Andy Trotter: The threat is real, but police must show common sense

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The Independent Online

Protecting the public from harm and allowing them to go about their normal daily business with the minimum of intrusion can be a fine balancing act and it is inevitable that police officers will not always get it right. But it is important that we remind ourselves why we use these powers. The terrorist threat is still very real and as long as a renewed attack is a strong possibility we all need to remain vigilant, not only the police but the public too.

Having said that, everyone – photographers, members of the media and the general public – has a right to take photographs and film in public places. It's as simple and as clear as that.

Police officers need the public on their side in order to do an effective job. We are here to serve our public and uphold the rights they enjoy in this country. The threat of terrorism is real, particularly in London, and the power to stop and search anyone under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important one. That power, however, only applies in specially designated areas and has to be renewed by the Home Secretary every 28 days.

Police can also stop people and ask them to account for their actions, commonly referred to as a stop and account. Officers are then required by law to record details of that encounter, although the person stopped is under no obligation to provide them.

It is the job of police officers to be vigilant, to keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviour and to act accordingly. Taking photographs, however, is not normally cause for suspicion and there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. I would like to see a return to common sense policing where officers feel able to talk to the public and have a conversation with them, without the need to record every detail or draw on police powers.

London in particular is one of the world's top tourist attractions and there must be millions of photographs of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Earlier this year I wrote to chief officers offering clear guidance around use of these powers and emphasising the importance of ensuring it is fully understood. Acpo also held regional seminars around the country to reinforce the message.

British policing is built on consent, proportionality, trust and accountability. 99 times out of 100 engaging with someone on an informal basis will assure officers that whatever they are doing is not suspicious. Then everyone can continue with their normal course of business.

Andy Trotter is chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers Media Advisory Group