Posted by Eriks Zelenka on 31 July 2011 in English (English).

Fuh, I spend half of my day today at police station because some paranoid guy called the police. We had a conversation with him and I tried to explain him what I'm doing, with no success.. The area I mapped had quite a few burglaries recently. But still they arrested me with no evidence, after I explained them what and why I'm doing. Three cars, six policeman, six hours enclosed for nothing. Even better they did search at my flat as well. Did anyone experienced something similar ? BTW next time I'm going to check crime map ( at least being in UK to avoid such an experiences.

Location: Earley, Wokingham, South East, England, United Kingdom

Comment from Firefishy on 31 July 2011 at 22:09

I've been stopped a few times out mapping in London but nothing nearly as drastic. Crazy.

Comment from Chris Fleming on 31 July 2011 at 22:43

Sounds totally disproportionate. I would be looking at filing an official complaint.

Comment from Glenn Plas on 31 July 2011 at 23:57

Make sure to map the idiots house with full address ;-)

And BTW, did you map the police station inside ? Including vending machines etc?

A friend of mine is a police woman and she has stopped some people with laptops in front of the door being alarmed by worrying citizen. Most of the times its some kids abusing some poor sods open wifi... I have issues with them having enough knowledge about technology to fully understand if and when someone is breaking any rules. These people seriously overreacted, imagine your mum being robbed in the meantime and they have no personal 'available' to deal with it. You should atleast voice yourself and do some OSM PR maybe....

Bring along a camera next time and take pictures of innocent things where everyone can see you, right away, everyone will think you are a photographer, no need to explain uploading pictures to the laptop. Don't fotograph their houses. Or bring a fluo-jacket in yellow/orange. There is no burglar that wears that, and you look kind of official. After a while it's fun deceiving people, they all think you're doing important stuff.

Comment from Eriks Zelenka on 1 August 2011 at 06:03

The problem for me is that once you are in a police DB with all your photos and fingerprints and DNA example taken, you will be there for all times. Do you think anyone will benefit from the official complaint? Most probably it will be just another waste of police time and taxpayers money and my record will still remain in DB... I would rather like to see the "neighbourhood watcher" to be processed the same way as me. His behaviour was also "dodgy" (as one of the policeman commented my actions). And yes, I had yellow cycling jacket :)

Comment from c2r on 1 August 2011 at 06:29

I'd approach your local TV news, probably just for the publicity factor.. There are often geocacheing stories and things on ours...

Comment from chillly on 1 August 2011 at 09:11

Talking to your local TV and newspaper is a good idea. Always carrying some info about OSM is good too and some ID.

I also carry a printed statement explaining that there is no law against taking photos in a public place in the UK and that police officers cannot delete or destroy them without a court order.

Comment from chriscf on 1 August 2011 at 12:16

I think some compensation for wrongful arrest is in order. Were that me, I'd give them two weeks notice and have at them through the courts, along with an injunction to get the records removed. (Disclaimer: I am an utter bastard, and do this sort of thing for fun.)

Comment from Ben Abelshausen on 1 August 2011 at 17:54

Some mappers here in Belgium had the same experience but they explained to the police and they could continue mapping without being arrested! A bit disproportionate this response!

Comment from Hawkeye on 1 August 2011 at 18:54

If we had a special award for being arrested in the pursuit of mapping excellence, I would nominate you! Did you show them you had been a member of OSM for 3 years, and the thousands for edits you had made? Or did they think this an elaborate ruse?

Comment from robert on 1 August 2011 at 20:18

This is insane. What mapping method were you using/what equipment were you carrying?

Comment from Tom Chance on 1 August 2011 at 20:24

Crikey, the worst that happened to me mapping Reading years ago was walking into a culd-de-sac where a bunch of rough looking young men, one of whom was holding a knife, glared at me. That was Whitley.

I'll send this to a friend who is a councillor - he's in the Park ward, but might be interested.

Comment from kenguest on 1 August 2011 at 21:02

I tend to carry a few of these around with me most of the time, just on the off-chance that I might need them.

Comment from netman55 on 1 August 2011 at 21:06

Check this out - - may help to decide whether to take further action.

Suggest taking a dog out (the bigger the better) with you when out surveying, most people will ignore a dog walker (unless you have a 75kg Dane like me, but even then I only get smiles and comments " look at that thing" or similar) however I am told by someone working for Kent police, that officers hate having to arrest people with animals because it at least triples the hassle and paper work

Comment from andygates on 1 August 2011 at 21:21

That's horrible to hear. You could use it as an opportunity to "make lemonade" maybe, get a bit in the local rag about how cool OSM is and how sheepish the police are now they've said sorry (hint hint).

Comment from Eriks Zelenka on 1 August 2011 at 22:35

Hawkeye, I gave them my user name, so they could check that I'm not a liar and someone in the police station did check it, and this is still being on the street... What I found so far - very little people know about OSM and some people whom I told about it asked me why do we need it, if we have google maps already ? :)
Robert, I used my notebook at that moment, but I also had a GPS and camera with me. I showed them everything and described it completely :)
Tom, thanks, I'll talk tomorrow to my employer, we for sure have a solicitor.
Kenguest, very usefull, I'll order some, thanks.
netman55, the link you provided is very helpfull, main things are covered, thanks.

