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Armed UK Police Raid House Over Facebook Picture Showing Toy Weapon In Background

February 21, 2013
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Source: Techdirt , Glyn Moody

One of the reasons Techdirt rails against exaggerated responses to supposed terrorist threats is that it has caused police forces around the world to lose all sense of proportion -- literally, in the case of this UK story from the Daily Mail.

It began when Ian Driscoll decided to post a picture to his Facebook page. It was of an Action Man doll, accompanied by a toy Alsatian dog. Why? you might ask. Well, "as a laugh", he says, because the Action Man figure looked a lot like him, and he had a real Alsatian -- which sounds entirely reasonable. What Driscoll did not note at the time, though, was that lurking in the background of the picture was another toy: a model mortar.



Unfortunately, a few weeks later, someone else spotted that toy mortar and, mindful of the incessant UK government propaganda about terrorists being everywhere, duly over-reacted and reported the image. Even more unfortunately, the police also over-reacted -- to the extent of sending five officers, two armed with sub-machine guns (and you thought they didn't carry them in the UK), ready to smash down Driscoll's front door and go in with guns blazing against this supposed terrorist cell.

Luckily, Driscoll was there, and was able to defuse the situation by showing them the mortar in question. He was able to point out that it was in fact only slightly larger than the nearby Playstation that was clearly visible in the snap he had posted, and considerably smaller than the table that was also prominent in the Facebook picture. He might even have pointed out that the figure and dog in his upload were quite obviously toys to anyone who spent more than three seconds examining the picture. The police had presumably decided not to waste those precious three seconds before acting. Instead, as a spokesperson later said:

'We are sure that the community would rather we acted quickly on information given to us of this nature, in case it had turned out to be a weapon.'
Well, no, actually: what the community would really like is for the police to use some intelligence before reaching for the sub-machine guns. If they had just stopped and looked carefully at the picture, it would have been evident that there was no possible threat here. And that's likely to be the case for many other incidents around the world where the police have assumed the worst.

That not only represents a huge waste of their valuable time and resources, it also perpetuates the corrosive idea that we should be constantly afraid and ready to report anything and anyone odd or vaguely suspicious, no matter how absurd it would seem to anyone looking at things rationally. This then creates a self-sustaining loop of public fear and police over-reaction. It's time to scale the rhetoric back, and to make common-sense judgements common again.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+


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