Friday, May 30, 2008

POLICE. NO CAMERA. OVER-REACTION


“Middle Classes Losing Faith In Police” screams the Daily Mail today amidst the coverage about the dissatisfaction law abiding people now feel with the police. There were a record number of complaints made in 2006-7: 29,637. Well, please add me to next year’s total after I was stopped and ordered to account for my actions recently. My crime: using my mobile phone in a manner likely to take a photo. I kid you not.

I was idly standing on Oxford Street contemplating an hour’s walk home rather than the fetid Tube when two officers on bicycles stopped a push-bike courier right in front of me. One officer (No: TL626) was unnecessarily obnoxious, which got the courier's back up, so I decided to ear-wig, as you do.

I watched this vignette unfold and considered taking a photo on my phone, you know, for the hell of it, as you do. I pointed the lens, then decided not to bother. In a blink, the other officer came over and accused me of taking a photo. This, I would find out, was PC Snell (No: TL7449), a petite woman of about 25 with short black hair beneath her cycling helmet. What she lacked in height, she made up for in officious bloody-mindedness.

I showed her my phone. She was excited because she owned the same model and instructed me through the image files. Nothing there. Ha! Unlucky, Super Cop. That should have been the end of it. Dixon of Dock Green would have laughed lightly at the misunderstanding and waved me on my way. Not so with Snell. She insisted on taking my details and filing a "Stop and Searches" form. It beggared belief.

I suddenly found myself in possession of a lethal weapon: fully-loaded sarcasm. I made her work for every sorry answer. At one point she said: "You know, we can do this interview somewhere else". It was a direct lift from The Sweeney, or Morse. Possibly Trumpton. She was threatening to take me down to the station for holding a mobile phone. Er, you might have to arrest about 50 million others. Besides, what was she going to do, throw me over her cross bar and pedal me to Paddington Green?

Snell’s hands were trembling as she filled out the form. Clearly a big "collar". Her shaking, spidery scrawl revealed: "Male was standing outside Sainsbury (sic). He appeared to be using his mobile phone and pointing it in (sic) myself TL7449 and TL626...". I picked her up on her grammar (“We was doing…”) and punctuation when she omitted the apostrophe in Sainsbury's. "I didn't get A-level English," she revealed. “No shame in that, but surely you can copy words?” It was in foot-high letters 10 yards away.

It went on. She asked for ID. I gave her a bank card. Done with the courier, Snell’s wingman TL626 came over to assist. He radioed HQ to get a match on my name after I refused to give my address. Exasperated, I gave them my date of birth. Looking at my Lloyds Card, PC Snell continued to bust me.

"So, Robin...".

"Well, it's Rob to my friends," I said cheerily.

The other copper mis-heard and butted in. From behind wrap-around mirror sun glasses, he snapped: "Ah. You are saying that this card is your 'friend's'?" He suddenly got a buzz thinking he had chanced upon a big time credit card thief impersonating as another. Then he began questioning me. Give me strength.

And so it continued. To think, a week or so earlier a young man had been stabbed to death at 5pm outside McDonald's a few hundred yards away. I bet these two cycling plods would have been indispensable on such a day with their pencils and laser criminal antennae. They would have probably alighted at the bloody scene and started handcuffing people for over-salting their French fries.

At one point, as we argued over my "actions", little Snell pointed to the sky: “You know we can trace what happened through the CCTV.” Where the hell do they get these people?

The police watch over us day and night through four million cameras, slowly destroying the trust and respect of millions of law abiding people, and then they have the audacity to get all shirty if you - allegedly - point a camera phone at them and do NOT take a photo.

They wonder why we complain. Before I had written this piece, I had decided not to file a complaint. I feel too bored and beaten by Big Brother Britain to be bothered, but now I have had second thoughts. Tactless, negative, spiteful officers like PC Snell need to be brought to book, or things will never change.

I have since found out that it is not against the law to take a photo of a copper going about his or her duty. So, from now on, I will be snapping them, not nicking us.

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Journalist, founder of Access Interviews.com, creator of The Definite Article interview column in Daily Mail's Weekend magazine.