Mapping the streets is a real fun, whether mapping the house numbers is like a hunting - label size, shape and colours are not standardised. Sometimes this hunting leads me to nice places, sometimes to nasty.. So I've being asked many times for what I'm doing. Unluckily this time things just turned up side down. Actually it could be worse if I would have my bicycle repair kit, it does contain some sharp and suspicious instruments :) Anyway it is kind of life Experience, any such an Experience finally will be remembered much longer than everyday meals :)

Comment from PieterKuiper on 2 August 2011 at 11:24

In Sweden, permission is required for mapping, according to a law from 1993, see (discussion in Swedish). An OSM contributor asked the authority, and they confirmed that this regulation is still in force, and that it applies to OSM. (I have not applied, so technically I am violating the law; I am not a Swedish citizen, so maybe I could get in trouble for espionage when mapping cycle routes...)

Comment from Tractor on 2 August 2011 at 19:52

I'm not sure that telling people that you may get arrested is the best way to promote OSM and recruit new people to the project...

I'm surprised to see that Sweden has such a law. The whole idea behind such a law seems to be something left over from the cold war era. The law is from a time before Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, Facebook etc., and should be changed to take into account modern technology and its uses in present day society.

Comment from nmixter on 2 August 2011 at 21:09

Sorry to hear u were busted. But if you look anything like your profile picture I can kind of see why :) I think anyone who has been doing this for any time has received at least odd looks from concerned people. After all why would people want to create a free map?

Comment from !i! on 4 August 2011 at 13:24

Well I guess I look like somekind of goth/metalhead I normaly get no response by anybody during mapping ;) BUT

at allotments sometimes people think I might preapare a crime and asking what I'm doing. Oh and when I did videomapping while cycling somebody followed me with a car but I explained to the woman that it's for my work at the university and so she was fine ;)

All in all: no experience with the cops :D

Comment from paulbe on 10 August 2011 at 08:37

"Bring along a camera next time and take pictures of innocent things where everyone can see you, right away, everyone will think you are a photographer...
Hélas, that is not allways true.
Once last may, I was held by police on the street in Amsterdam (NL), after (very visibly) taking 2 pictures of a (partially closed) post office. The officer said that i was suspicious because i "was taking photos of a bank office". After checking my identity and checking my name with the local police, he let me go, so i was not arrested or taken to the police station.

Comment from Harry Wood on 10 August 2011 at 14:07

I'm really shocked by this. In the same week that they failed to control a bunch of kids smashing up London, I'm feeling very disappointed in the UK police at the moment.

Police are mainly entitled to question and search photographers in relation to suspicion of to terrorism (not burglary!). Arresting you and searching your flat seems utterly disproportionate. Amazing that this happened to you.

I can image if you failed to explain well because english is not your first language, or if you were being antagonistic, then these things might not have helped. Any of that apply? I'd love to know how the conversation went with police, but it seems to me you have good reason to make a complaint (which you should do *before* publishing all the details, and with legal advice if possible)

The link netman55 gave, from the citizens advice bureau is probably a good one. There's also a number of quick reference PDFs available specifically related to the rights of photographers in the UK (google search) We should flesh out the information on this wiki page.

Comment from Pieren on 10 August 2011 at 14:29

Would not that be the role of the foundation or the local chapter to help the contributors in such adventures ?

Comment from alv on 10 August 2011 at 15:39

Check the records of your incident - did the person calling the police call you a burglar ("libel" ring a bell?), or just "something suspicious"? If the latter, the shame is only on the police. There's a reason people can't call random people, say, murderers without consequences.

Comment from richlv on 10 August 2011 at 15:59

wanted to comment on "they did search at my flat as well" part - don't these things require a court order anymore ?

and it would be nice to try to bring this to some larger media outlet - bbc did run some stories on osm - maybe Maggie Shiels wants to pick this up ( or whoever was involved with (phrase it like "help haiti earthquake relief, get arrested in england" or something ;) ) - surely writing this experience in a nice way might attract other media as well.

Comment from Eriks Zelenka on 11 August 2011 at 08:09

Harry, english is not my first language, but I think it will be extremely hard to prove that this is the original reason for arrest.. They asked me some questions which were not related to the complaint and one of those was - can I prove that the bike belongs to me. And at that point of time I just forgot that I have insurance for the bike. The answer was: "Most likely not". This was the green light to arrest me. Later after checking bicycle (and it is "clean"), they decided to visit my flat and it was a point of time when I've got a message about suspicion in burglary.
richlv, I decided not to go for media, but I'll make an official complaint.

Comment from spatialk on 15 August 2011 at 21:07

What happened to Erik was disgraceful and I echo the words of Harry in not going at this in an antagonistic way after the event.
I don't know if this helps but a similar situation arose when photographing trains at stations et al. As a railway photographer, you get all sorts of crap and excuses leveled at you from "It's against the law" to " under the prevention of terrorism act...." stuff like that! However, it is not illegal to take photos on stations so the railway fraternity got together (with the help of industry magazines) with a view to clarifying the position. Network Rail (who own all the stations) and the British Transport Police eventually issued a directive that railway enthusiasts should not be challenged unless breaking the rules or not adhering to the voluntary COP i.e make your presence know to the station staff, don't use flash photography etc etc. I think carrying round an explanation of what you are doing is a good start and maybe, OSM could look at providing a registration card of some sort. This coupled with a letter to the Association of Chief Police Officers would help to get the subject of OSM'ers into the minds of the authorities. The outcome for rail photographers is that they are now encouraged to take photos as this is seen by the BTP as helping them keep rail users safe - result!

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