POST 2: POLICE PUBLIC ENCOUNTER: A MEDIA EVENT



It makes sense for the first proper post on this site to be about this photo. It's one I have used, and returned to a lot over the past few years as a tool for explaining my research, and as a reminder about what it is I am doing. In a way it sparked the initial idea to do a PhD.


It’s a photo of an arrest, and it was taken from the window of a studio I had at the time in Brixton. The studio building was/is directly adjacent from Brixton police station so it wasn't unusual to see police officers or hear sirens. To be honest, I don’t really know what made me stop what I was doing at the time and climb up to the window ledge to see what was going on. Must have been more interesting than what I was doing... then again we spent a lot of time watching life happen beneath us out of that window. Anyway, this particular scene was interesting enough for me to take some photos and to spark a conversation.


What interested me at the time about the scene (and still does) is the number of people recording what's going on. The police, and the majority of the people on the pavement are all recording what's going on. (I'm also recording them recording, and for all I know someone was recoding me recording them...) Why? For those on the pavement: perhaps they were protecting the suspect from the potential of heavy-handed policing, or saving an image for posterity, maybe recording it just because they can... They're probably uploading it to social media – I did with the caption 'lens as witness'. For the the police: the body-worn cameras (BWCs) they're wearing have a range of suggested functions. From collecting evidence and speeding up early guilty pleas, to protecting against false claims of abuse, even preventing abuse in the first place. Whatever any of the reasons (and I'm sure they are multiple) the nature of the police-public encounter has shifted in recent years: it has become a media event.


The incident (and looking at the photo afterwards) inspired me to return to the topic of police BWCs, something I had researched at in my masters and had always felt I had only scratched the surface of. I was interested to know more about the cameras, how they had seemingly been assimilated so quickly into policing and what the potential implications of them were. To be honest, I felt slightly uncomfortable about them, despite reminders that they were not a silver bullet for the issues facing policing I couldn't help but feel like both the police and the public were placing a lot of hope in them.


Over the next few years, my opinions about BWCs have changed as my knowledge about policing has grown. I'm still slightly uneasy bout the technology (though perhaps for different reasons). I certainly think the cameras are important and provide real benefits. At the end of the day, just look at the picture, it would be pretty strange if the police didn't have cameras, especially considering how central image making is to they way we live our lives. Instead, I feel like implications of the cameras should be the focus of discussion. How they are used, or might be used in the future. Moreover, the technology we perhaps should be talking about is probably not the cameras themselves but instead things like facial-recognition, live streaming or the infrastructures the cameras are embedded in.


I've come to think about this investigation into the BWC as a kind of undesign. The book Undesign: Critical Practices at the Intersection of Art and Design helped form some of my thinking about this, but I initially used the word in a conversation on the phone with a police officer when trying trying to explain what my project was about. Undesign, in this research has been the process untangling and disassembling the BWC – both in a metaphorical and a literal sense – and examining its relationship with a range of different infrastructures, actors or 'influences' (for want of a better word). Simply, thinking about the relationship between BWCs and police culture; BWCS and police fiction; BWCs and other technologies (Taser for example) etcetera etcetera.


Over the next few posts I'm going to dump a range of different images, things I've made and ideas in relation to this idea of undesign, I'll preface these posts with 'UNDESIGN' in the title.


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