Police, Camera, Action...

As I was walking home from work, I spotted an unusual sight - a police van parked in a disabled bay near my local train station. I snapped a picture of it.

Police van in a disabled=

Police van in a disabled bay

As soon as I had taken a shot, PC Smith (40144) came out from the train station and asked to speak with me. She asked why I'd taken a photo of her van. I told her that it was parked in a disabled bay. She told me that she'd been called because a woman was self-harming on the station and that was the only place she could park.

Fair enough, I said. Then a funny thing happened. She asked me to delete the photo.

To my mind there are only two logical reasons she could have for wanting me to delete the photo.

  1. She genuinely thought that the photograph was likely to be useful in the preparation of a crime.
  2. She had committed an offence and didn't want there to be any evidence.

I asked her why she wanted the photo to be deleted, she told me that "in the current climate" the police had been asked to stop people from taking photos of sensitive buildings and of the police.

That isn't true - and I told her so.

She asked to take down my details.  I asked her why she wanted my details and whether I was obliged to give them.  At this point, I asked if I could record our conversation - she agreed.

I won't post the video because, frankly, it makes both of us look like arses.  I've got shakey hands and a wobbly voice, she rings her sergeant and gets told she isn't allowed to demand my details.  Neither of us are left exactly covered in glory.

She was told by her superior that she could take down a description of me. I told her that asking to delete photos was silly because they can be easily undeleted. I also thanked her for not escalating the situation. I left.  As I left, I allowed my phone to post the photo I'd taken to twitpic.

There are several interesting points

  • Police still believe - or are still being told - that people aren't allowed to photograph "sensitive" subjects.
  • Police are still asking for the destruction of private property (photographs). Know your photographic rights.
  • Many people still don't understand that digital images live forever - whether on the Internet or as fragments on a memory card.
  • Police still use common sense and are willing to listen if you put your case politely and firmly.  That's very reassuring.

I want to make it quite clear that I have no reason to disbelieve PC Smith when she said that she was attending a genuine call.  I'm not going to pursue the parking in a disabled bay matter any further. I am going to pursue the matter of the advice my local police force are given regarding the photography of them and their vehicles.

Remember, if you are taking photos that you think are genuinely important - upload them as soon as possible from your camera. If you're asked to delete a photo - it may be wise to do so; photos can be easily recovered.

Many thanks for all the retweets - it's good to know that I'm not alone in thinking that this is a farcical situation.

People retweeting my photo

People retweeting my photo

Edit: Thanks for all your kind words and also to Boing Boing for picking this up.

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27 thoughts on “Police, Camera, Action...”

  1. steve carr says:

    Fascinating! I think you handled it perfectly. Also been honest regarding the whole context. Ill remember the stuff about being asked to delete pictures.

  2. I wonder how many times they need to ask photo deletion of people who know better and are prepared to go down to the bureaucratic wire on the matter before they stop asking for it. Not enough yet, obviously.

  3. says:

    I'm sure if she could have wiped your memory of ever seeing her van parked there, she would have (a la Men In Black "Flashy Thing"). I like to use that premise when defending photographic evidence. It's illogical to presume police have the rights over the still images someone can take with a camera as they don't have rights to the mental image and details of an event someone could record and recount later. Maybe a stretch but it wins a lot of arguments, and as a freelance photographer, it comes in to play a lot.

    Be well, keep documenting and sharing.

  4. Hmmmm... priorities, surely?

    In this particular instance... we're talking about, potentially, someone's life here - so why were you even bothering to fight this one? Priorities! In this instance, surely it would have been better to have agreed to delete the photograph the moment you had any idea she was on a potentially important call out, than to have argued the point and demonstrated that you are correct?

    I'm totally with you on the crap that you can get from the police and government officials trying to stop you photographing (I've been caught out by it myself, when trying to do some demo work for a client once, who's building was buy a government building - got an ear bashing, lol.)

    You have a very valid point... however, surely there's a time and a place?

    1. Cybergibbons says:

      Julie - if the policewoman can't prioritise these two fairly distinct tasks, then she needs another job.

