Thu, 05 Feb 2009

Hostile reconnaissance - no conviction yet but trials coming

At a debate organised by London Calling Photographers, Superintendent David Hartshorn, of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Branch was quick to point out that stops and searches of photographers suspected of conducting hostile reconnaissance have led to many arrests. When I queried whether they had led to any convictions, he said that there had be no conviction, but that there were some cases going to trial that are sub judice.

Taking pictures, filming or even just drawing sketches of buildings is often construed as hostile reconnaissance and risks you being stopped and searched, or even arrested. (Even my innocent doodles were construed by the Police as being a hostile reconnaissance of a tube station.) In its counter terrorism ad campaigns, the Met states that terrorists take photographs and Met officers, as those of other forces, are commonly targeting photographers with tactics such as stops and searches. One hostile reconnaissance case that went to trial was that of an Iraqi who was charged in 2006 for filming Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, he eventually was found not guilty.

If you are stopped and searched (by the Met) and are unhappy about how the encounter progresses, do write down the names or numbers of the officers involved. The Met is now a bigger employer than the Navy and in case of a complaint, without detailed information it will not spend time to find the officers involved for anything less than a serious matter. Superintendent Hartshorn recommended that when complaining you should be proactive and suggest the outcome you would want to happen if you had a magic wand. Some examples of cases where the Met did make a change as a result of a suggestion included in a complaint would have been more persuasive. Jeff Moore, Chairman of the British Press Photographers' Association, recommended local resolution as the preferred route to solve any dispute. I disagree and suggest that local resolution should be the exception for when the matter is trivial - and in this case you should consider whether it is reasonable to complain. If you do have matter to complain then an investigation will be much more exhaustive and give more options. (You may also want to check out the Independent Police Complaints Commission Making a complaint to the IPCC page.) If you have issues with policies and not individual officers, then don't complain but go ask a question at the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Superintendent Hartshorn reminded the audience of the amount of work his team is handling. In the last rolling twelve months, the Met deployed a quarter million officers to manage 5,600 events - from small ones, such a ministerial visit, to big ones, such as a large anti war demonstration. Apparently, the way these events are handled makes the the Met police a world leader in the policing of public order. The next two years of public order policing will be interesting; highlights include the G20 Summit: Xmas coming early for activists, and industrial disputes in reaction to the downturn in the economy.

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