…according to George Santayana.
For those who haven’t read it:
LET’S go back to basics for a moment.
Lots of people probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.
That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.
In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.
In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes his ex’s nasty texts isn’t a crime?)
Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.
It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.
In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.
Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’
The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop and rings us on her mobile.
I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.
But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us, like it’s a police matter.
OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.
We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?
Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence. We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday. But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hotspot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ and even seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him.
To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another. As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’
He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere. But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.