Happy New Year. I sincerely hope this year is better than last – time will tell! I intended to post this at the end of last year but something came up and I hadn't really finished it so I didn't. It's still super rough – maybe I will return to some ideas in it in the future.
Police Drone – image taken from @policerones
Since starting this page I always intended to write something about police drones; I've had a load of articles bookmarked for ages – most from back in March last year when they became a bit of a hot-topic (see bellow image) – but I suppose never really had any coherent argument to make (and in many ways still don't). That said, given the title of this blog/side/page and some of the topics my PhD research covers I do have some thoughts and ideas which I will try my best to sketch out. They're mostly directly related to the incident bellow, but I suppose some of them may be more generalisable.
If you're not aware of the incident read about it here but in short: in March 2020 in order to police Covid-19 lockdown, Derbyshire police deployed drones recording (and then sharing images of) walkers in the Peak District.
Due to the slightly sporadic nature of the ideas bellow I will bullet point.
> Controversy – Probably the fist thing to say is that the use of drones (especially in the case of Covid policing) seems to cause a degree controversy, Big Brother Watch, for example, described the footage in the above example as 'chilling' whereas Lord Sumption claimed that it "shamed our policing traditions." The Law Society even claimed that the footage might be in breach of data protection legislation. Anyway, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire took the decision a couple of weeks later to take early retirement a move which was seemingly related.
> I must admit when I saw the footage on Twitter, I didn't at first find it overly problematic, and instead just thought that it was really bad PR. I think my first thoughts was around wether it was proportionate – which is I suppose was more up for debate at that time during the pandemic . As far as the people on the moors are concerned, although stars, or rather villains, of the film, they were neither approached by the police nor paid fines. The film was intended to articulate the surveillant abilities of the police as a warning rather than to document of present police work. It is what Mawby would call a piece of police 'image work'. I will come back to this bellow.
> But why so controversial? Obviously that's hard to know for sure, but Lord Sumption's point touches on something which I think is quite important. That is, it seems at odds with our 'policing traditions'. Although of course policing is hugely technical, we don't tend to think of policing in England and Wales as an overly technological affair. I'd even argue that policing by consent is thought about almost entirely in terms of police presence both in and on our streets: George Dixon wouldn't fly a drone, even if he could. But, surveillance using technology is nothing new; in the UK especially, CCTV is omnipresent and is banal. Instead, I think, the controversy has more to do with drones, what they represent, and the kinds and qualities of the footage they they are able to produce.
> Drones – Drones make us think of science fiction. For example: The tunnel mapping drones in Ridley Scotts Prometheus (2012) (see bellow) or Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1929). They act as a short-hand for a technological futures (and often for technological dystopias). See here for a good discussion of technological utopias / dystopias etc.
Within these fictions drones are generally unmanned (unwomanned), the seeming autonomy or the lack of transparency in regard to who is in control often providing jeopardy in the fiction but opening opening up serious questions regarding legitimacy in the context of policing.
Footage – Drone footage adds a degree of the cinematic to images of policing. It's a viewpoint which we traditionally do not see, the preserve of high budget films (or, helicopter chases). The novelty of the footage and its cinematic qualities is arguably why Derbyshire police force decided to use it – in competitive attention economy it grabs peoples attention –but it reminds us of the autonomy of the technology and lack of accountability too.
The verticality of the footage too visually reminds us this is surveillance: literately being watched from above!
> As touched upon above it's important to note that in this incident, what we are discussing is not strictly the policing of people using drones. If the police in Derbyshire had simply Tweeted 'we will be using police drones this weekend as we manage the situation surrounding Covid-19' or something to that effect it the incident would not, I imagine, have become such a – I wouldn't be writing about it. What we're discussing is then about tone.
For sure, the communication (or 'image work') of police technological capabilities will be of critical importance for police forces – especially those who police by consent – in the months/years to come.
Anyway, those are my two-cents, or two-pence, or whatever. Apologies. this was ROUGH! I may return to some of the ideas in the future
 It retrospect it is clearly not proportionate. It's also worth saying that if the police were using drones to locate a missing person, or to capture someone wanted for a violent crime we probably wouldn't question their use at all.
& Some links:
1// A Message on a Drone, a TikTok and a Socially Distant Date: Here's the Story Behind a Viral Meet-Cute
When I started this page I said I was going to post some of the things I've made during my PhD – this post will be about some of it. In this case, the use of film and TV scripts as a method. The post recycles some of the content from a talk I gave about my research last week, and builds on some of the things that were raised during the conversation.
Scripts as a research method.
In a previous post I described how part of what my research is attempting to do is: undesign the BWC. Practically, this undesign involves the use of design activities and outcomes to 'crack open' BWC and shed light on the complex ways in which technologies (designs) such as the BWC interact with a range of objects and systems. Theoretically it draws on the idea of the 'black-box', which, to summarise very briefly is 'a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of its internal workings'. The black box according to Latour is:
'the way scientific and technical work is made invisible by its own success. When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.'
Axon Body 3
From this perspective the BWC is a black box – which of course it literally is – we think of it only terms of inputs an outputs rather than its internal complexity. But what is inside a BWC? What makes it work? The easy and obvious answer is of course to describe the hardware: a camera, internal memory etc. More complex, perhaps, would be to think of the software: if then else. But there are other components which make it work (and break down); other things inside the black box. If we pay the object some attention, and accept it as complex we get glimpses of what these might be. We reveal new inputs and outputs, and that it is connected and tangled with a web of connections.
