Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's going wrong with the Police?

As M3 and I were returning to the UK a few weeks ago, we saw two Metropolitan Police officers behaving in an aggressive and intimidating manner to a young Spanish visitor - fortunately, after about half an hour of throwing their weight around and abusing their authority (and snapping at any members of the public who, they felt, were standing too close, or looking to see what the fuss was about), they let her go.

Most of the police officers I've met have been civil and helpful. But there seems to be an increasing number of uniformed thugs who enjoy throwing their weight around. And it's not just jumpy airport police either.

Soon afterwards I read on the Granuiad Online about police officers harassing ordinary members of the public who were taking photographs in public. The Register has been covering this issue for a while.

And then there was the would-be airline passenger who, annoyed by the way Doncaster Airport collapses under the UK's meagre snowfall, and fearing he would not be able to fly the following week, posted the following irate nonsense to his friends and "followers" on twitter:
"Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
Twitter is a network that people use to update their friends and acquaintances on what flavour of coffee they are drinking, or whether they are cycling to work, or taking the train. You can "follow" your friends, and receive a stream of conciousness from their daily life. It's not where you'd normally expect to find secret plots to destroy western civilisation.

Paul Chambers was clearly venting. This was not the act of any sort of credible terrorist - and certainly not a public threat calculated to strike fear into the heart of anyone with the slightest amount of common sense. So what do you imagine the defenders of our free society made of it?

A week later, the South Yorkshire Police arrested the unfortunate Mr Chambers under the Terrorism Act and questioned him for nearly 7 hours. It seems he actually had to explain to the officers interrogating him what Twitter was. You'd think if the police were investigating Internet bomb threats they'd have someone who actually knew something about, you know, the Interwebs, and, like, computer stuff. But that might be perilously close to doing their job, and protecting society from actual real threats.

After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and he has, it seems, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life. So no sense of perspective at the Airport either (if you're curious about their thought processes or reasoning in this case, the airport's contact page is online here).

The Independent reports that the South Yorkshire Police went so far as to charge Mr Chambers with "sending by a public communications network a message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003."

For goodness sake!

It's a shame that the police are wasting their time and abusing their powers by harassing innocent people - whether photographers, visitors to the UK, or twitterers - instead of serving society, and protecting our freedoms.