The Message from ACPO – stopping snap decisions to question photographers

Andy Trotter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, circulated this message to police forces in England and Wales. But does it go far enough and what are the implications for photography?

A photograph taken by me of police policing a tamil protest, May 2009, in a sensitive area, right outside Westminster

“Officers and PCSOs are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos.”

Indeed, taking a photograph is not a criminal offence. It is actually looked on favourably by police at demonstrations, in large crowd control situations, and in the acquisition of evidence in criminal investigations. However, you can see where the police were coming from – photographs could possibly, even though nothing (as far as i know) has been proven, be used in investigations regarding attacks against a state (in this, the British state).

“There are very clear rules around how stop-and-search powers can be used. However, there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.

Yes, newspapers these days use multimedia more and more. That is, they use online more and more. A journalist should carry in their bag of tricks notepads, pens, recorders, other essentials, and a camera (preferably a DSLR, with a range of lenses and knowledge of how to use it), a video camera, tripod, lighting… it can cause some people to worry, all this kit, but it’s less likely that they can be used for any sort of criminal activity, because, simply, they are too obvious.

“We need to co-operate with the media and amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.

“We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.

They are recognising citizen journalism here, yet that is done more and more with camera phones (and broadcast more because the quality is amazingly good). But the people that are being stopped and reported in the media are using DSLR’s. These are more generally, serious enthusiasts (as they would spend more time a public place getting that shot right than a tourist or passerby), or professionals, including photojournalists and press photographers. The BBC Staff Photographer, Jeff Overs, is a professional, and would spend some time getting a good shot (admittedly, he would get it fairly quick, being an accomplished photographer), but he would also hang around sensitive areas (Westminster or areas with major political figures) for quite legitimate reasons.

People being stopped taking photographs of christmas light switch ons, or rail services, or bands, have also been stopped.

“However, unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and worse still, it undermines public confidence in the police service.”

Anything unnecessary undermines confidence and increases fears of a crackdown on certain aspects of society. You can see why police wouldn’t tell you – they wouldn’t catch them if the suspects knew they were coming – but no one likes to be victimised, regardless of whether or not they deserve it.

I believe i speak for all photgraphers when I say this new clarification is welcome. Much needed advice being given to all police stops inconsistencies, and it does go as far as is expected.

A comment from Amateur Photographer:

Earlier this week the Independent told AP: ‘If it wasn’t for specialist media such as Amateur Photographer – alerting enthusiasts and professionals to the misuse of the anti-terrorism laws by police – the mainstream media might not have picked up on this story at all.’

Nice comment, shows the photographic press, particularly APs campaigning, works.

I am interested, however, in speaking to people that have been stopped – I am making a documentary on this issue, and would like to speak to you!

contact me by leaving a comment below – or send me an email at andrew.stuart1@me.com

Links

The Independant newspaper article today (featured on the front page)

Amateur Photographer, which have campaigned tirelessly on this and will follow up the issue in the coming days, weeks and months.

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