This story has been at the edge of my radar for the past few days:
Police Commissioners have urged the Met Police to add ultraviolet dye to their three water cannon to help them track down any one responsible for violent protests.
The dye in question – SmartWater I believe it’s called – has a number of different manifestations as described at its manufacturer’s website. Presumably the version some of the police appear to be eager to use is this one:
Forensic Spray System:
This system is typically used in business premises to deter robberies and out-of-hours burglaries. Upon activation the SmartWater Forensic Spray System sprays intruders with an invisible liquid, marking their skin and clothing. The liquid can only be seen under UV light, remaining on skin for weeks and indefinitely on clothing. It can be used to link a criminal to a particular crime scene, remaining detectable long after the crime has been committed.
One of the manufacturer’s customers (there are many, of course – Britain is anything but a law-abiding country these days, after all) is a company called Ecclesiastical. Their testimonial runs as follows:
“Theft of metal is a serious crime and has had a devastating effect on a large number of our customers since 2007. From the beginning of the metal theft epidemic, we have been working in close partnership with SmartWater and continue to promote it to our customers. We believe that the SmartWater brand is a very powerful tool in our fight against metal theft, as it is well known amongst potential thieves and acts as a significant deterrent.”
I remember once being on a train to Manchester, which had to stop for about half an hour close to its destination because some evil type had apparently nicked the cabling which connected the signal box to the rail network. So I appreciate the importance that such products can have in deterring the unlawful acquisition of someone else’s property.
Property, mind. Objects. Stuff. You know what I’m getting at.
Meanwhile, Mr Boris Johnson – whilst removing useful fire engines from our capital’s streets – happily makes jokes about second-hand German water cannons he’s buying to forcefully impose the peace over the next few years or so:
I don’t mind. I am certainly prepared to do anything to show that they’re safe within reason.
If it will really make you happy, I will investigate the whys and wherefores of whether I can stand in front of a water cannon without infringing some code of health and safety.
That is to say, some code of health and safety which serves to protect the Mayor of London but not lawful demonstrators.
Because the problem with adding ultraviolet dye to your water-cannon water is that really, unsurprisingly, it’ll get on just about everyone and get just about everywhere. Who knows what such substances could do to those kettled for simply believing they were going to be in the right place at the right time? The lawful ones I mean, that is. The ones who engage democratically with society. Not the metal-theft-epidemic miscreants. The men, women and children who don’t like being treated with disrespect by their governments – and simply, politely, calmly and kindly want to express their dissatisfaction as per our still existing and current democratic rights.
This is how the property market in London just grew by eight million objects. By proposing this clever SmartWater be added to water cannons that may gaily spray the streets of the city and its multifarious inhabitants with indelible inks that remain for weeks on the skins of those who lawfully participate in democratic demonstrations, we choose as a wider society to make objects of such human beings: to be marked, tagged and ultimately criminalised with tools that till now have served a highly constructive purpose.
SmartWater was great for protecting property.
It was even probably justifiable when it turned undeniable thugs into traceable criminals.
But as a tool to turn straightforward voters and citizens into objects themselves, to be pursued, chased down and identified as any common electronic device, TV or piece of jewellery out there … well, I really do not know whether this was quite what we wanted – or even anticipated.
Nor, indeed, whether Ecclesiastical, the aforementioned customer of SmartWater, might have anticipated it either. As they say on their website, “[the organisation was] established in 1887 to protect the Anglican Church and we’re still committed to doing this today. Over the years we’ve grown to provide tailored insurance solutions for organisations and people who care – such as charities and heritage property owners [...]“.
People who care, eh? So how many charities would really care to be advertising products for water cannons which indiscriminately sprayed everyone and anyone with ultraviolet dyes?
A final thought, before I sign off tonight. The term SMART was always, for me, associated with relatively sensible processes of workforce objectivisation:
Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Assignable – specify who will do it.
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if we applied such an acronym to the ultraviolet dye certain police commissioners wish to add to their arsenal. For example:
- Specific – will it serve to improve police-community dynamics as well as a wider societal balance?
- Measurable – will it make democracy more efficient and lead to a better environment for London?
- Assignable – will anyone in hindsight want to take ownership and be identified as responsible for implementing the policy?
- Realistic – will the cost, both human and financial, of implementing the policy justify its introduction?
- Time-related – will all of London be better for this policy twelve months down the line, or will only a certain sector benefit?
That would really be smart, now wouldn’t it? Too smart by far, perhaps?