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Photos from the Fake Town Where London Cops Train for Riots

The place is much like a film set—many of the peripheral buildings are just facades, while those at the "city center" are a lot more developed in order to give the trainees more varied terrain.
April 14, 2014, 11:00am

This series was shot at the Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Center in Gravesend, Kent, a mock town that has been built purely so that young police officers can run around it, learning how to deal with angry mobs. The place is much like a film set—many of the peripheral buildings are just facades, while those at the "city center" are a lot more developed in order to give the trainees more varied terrain.

The training includes all sorts of scenarios the officers may have to deal with in real-life confrontations. One I was allowed to document involved 15 policemen forming a mob armed with petrol bombs, wooden bricks, and glass bottles. Completely in character, they proceeded to antagonize other officers, who were acting as the response unit, slowly dispersing and detaining the mob. The level of authenticity as well as the extensive practice of formations and drills really showed me how much attention and effort goes into preparing for public disorder in London. Now, I don't know if I should feel safe or scared.

It took me several months to secure access to the site; the conversations about what I could and couldn’t show were endless. Using a person’s face was forbidden, for instance, as it could put them in danger or single them out when they later came into contact with the public. As a consequence, I knew from the outset that I would have to photograph people from behind or from afar and was therefore always going to be a step back from the action. This resulted in pictures more reminiscent of aftermath photography, rather than embedded journalism.

Control was shot over one day in December 2013. It is part of a larger, ongoing project called The Architecture of Conflict, exploring environments of human conflict.

Click through to see more photos from riot town.

See more of James's work here.