London police target photographers
A new poster made by the London Metropolitan Police asks people to report photographers who seem odd.
Last month London's Metropolitan Police started a five week campaign of what they are calling "counter-terrorism advertising," which includes a poster that implores people to report photographers to the police if they "seem odd." This is very troubling to me, since I consider myself to be quite odd and my job entails shooting photos on a daily basis. Luckily, I don't live in London, but here in New York City we have a similar campaign that's been going on for more than five years and while they haven't gone as far as using posters to alienate photographers, the city's police do regularly harass photographers.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago, while out shooting with a couple of friends I was told by a police officer that I am not allowed to take a photo of a set of toll booths in Inwood Hill Park at the northern tip of Manhattan. They have even gone as far as placing no-photography signs on many structures, including those toll booths and most of the cities bridges, though I know of no law prohibiting such photography. Essentially, that makes those signs illegal, since it amounts to the city's attempt to infringe upon my rights as a citizen.
As you might imagine, London's recent campaign has ruffled quite a few feathers. I found out about it on the blog of a San Francisco photographer named Thomas Hawk and his post links to a post on BoingBoing and another on the blog of a UK-based photographer named Nick Potter. In response to their post, BoingBoing received a number of variations on the posters created by their readers.
While London's program has been called out by the photographic community, it also includes a poster asking Londoners to report "suspicious" people who have multiple cell phones and any house that "has unusual activity." While I recognize the value of tipsters helping the police combat crime, London's posters discriminate against large groups of people, reinforce bad stereotypes about photographers, and ironically chip away at the freedoms of that country's citizens in the name of fighting terrorists who President George W. Bush likes to say "hate our freedom."