ by its proponents. “It would only be used in extreme cases”, etc etc. – but we didn’t actually put anything to that effect in the bill itself, still less define an ‘extreme’ case.

3. General trend of increased discretion (1st engine of tyranny, innit) to courts and rozzers introduced by constitutionally illiberal and Constitutionally illiterate NuLab types (e.g. asboes and in Brighton I notice laws against drinking in public if told not to by a cop. I.e. any cozzer can walk up to anyone they choose (and not to those they don’t choose) and tell them to stop drinking their beer for any or no reason – and no doubt in actuality they would also pour it away.)

4. Increasing arrogance and officiousness on the part of the polis in general who have started pounding the beat with their trousers tucked into army-style boots, and generally getting very belligerent – well there is a war on terror to be waged after all. And the 2008 Act lumps them together with squaddies and spooks at, e.g., s76. Oh yeah and as well as the boots there are the semiautomatic weapons, the shooting people and the ‘testing the car’ at 160mph on public roads with impunity (must have taken a lot of deliberation in the canteen to come up with that one.)

5. Grotesque bits of draftsmanship like the aforementioned s76; which incidentally is the subject of the one verifiably (falsifiably?) inaccurate bit in the article – it sez the new laws “allow for the arrest – and imprisonment – of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.” Wrong! Further down it quotes s76 properly: it’s “anyone who ‘elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members of armed forces) … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.” (emph mine).

Entirely different, as any fule no (and as any judge faced with a competent prosecutor would have to acknowledge), and there are lots of other similarly expansive prohibitions. There is a defence of ‘having an excuse’ of course. But unlike an exception written into the definition of a crime, a mere defence reverses the onus, i.e. effectively requires proof of innocence. So since almost any photo of soldiers or cops is ‘of a kind’ likely to be useful to a terrorist, one is left in the position of proving that one has a reasonable ‘excuse’ – the very word implying that you have been let off rather than vindicated. The certral point being that it’s not enough to show that you are not and never have been a terrorist, and that there is no possibility let alone likelihood of the pics being ‘useful to’ (or indeed actually used by) a terrorist.

There are quite a few bits of footage on YouTube showing various cops, CSOs and security guards etc all throwing their weight around with people taking photos. CCTV everywhere (except, if you believe blatant lies, in the De Menezes carriage), but they don’t like it up em.

And of course harmless lifer Dhiren Barot was convicted, in the court of pub opinion at least, in large part on the basis of the much-televised video he took while wandering around some very public bits of NYC.

Gits. And I’m not allowed to have a fag with my pint in comfort any more, which is even worse.

46

Phil 07.20.09 at 7:51 am

one see’s this perfectly spot-lighted by videos showing police handling rock throwing Muslim demonstrators with kid gloves while handling peaceful counter-demonstrators roughly indeed

That would be news to the participants in the Stop the War protest earlier this year: by the standards of British political protests they were unusually dark-skinned (also unusually young and unusually female), and they bore the brunt of some very aggressive policing – rather more so than the G8 demonstrators a few weeks later.

It’s true that – in one famous case – Muslim demonstrators were able to carry and chant some very aggressive slogans while the police looked on, but several of the participants were subsequently charged with public order offences (the police didn’t need to arrest them there and then, just match the faces against information they already held). In any case, that demonstration was small and it was under control. What the police have always dreaded is a large-scale demo getting out of control. What’s changed in the last decade is that they don’t wait for things to kick off before they wade in – they come down hard when it looks like it’s starting to get out of control.

47

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.09 at 8:19 am

is the intuitively obvious fact (as well as the historically demonstrable one) that many of the social fissures that exaggerbate conflicts in police-civil relationships are far fewer in number and less severe in racially and culturally homogeneous societies

Well, to me, at least, it’s quite obvious that race and culture have nothing to do with any conflicts (why would they?), other than as a proxy for socio-economic conditions.

48

sg 07.20.09 at 9:28 am

Virgil,

Japanese police torture suspects routinely and class any visibly non-suspicious death as suicide. Witness the recent Sumo murder as an example. Their relationship with the civil populace is hardly uncomplicated, despite the homogeneity of Japanese society.

Also, I have been a victim of 3 attempted attacks in London, and seen several more, in just one year, and I live in a very racially mixed area. In every case the offenders were white British. I have no time for the claim that racial heterogeneity is the cause of crime or has any relationship to the police force’s racism.

49

alex 07.20.09 at 10:23 am

@48: well, at least, it would be odd if there was police racism in an entirely racially-homogeneous society…

@47: I’m tempted to Godwin you, but I’ll refrain, partly because it’s unclear whether you are, in fact, only joking.

50

Salient 07.20.09 at 10:31 am

I suggest that police organizaztions as they stand should be massively reorganized along different lines… then I must be an anarchist who wants to, to paraphrase Salient again, kill ‘em all!

