I have posted many times on this blog about my encounters with the Police, Police officers from various counties and of varied rank. I have met them in all kinds of situations from calm press conferences, crime scenes, through to public order situations and riots.
As a member of the media i am met with various degrees of welcome, tea and biscuits with a chief inspector to outright hostility from other ranks. It doesn't matter to me, for i have the sword of truth from my camera and the shield of my ACPO recognised Press Card. Or do I....?
I recently read an article by the Photojournalist Marc Vallee, who attended a demonstration in Brighton, West Sussex. In it, he describes how a member of the public had a video tape seized by a Police officer under section 19 of the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984, (PACE) and the comments section show a lively debate on that seizure, including comments from the owner of the tape and the Sussex Police Media team response.
Unfortunately, this is the latest, but not an isolated incident. The merits of the above described incident i leave to your own conclusions after reading it, but it would seem that on more and more occasions, the Police seem to make the law up as they go in order to achieve their aims at a specific moment. Evidence of this is spread far and wide on the web. I forget the amount of times i have been told to stop filming or move away by Police officers for various reasons, including, but not limited to....
"Don't film me mate ... i sometimes work undercover." This is the favourite one at the moment, Police officer in uniform, wearing day-glo jacket with Police written on the back, tells journalist that he works undercover.... Nice move.
Legislation and law can be viewed from many differing angles, from the copper on the street making a split second decision, to the working journo, to the activist filming at a demo. Each one will have a slightly differing view on the law as it stands. But my gripe is this... if you are a Police officer, i TRUST you to know what you are talking about. Here is a point... i remember asking a Police Constable if he could tell me section 1 of the Theft Act 1968. Basic bread and butter Policing. He couldn't. The difference between a 9(1)(a) and a 9(1)(b) Burglary?.... Nope, not that either.
My Point? well, before a Constable throws his or her weight around demanding this or that from the press or members of the public taking pictures in a public place, quoting sections under anti terror laws, or PACE etc, the very least they could do is get it right. First time ... Every time. Or don't do it at all until you know what you are doing, because from where i stand, the basics are not even being covered in the knowledge base of your average Police constable. And this needs to change.
Because when I, a freelance TV Cameraman goes to work, I know what i can and can't do under the law. Where i can go, who i can and cannot film under certain circumstances. I know my job. Inside out. And if i don't know, i find out and learn it. Failing that, ten years service in the Royal Military Police gave me a very good grounding in Policing, and the law on what coppers can and cannot do, including the very basics. I have since kept that knowledge and furthered it in my present line of work. Basic coppering skills never leave you if you learn them correctly. Yes, after nearly fifteen years out of service i can still quote section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 because i learned that by knowing it, really knowing it, i would never be caught out.
So if you see me out and about, please remember this...I know my job, but i also, to a large extent, know yours.... So please get it right.
Paul Martin. http://www.media-attention.co.uk