The boys and girls in blue are out on the beat, helping us all get through this lockdown by threatening to snoop on your supermarket shopping and battering down people's doors when they won't open them, for fear of contracting the virus. What would we do without them? One can only imagine the hoards of shoppers risking infection to stuff their bags with frivolous items (anything other than sacks of potatoes).
In a crowded field, this week's Police Power-Trip of the Week perfectly demonstrates some of the more troubling aspects of police behaviour in recent weeks. In fact, the incident in question happened earlier this month, but VICE now has its hands on video of the encounter.
Journalist Michael Segalov was out for a government-mandated walk in the park when he came across a woman who was distressed because the police appeared to be hassling her. Being a journalist, he decided to film the incident in case anything untoward was happening. Cue: police failing to understand the guidance on engaging with journalists, standing closer than two metres to him and telling him to go home.
The police enforce social distancing by surrounding Segalov and shouting at him. One officer in particular stands uncomfortably close and shouts: "You're killing people. Go home." According to a letter of complaint filed by Segalov's solicitors at ITN and seen by VICE, the journalist felt the officer's spittle on his face, which just goes to show how enthusiastically he was enforcing social distancing in order to save lives.
It's an irony that will be appreciated by anyone who has been minding their business out in public, hundreds of metres from anyone else, only to be approached by a police officer invading their personal space to tell them off. It is the breaking of social distancing rules in order to enforce them.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance on working with journalists during the coronavirus outbreak clearly states that “journalists are covered as key workers”, acknowledges that there is “a public interest in keeping the population informed” and that police will “engage” with journalists if they are unsure why they are outside. Journalists are expected to follow the guidelines on social distancing, which Segalov was doing until he was surrounded.
The video is a perfect demonstration of how horny-on-main the police are allowing themselves to become. You might think those responsible for policing the public's right to simply be outside might be cautious with such an unwieldy and potentially dangerous power, but apparently not. They've got an excuse for a power grab, and some officers are loving it. Subjected to scrutiny just in case they're using their powers a little over-zealously, the police in the video decide to prove the point for us by massively over-stepping the mark, giving it the full bullyboy-in-a-police-state routine. The fact that one officer, Sergeant Brown, repeatedly gives his name and number seems to suggest he's not too fussed about getting reprimanded for his behaviour.
The claim that "you're killing people" is particularly interesting here. The police seem to think that "saving lives" gives them carte blanche to act like totalitarian dickheads at all times. Goodness knows how many lives were saved that day by our heroic police shouting at a journalist calmly filming from a distance until the police stood too close. Bravo.
Segalov is demanding that Sergeant Brown – the shoutiest officer – be investigated for falling below the professional standard, and the officers near the van for unsatisfactory performance for not understanding the guidance. He is also seeking a public apology for the incident.
When VICE asked the Met for their side of the story they said that officers were encouraging a woman who was "clearly not exercising" to leave the park when "A man, who identified himself as a journalist, began filming the interaction. The officers spoke to the man. We can confirm a complaint has been received in relation to that interaction which is currently being considered.
"We always expect our officers to engage with the public in a courteous and respectful manner and where this is not the case, their conduct will be reviewed and they can rightfully be held to account."