Oh, forget you. You said we shouldn’t “put up” with them.

You, and I emphasize this, did not say something like “we need to rethink/reorganize what powers we give to police and how we select individuals to be invested with this power” (which is my basic position). You said we should not “put up with” police.

Granted, I live in a community where not “putting up with” black people’s “encroachments” used to mean “we” should go lynch one of ’em, so perhaps I understand “don’t put up with” = “eliminate” far too literally. Perhaps it’s also true that I recognized that error and intentionally deleted my first response, with a comment in brackets that explained what I had deleted and dismissed my own initial reaction as just “provocative” venting. I also used the words “put up with” anarchist thinking as a kind of test for what milder form of interpretation could be applied to those words.

So why include the comment anyway? To point out that your rhetoric wasn’t at all productive, I guess, and sounded vaguely anarchist. I’m OK with folks who say “police are scum,” out of human sympathy as well as common experience. I value people who advocate for workable alternatives to the current mess we have; I also value people who advocate for ideal theories of state power that make sense and fulfill a credible notion of social justice.

51

alex 07.20.09 at 11:14 am

Anarchism can be good, too. One just has to recognise, as many real anarchists did, and as so many anarcho-wankers in recent decades are incapable of, that true anarchism derives from a willingness to take unto oneself the responsibility for the wellbeing of all society that the state claims, illegitimately, for its agents; and that, thus, an ‘anarchist’ lifestyle that revolves around the avoidance of productive labour and the pursuit of opportunities to confront the state where it is at its strongest, and least amenable to collapse, will be self-defeating.

52

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.09 at 11:54 am

@49 – excuse me?

53

Tim Wilkinson 07.20.09 at 1:16 pm

#43 – Did Vergil write the first two paras, and Xenophon (with his penchant for hearing what he wants to hear) the rest?

BTW the rare but highly-publicised ‘kid-gloves’ treatment for muslims has always had the scent of deliberate high-profile exaggeration – ‘look what we are having to do’. Similarly though differently, ‘listen to these opinions that ‘PC’ prevents me from expressing’…

54

alex 07.20.09 at 1:31 pm

@52: OK, then you’re a cardboard-cutout Trot, because I can’t quite believe that a real person could believe anything quite as absurdly one dimensional as “it’s quite obvious that race and culture have nothing to do with any conflicts (why would they?), other than as a proxy for socio-economic conditions.” Especially bearing in mind that we’re talking about the police here, whose propensity for taking a deep interest in the colour of alleged offenders’ skins would require some quite torturous casuistry to bring down to class warfare. But go ahead, amuse me further by trying.

55

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.09 at 2:00 pm

Well, like I said, race/culture is a proxy for socio-economic status. Is Cockney a racial group? Does Oprah Winfrey have a conflict with the police?

56

Mikhail 07.20.09 at 3:56 pm

>Does Oprah Winfrey have a conflict with the police?

She would, if she lived on the street and wasn’t rich or famous… :)

57

magistra 07.20.09 at 6:53 pm

If race/culture is just a proxy for socio-economic status, why did John Sentamu (the current Archbishop of York), when a bishop in London regularly get stopped by the police?

58

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.20.09 at 7:54 pm

Because they perceive his race as a proxy for his socio-economic status. They see a dark-skin person and they think: “This guy must be from the underclass. Probably up to something devious.” When an overwhelming majority of blacks become archbishops, the cops will click their heels and salute upon seeing a dark-skin person.

59

engels 07.21.09 at 1:11 am

So what was the point of your Oprah Winfrey example? You were suggesting, I think, that the fact that she hasn’t suffer police harrassment is evidence for your claim. Now it turns out that if, like Sentamu, she had done you would have taken that as confirming your claim as well. Just out of interest, is there any possible evidence that would cause you to change your mind?

60

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.09 at 8:23 am

Thanks, but I don’t think this is a question of having evidence. Just explain to me, please, in more detail the mechanics of “conflicts in police-civil relationships” being exacerbated by racial/cultural diversity itself – which is the claim in comment 43 that I responded to.

61

Gareth Rees 07.21.09 at 2:14 pm

This story from the Guardian looks like it might relevant to this thread.

62

JimP 07.21.09 at 7:44 pm

This is an incredibly insightful post and I’ve never seen anyone else make the same point.

Thomas Hawk talks about harassment of this sort on his blog but I’ve never read such a simple common sense way to relate to cops and help them.

What a great source of street intelligence if they’d just use it.

Bernie Kerik used to do something similar with merchants in Times Square when he was a beat cop. If someone bought a holster they’d put it in a red bag or something that he provided. When he saw them walk out with a red bag he’d ask “got a license for that gun” and nab a lot of people carrying pieces.

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