Big brother police tactics at football matches could be making things worse

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RESEARCHERS at the Universities of Stirling, Glasgow and the West of Scotland have shown that the increasing use of cameras to police football matches in Scotland is eroding relationships with fans and could be exacerbating their behaviour.

The research indicated that increased use of handheld cameras and body-worn video (BWV) devices has led to an increasingly detached approach from the police in dealing with incidents while simultaneously creating a more intimidating environment for spectators which has had a counter-productive effect.

The study, titled ‘Lights, camera, provocation?’, was published in December last year following the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, which was in force for just 6 years from 2012 until 2018. The controversial act included legislation that made “other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive” at a football match punishable by law.

Police line up on the pitch following an incident after a high-profile match. Credit: glasgowlive.co.uk

It was revealed that a system of ‘trawling’ and ‘spear-fishing’, whereby large amounts of people are captured on video committing an offence before small numbers of individuals are singled out for prosecution, is causing a rift in trust between fans and the police.

The paper stated: “Behaviours amongst sections of fans were often left to ‘play out’ with arrests following the game once the police and prosecutors had reviewed footage and determined individuals whose behaviour were suitable to merit arrest; suitability here being defined not only on the basis of severity of behaviour but on the basis of being visible enough to support a successful prosecution.”

This approach has led to some younger fans being encouraged to wear face-coverings in order to prevent them from being singled out long after the match is over. One member of the study’s focus group claimed that the police raided their home at 6 a.m. and arrested them after being caught swearing at a match.

Police have deployed facial-recognition technology at matches in Wales. Credit: bbc.co.uk

The increasing reliance on cameras has caused: “a shift from the active ‘preservation of public tranquillity’ towards more passive strategies based around post-event identification, analysis and prosecution”

It was also noted that surveilling large portions of fans, many of whom are entirely innocent and without differentiating between them and high-risk individuals intent on violence, has caused those innocent fans to be less likely to support and co-operate with law enforcement.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch – a non-profit organisation for the protection of privacy – has commented on the research saying: “treating fans like criminals damages policing efforts and fans’ rights alike. Some police forces are now even using facial recognition cameras at football matches too. This research should put a stop to this ludicrous Chinese style surveillance of innocent fans.”

Featured image credit: news.sky.com

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Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at the University of Stirling. Media Officer for Stirling Students' Union and Secretary of Brig Newspaper.

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