  5. Jason says:

    Except we're not, actually, talking about a life here, PC Smith came from the building. So either she left a tense situation upon hearing that a photographer had a shot of her vehicle in a disabled bay, or the situation was resolved. The real question is, if what she did was in fact on the level and part of an emergency situation, where are her priorities in devoting time to attempting to get the photo deleted? How could the picture matter?

    It was a fine time and place, and it's good that Terence stood his ground and reminded an officer of both the limits of her power and the nature of the technology.

  6. Nottinghamshire Police vehicle. What is wrong here?
    Nottinghamshire Police vehicle, parked on double yellows, while his mate goes into Sainsbury’s

    You might consider it petty of me, but I have made and official complaint. Like most folks, in the past, I would have just let it go, that’s the police for you. But the links below, show an increased belligerence in dealing with photographers and I have hundreds of other examples. They show that I might have been arrested in the attempt to shift blame. I might have been assaulted, my camera kit seized as ‘evidence’ with months of arguement, to get it back. So if this is the atmosphere, then I think we should all note these kind of matters and do something about it, until ‘they’ stop being so bloody awkward to us. So there!!!

    UPdate: have a letter now from police saying that that complaint is suitable for local resolution due to INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE. I'm not finished yet. Tash

  7. says:

    It's worth noting also that if she thought you'd committed an offence by taking the photo, by asking you to delete it, she'd be asking you to tamper with evidence—which itself is a criminal offence.

  8. says:

    Hi Terence, I picked up this post on twitter last night but hadn't realised it originated from you . I've amended my blog to link here, apologies, Bendy Girl

  9. The officer was responding to an emergency that had been resolved before your conversation, so the van was necessarily parked in a disabled bay. But, as you clearly state, this is not the real issue here. The officer was not justified in asking you to delete the photo and it's right for you to draw attention to this.

    Interacting with private photographers or the media is not something police officers do on a regular basis, which means mistakes are sometimes made. In this case, the officer was quite new to the force and had not come across such a situation before. That said, you are not the first person to raise this and it is something Surrey Police has already started addressing.

    We provide media awareness training to most front-line officers. In the future these sessions will make clearer the wide rights photographers have to record police activity, provided cordons are not crossed. We will also soon be distributing a short booklet of media advice, which includes information on photographers' rights.

    Thank-you for responding politely and explaining you objections logically to the officer. We would advise others who find themselves in a similar situation to do the same. It's also good to note that the situation was resolved using common-sense after discussion with the supervisor.

    Surrey Police

    1. Many thanks for your comment clarifying the situation. It's good to know that Surrey Police are actively into the issue of photographers' rights.

      I'm glad to see you engaging with the local community on blogs and twitter. I believe this is essential to building a well respected police force.

      (For the paranoid, yes, the IP address of the poster belongs to Surrey Police.)

  10. lmoore says:

    you are a sad individual, isn't there anything more interesting you could be doing?

  11. Hey Terence
    Thanks for posting this.. Most definitely there needs to be more awareness both on our side, as a publics, and also on the Police's side. I think with the way that people heard about 'new restrictions' coming into place, about being able to photograph police, it's easy to get lost in the sea of what's legally allowed, and what isn't. I'm glad to have caught this great, concise, and thorough take on the matter.. Thanks for sharing it 😉

    Will have to take some time out to read the detailed links coming off the article at some point and make sure I know my rights as well as you do, just in case I'm ever accosted by police like you were 😉

  12. says:

    Clearly lmoore and Gemma Robinson seem to be doing significantly more on making sure this country and the people responsible for governing it are doing their job properly and honestly as possible.

    Well done Terence on actively trying to get the public aware of their rights, the police and government of their roles and capacity to which they've been given power to enforce.

    Ignorance seems to be the current disease spreading through this country. see current news on European Elections as evidence, and videos of police brutality and abuse of power for reference. Only if you're not too busy doing something more important, interesting or engaging. I'd advise the mention two to read the rest of the blog.

  13. Hi Terence

    Hope you don't mind, but I've linked into this story for my website. I am campaigning against the abuse of disabled bays and blue badges.

    Any probs, please let me know...




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