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Police urged to stop posting ‘scary-looking’ weapon images on social media

Deputy Commissioner say posts can show reality of challenges officers are facing in bid to cut knife crime

06 June, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Concern has been raised over police tweets showing weapons

THE Met is torn over whether its officers should keep on using social media to show the size of the knives they are finding in weapon searches.

Camden is among police forces across London whose officers have tweeted photographs of large knives and swords discovered hidden in bushes. But there has been a pushback from some critics, who say that the images simply create a climate of fear, or glorify the use of even bigger blades.

Sir Stephen House, the Met’s deputy commissioner, was challenged on the use of the pictures while taking questions from London Assembly members at City Hall on Tuesday morning. He admitted that there had been high-level discussions, but the debate inside Scotland Yard had gone “forwards and backwards”.

Camden police often post photos of weapons found in weapon sweeps

Sir Stephen said: “I can completely understand that continual photographs in Twitter and on the Evening Standard, on the news, of horrific-looking knives may serve to frighten people. But I think also, to put the other side of it, it may serve to show people the seriousness of the situation and make them realise what it is that London, and indeed the whole of England and Wales, is dealing with in terms of a knife crime problem – which we can’t afford to minimise or sweep under the carpet.”

Police have identified Twitter as a way of increasing direct communication with the public, with officers actively encouraged to post updates from the beat. The Met’s Task Force, including the specialist Territorial Support Group, openly asked followers last week whether everybody was agreeable to the posting of the photos.

Sian Berry at the London Assembly

Sir Stephen said: “We are looking for advice from a number of sources as to: is there a right and a wrong on this. My guess is there isn’t a right and a wrong. My guess is that it’s contextual, and sometimes it is the right thing to show weaponry and sometimes it’s not.”

Labour Assembly member Florence Eshalomi said: “There are a number of people who have called out the posting of these images online. I don’t think it’s the right way to engage. “Is there any evidence that states that actually posting some of these really large, scary-looking images works?”

Green Party Assembly member Sian Berry, who is also a councillor in Highgate, said: “What’s so frustrating is that the Mayor’s own campaign and the violence reduction unit’s goals all include good practice and avoiding the use of frightening knives. But police supplying photos to the press, and particularly the serious violence taskforce on Twitter, are not listening at all.”

She added: “Even from a precautionary point of view, they could stop publishing these pictures tomorrow on the basis that they might be causing harm – but they won’t.”

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