The practices which collectively I describe as undesign are a way of revealing this complexity, and asking carefully crafted questions about the components we find. Undesign accepts the BWC as complex, it celebrates this fact. It is a way to open up the box or, following Latour, a way to unsettle it.
Apologies for the longish digression.
BWCs produce images of policing. While the view point is certainly novel, images of policing are certainly not. Leishman and Mason note the close, even symbiotic connection between the police and police fiction. Films such as The Blue Lamp (1949) evidence the long history of fictional portrayals of policing, and of what Leishman and Mason refer to as 'police factions' the blurring between police fiction and police fact, the film famously having the full support the Metropolitan Police who provided locations and expertise for the production. Indeed, as Robert Reiner notes, in the post war era public understanding of policing has been informed by our consumption of images of them.
So the BWC and the police who wear them are tangled up in fiction. Fiction is a space of policing. And BWC footage exists in a sea of other kinds of police images.This is not to trivialise the BWC or policing I hasten to add, but instead to say that policing and in turn the BWC cannot truly be understood without recognising this.
The following activity/though experiment/method references the connection between policing and fiction, and leverages the potential of fiction, using it as a space for investigation, experimentation, and for thinking. Officer Serpico turns on his BWC...
Whenever when I get really stuck for ideas or fed up with my work I tend to go home and watch a film. In order to make myself feel better about this procrastination I usually find one that is at least in some way related to my research. Luckily there are lots of films about the police! Serpico (1973)
is a classic; a film I can happily watch again and again. One afternoon relatively early in this project when I was feeling slightly overwhelmed, I put on the film. After a couple of scenes, I decided I would to try a thought experiment: I decided to imagine that Frank Serpico had a BWC.
How would the BWC function in the plot?
What would the BWC do in narrative the film?
How would Serpico, and the corrupt officers he worked with react to the device?
As I watched I made some mental notes. In a way it was completely ridiculous, for a start in 1973 digital cameras didn’t exist and evidence management would have been a real problem! But the exercise was also quite revealing and allowed me to actively think though some of the reading and more ‘academic’ research I had been doing. Ideas from some of the quantitative criminological studies such as Ariel et al.’s ‘Contagious Accountability’, could be tested out with ‘real’ characters. The next day I downloaded a copy of the script, selected a scene which had seemed particularly relevant the day before, and got out my red pen. I watched the scene on repeat and made notes. After a while, I had decided what the effect of the BWC might be in the scene, and critically the moment when the BWC would have been turned on.
N.B. – I concluded that, in order to examine the effects of BWCs it made more sense for the uniformed cops to be wearing the technology rather than Serpico himself.
Finally, I neatened up my annotations, selected a number of key stills from the scene in order to give some context, and produced a new script for my alternative scene and an edited version.
Though this somewhat silly exercise I was able to test out the possible implications of the technology within the fictional space. The scenes, products of their time, and part of their own narrative each bring their own 'baggage' or issues that can be related to the BWC – Dirty Harry being prime example.
In the next post I will discuss this activity further, and talk about how it and similar activities have informed my research whilst reflecting on the process.
One of the strange things about 'lockdowns' and 'WFH' has been the lack of what i kind of think of as punctuation events: the things we need to get everything done before and that we use as the metronomes for the rhythms of work and life. Holidays and deadlines are he big ones, but in a small way a drink with a friend, or a trip to the cinema also work like this. The last few weeks have seemed to have an unusual amount (well for 2020 at least) of punctuation events. PhD wise I had my upgrade exam (a verbal exam or interview about the work completed this far). I've been working towards it for a while and it's one of the few really formalised points in the timeline of a PhD. Life wise there were things like ovens breaking, car MOTs etc. those sort of banal things which upset the usual pacing of life. Resultantly, the frequency of posts on here has slowed somewhat. I don't mind really, and in some ways I feel like now I have a better idea now of how I want to use this page in the future. Which is both to provide a sort of rhythm. But also to help me digest some of the upgrade feedback and to think about the directions the research takes now.
One bit of feedback I did receive was that I might be more strident about saying what the research does, how it does it, and to claim some of the methods as my own. I guess this confidence takes time, but over the next few posts I'm going to give this a bit of a shot.
Though not directly related to my research – however, very much related to the theme of this blog – I've been thinking a fair bit this last few weeks about Anglo Arms knives. I first came across the brand on Gavin Hales Twitter (which is well with a follow if you're at all interested in policing). He and others have been using the hashtag #theresthatknifeagain to highlight the frequency in which the brands knives seem to be being carried (and seized by police). They're gruesome, shocking things, and it's hard to know how a company can really sell them online, and so cheaply (some sell for as little as £13.99). Google them, it's crazy. They're throw away cheap.
I'm interested in them as pieces of design. They're aesthetically really powerful and super photogenic. They stop my Twitter scrolling in it's tracks and I can certainly see why those in charge of police Twitter accounts choose to post images of them . I'd imagine this is also part of the allure to those who carry them too. Simply, that they're designed for photos as much as to stab. I'm going to do some digging to se if anyone has done much research into the visibility of knives...
So what? I guess Im still formulating some ideas about this. But I think think that thinking about knife crime from a both a visibility angle and in terms or material artefacts is certainly important – it would appear that either Anglo Arms are...
Anyway, an area which I'm trying to keep up-to-date on.
 There's been a bit of debate as to whether or not the police should post pictures of knives at all. I think the argument being that whilst it shows a knife being taken off the street, images of the knives are both scary for the public, and could fuel a desire from some to carry one for protection. I'm not sure I buy this. I'd imagine that the siloed nature of social media means that the those following police Twitter accounts are unlikely to carry knives – I could be wrong.