They look so similar that they make you double take. Going past on a bus or bike, they are indistinguishable from the Metropolitan Police’s poster campaign. But their messages are anything but pro-police; and the #acab (“all cops are bastards”) tag at the bottom suggests a different source.
In fact, these posters were created by independent newspaper STRIKE! magazine after a Freedom of Information request revealed the Met had spent almost a million pounds on a campaign designed to improve their image in areas where “confidence in policing is lower than average”. The posters advertised what the Met considered to be recent successes, including putting the “five worst anti-social offenders” in Lewisham before the courts and stepping up drugs raids in Islington.
The campaign has attracted ridicule from organisations such as the Center for Crime and Justice Studies, who suggested the police would need “psychic powers” to know some of the statistics they claimed.
The poster which prompted the CCJS to ask if the police were psychic. Photo: Center for Crime and Justice Studies
According to a STRIKE! spokesperson, the messages they spread were “a massive public expense”. They launched a counter-campaign through “Brandalism”, a form of activism that seeks to radically disrupt the “visual assault” of advertising in public space, which STRIKE! calls “completely undemocratic, in that it is public space used to make a profit” – or, in the case of the police, to “promote lies about policing in the areas worst affected by police violence and racism”.
Their “counter-propaganda” posters appropriate the police posters’ design to spread an alternative message, using a shared visual identity to highlight a striking contrast in content.
A Met police poster alongside a STRIKE! parody.
If this all looks familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time the posters have had an airing on the streets of London. In 2014, the “shadowy art-activism organisation” Special Patrol Group helped the design go viral after they distributed them around the city.
— L Mazzei Ⓥ (@515LM) December 14, 2014
Now, after a week that saw deaths in police custody at their highest level for five years, Special Patrol Group are back. STRIKE! claims not to know who put the posters up, but suggests they’ve used a technique advocated by the Brandalism website that recommends the group put the adverts up by, “hiding in plain sight with hi-vis vests”.
— Special Patrol Group (@SpecialPatrols) August 1, 2015
Last night, however, it appeared someone was fighting back. After the designs received press attention yesterday, one of the posters in New Cross seems to have been whitewashed over. A STRIKE! spokesperson tells me the act came as a shock; the campaign initially received “great feedback from members of the public”, and residents of the building where the poster was displayed seemed not to know anything about a potential cover-up.
— STRIKE! magazine (@strikeyo) August 5, 2015
Now STRIKE! is asking if the police arranged for the poster to be whitewashed:
The figure on the poster is based on fact, confirmed by the Met themselves. The billboard was a derelict site which hadn’t been changed for years and in the past few months had been covered in fly posters. Nobody bothered to change that but someone was clearly very quick to get rid of this advert. Why? It looks like the police are afraid of the truth.
Nevertheless, the publication hopes to continue taking action. “Theresa May herself has told the police that there are too many bad apples in the force”, says a source. “After 25 years and 1,513 deaths in custody with not one conviction of a police officer, [she’s] launched an investigation. Big woop. It’s not enough.
“Until police officers are held responsible for their wrongdoings, violence, corruption, murder and racism we will not be satisfied. Until we build a society where ‘crime’ is not so closely related to inequality, we will not stop fighting”.
We have contacted the Metropolitan Police for comment and await their response.