Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 13:52 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 13:52 | SYDNEY

TV or not TV, that is the question


Graeme Dobell

26 August 2011 10:14

Closed Circuit television (CCTV) has changed the mindset of cops as much as crims. The British riots have shown the mirror effect of CCTV on both sides of the law. The British cops have had to think about what they do in front of the cameras, as do those who pull down their hoods and pick up a rock. 

I arrived in England for a month stay at the start of August and, turning on the TV, suddenly saw an image I knew well here nearly three decades ago during the Miners' Strike. Covering the Miners' Strike — one of the defining moments of the Thatcher era — meant developing a passing knowledge of the tempo and temper of British police tactics in confronting violence on the picket line. 

What I noticed during the continuous coverage of the couple of days of riots this month was the restraint of today's cops compared to their predecessors in the 1980s. The shields, batons, truncheons and battle lines looked the same. What was missing was the constant frantic charges of massed ranks of coppers with boots and batons flailing. 

The British have never done riot policing with the same brutal verve as the French. But, during the long months of the Miners' Strike, the police developed tactics to disrupt the pickets and make arrests that involved plenty of sharply applied force. There were not too many cameras around to capture the moment if these arrests were on the violent side. 

In the 1980s, the only chance of such an arrest was usually in the midst of the clash. Today, the arrests can come long after the event, after spooling through thousands of hours of CCTV footage. As the tally of arrests has mounted well above the thousand mark in the weeks since the riots, the CCTV effect has been on full display in the courts. 

The police tactics during the riots can be praised for discipline and restraint, although when it was happening the politicians and press were reaching more for words like 'passive' and 'slow'.

The British cops have given a new dimension to the old line, 'Smile, you're on Candid Camera!'. Be your intent robbery or riot, the line has transformed to, 'Cower and cover-up, you're on CCTV!'. There is also, apparently, a variation the cops now apply to themselves: 'Careful (or glare), you are on CCTV.'

The British police want to use the mountain of CCTV evidence to get convictions, not to get caught themselves.

Photo, of a Banksy artwork in London, by Flickr user Steffen M Boelaars.