Photographers are not a happy bunch. If they’re not having their pictures used online without getting credit or being replaced in the festival photo pit by young bloggers waving iPhones, they’re being persecuted by the police and accused of being terrorists.
Authority 2.0 (Birmingham City University, 28 April, 2010) was a fascinating event, organised by the MA Social Media students to investigate how the UK’s police forces should be using social media, AND to discuss some of the very real problems today’s photographers face at the hands of officers in this age of terrorist suspicion.
For me the panel discussion, 2 photographers (@KarenStrunks and Christian Payne (aka @Documentally) and 2 representatives from West Midlands Police (CI Mark Payne Force CID and Inspector Ian Grundy, Counter Terrorism Unit), was the highlight of the day by sparking a series of interesting debates about freedom of access, how the police handle the public and training of their officers.
The discussion started with a, quite frankly, horrifying video recorded by an anonymous photographer as he was subject to some very unecessary harrassment, first by a Community Support Officer, and then by a police officer, as he tried to take pictures in the street. Accused of being “suspicious” and being ordered to give his details, there was mention of “terrorism” and an eventual arrest, which ended in release 8 hours later.
If this is as commonplace as it seems, then I am right behind photographers in their fight for acceptance among the police force – and, give them their due, the officers present at the event were just as keen to see a closer relationship. Unfortunately though, these senior members of the force are as likely to have to deal with a suspicous photographer on the beat, as they are parking in Livery Stret Car Park in Birmingham and NOT getting a ticket (in joke, sorry).
Instead, the message that people with cameras in the street are NOT necessarily scoping out a terrorist target, needs to be filtered down to the officers on the street, the Community Support teams and the private security firms – all of whom have been accused of bothering snappers in the past.
Karen Strunks also highlighted that current poster campaigns asking the public to be vigilant and report anything suspicious has turned everyone into a wannabe Jack Bauer eager to challenge even the most innocent of activities.
But surely terrorists ARE walking the streets armed with SLR’s sussing out the best angle for attack? In reality, probably not.
West Midlands Police admit they now use Google Earth and Street View to check out a property before a raid, instead of sending officers or the helicopter – it’s easier, and a hell of a lot cheaper. So why would your common-or-garden terrorist be any different?
It seem, however, that officers on the streets are sadly behind the times, and sometimes out of touch with modern developments. And is it any wonder? Many forces refuse to allow even their communications department onto Twitter, and bobbies on the beat do not have access to the internet whilst they are out and about (although West Midlands Police are looking into Android phones to solve this problem). Particular mention, however, to CI Mark Payne who DOES have an official Twitter account, which he uses for both professional, and personal tweets.
The discussion also revealed some more interesting developments being investigated by the force, including a website where the public can upload pictures to help them solve crimes.
However, it seems we’re still a way off yet from the “police online” levels reached by the force in Beijing who, as we heard during an earlier presentation. They have designed a cartoon officer who moves across your computer screen with a friendly warning should you venture into forbidden web territory – and judging by China’s current attitude towards content – the poor guy must be exhausted.