London’s police officers are starting their New Year shifts with fresh guidance from one of the region’s top policeman on how they should treat public photographers.
Issued to all Metropolitan borough commanders, the guidance from John Yates, assistant commissioner for special operations, advocates a “commonsense” approach.
It follows a spate of complaints against the Met police from photographers who claimed its officers wrongly used anti-terror laws to stop and search them in the street.
Other camera-owners shooting in public said that they too had fallen victim to overzealous police, having been on the receiving end of ‘stop and account’ powers.
“Unless there is a very good reason, people taking photographers should not be stopped,” wrote Yates, in the guidance sent to all commanders on December 14th.
In other words, it says, and to address “an enormous amount of concern,” the “act of taking a photograph in itself is not usually sufficient to carry out a stop.”
However there are signs that the guidance already needs updating, as photographers are not the only creative professionals falling foul of the Terrorism Act.
Liam O’ Farrell, an artist, recalled to The Guardian that he was stopped, questioned and searched by police twice inside a week while painting a watercolour.
Setting up in view of City airport in East London, the Royal Academy exhibitor told the paper that one set of the responding officers got “touchy” in their exchange.
One of the other officers, who approached when he returned to finish his painting, said they would be more concerned if the artist was only capturing the airport.
In both instances, O’Farrell said he was forced to enter into a debate with the officers about the value and tradition of painting factories, which was the subject of his piece.
Although his experience was in 2007, the artist, like scores of photographers, will no doubt be hoping that the police now use Yates’ guidance before visiting him at work.
Editorial image ByFlickr