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Posts Tagged ‘Perverting the Course of Justice’

A fifth of all crime goes unrecorded, according to ‘shocking’ new figures revealed by HMIC.

It depends on your definition of shocking, really.

We revealed this kind of thing some years ago in Wasting Police Time, Perverting the Course of Justice and Diary of an On-Call Girl.

Here is Inspector Gadget in Perverting the Course of Justice explaining why it is that even when they aren’t ‘no criming’ it as being down to badgers, the cops don’t always come out when your shed gets broken into (it’s not always because the bobbies at the sharp end don’t want to):

CONTROL STRATEGY CRIME, AND OTHER JARGON THAT WINDS PEOPLE UP

TWO other things I explain to people who complain, if they still have the will to live, are Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime. They’re separate but intertwined, like much of the semi-impenetrable undergrowth of police bureaucracy.

I was at a dinner party the other night. As the only policeman there, I was obviously cornered for most of the evening by people who wanted to ask how many people I had shot (none) / ask if it’s true that you can drink three pints on a full stomach and still drive (it’s not) / complain about the police.

One chap, Steve, was quite persistent. He’d been the victim of a criminal damage: his garage door had been sprayed with the word ‘Tosser’ and the window in the side of the garage had been smashed.

‘I phoned your lot,’ said Steve. ‘All they were interested in was giving me a crime number to claim on my insurance. What about coming out to look for the buggers that did it?’

I couldn’t speak for his specific case – different force – but it was a familiar story.

This is about Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime.

CS Crime means types of crime that bureaucrats, our own and those in the Home Office hundreds of miles away, dictate to us as priorities. They will always include the really big stuff like rape and murder, plus domestic burglary and street robbery, but the other six or so will be things that will come onto and drop off our crime control strategy from time to time. I’ve just looked, and today they are:

Commercial premises burglary

Burglary non-dwelling (sheds)

Criminal damage

Theft from motor vehicles

Theft of motor vehicles

Assaults

Shed burglaries just came onto our list at the expense of class A drug use.

That’s not because people round our way aren’t bothered about heroin addicts on the streets, and they really care about the theft of Strimmers, it’s because our analysts say we’ve got Class A drugs under control for the time being, so we aren’t worried about that any more.

On the other hand, we’ve had a few shed breaks, so we need to get right on it. This means that everything we’ve got in terms of proactive resources – cameras, technical, scenes of crime, surveillance units – is diverted to the sheds.

It means identifying offenders, looking into recent prison releases, leafleting homes, target-hardening and crime prevention.

It means putting people out in plain clothes at night, focusing all the down time on those areas, targeting handlers.

It means that every single person, when they are not doing a job, goes to those places where the sheds have been hit before, because it is not just a type of crime, it is an area too, a ‘hot spot’.

‘Volume Crime’, meanwhile, is stuff exactly like that in the list above – the thefts from motor vehicles, minor criminal damages, shed burglaries, graffiti and all the attempts to do these sorts of things – but which is not at such a level, locally, as to have made it to the Control Strategy Crime list.

The Home Office says, officially, that we need not investigate these crimes as long as they’re not currently on our Control Strategy, and they fit certain criteria.

These can be evidential (Did anyone witness the crime? Does anyone know who the offenders are? Did they leave anything behind? Is it on camera?) or value-based (If something was nicked or damaged, how much was it worth?)

The interplay between these two factors can, unsurprisingly, confuse and annoy our punters.

I assume Steve’s force didn’t have criminal damage on its list of Control Strategy Crime when he called, which is why they fobbed him off. If it is on the list the following week, after a spate of such incidents, and his neighbour’s garage gets done over, the neighbour will get the full works.

I understand how bad this looks.

I don’t like not investigating crimes, however minor they might be.

I would love it if every burglary victim got CSI and an investigating officer there within a reasonable time.

I think it would be great if we could attend every criminal damage report, even if it turns out there is nothing there for us in the way of leads.

Broken windows policing, pioneered in New York, where low-level crime is vigorously pursued, has a lot going for it (as long as the offenders get proper sanctions at court, which they wouldn’t in the UK but do in the States).

We like hassling petty criminals.

But we’re back to our old friend reality again. What I would like, and you would like, is one thing: what we can deliver with current resources and ways of working is another.

Steve’s garage is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you visit Google and type in the phrase ‘police fail to investigate crimes’ you come up with a stack of newspaper stories from November 2007.

A typical headline, from The Sunday Telegraph, is: ‘Official: Police leave two million crimes uninvestigated’.

In the story, the reporter explains how we are ‘refusing to investigate crimes including huge numbers of burglaries and thefts’.

The implication is that we are giving criminals an easy ride, and the story was widely commented upon, mostly by angry readers. The redoubtable Norman Brennan, the chairman of the Victims of Crime Trust and (then) a serving police officer, told the paper: ‘The public are our masters and have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime.’

There are two elements to this. The first is about solving crimes. The second is doing all we can to try to solve them.

There are some crimes we have no chance of ever clearing up.

I’m sorry if that sounds defeatist, but it’s the truth. Often, there just are no lines of enquiry – people smash up a bus stop at 2am and run off, there’s no CCTV and no-one sees them. There’s not much we can really do about that.

However, in many cases, as Steve would confirm, we don’t even turn up to have a look.

This is because, if we attended the scene and carried out an investigation every time anyone threw a brick through a window, or scratched a car, or wrote ‘Tosser’ on a garage, the whole law enforcement system as it currently stands, with existing resources, would grind to a halt and we would not be able to deal with more serious things.

If Sunday Telegraph readers really want us to investigate every one of those two million volume crimes, they need to understand that this will require a sizeable hike in the tax levy to pay for even more police.

A practical example. We regularly get people calling to complain that their neighbour’s burglar alarm has been ringing for hours and we haven’t turned up. I’ve read research suggesting that something like 13 million burglar alarms go off every year. If we attended them all, we’d need a police force twice the size of the US Army. So what we do is ask the caller to go and have a quick look and see if he can see anything suspicious, at which point he gets outraged, and starts asking what he pays his taxes for.

(Of course, if we cut back on our paperwork and got more of us out on the streets, we could certainly cover much more than we do with our current numbers.)

Most reasonable people understand this – even if they don’t like it – when you explain it to them.

It would help if police forces and the Government took that line, instead of making dream world promises about how they’re going to deal with minor crime through Neighbourhood Policing and Citizen Focus and whatever follows next.

It would also help if [Victims of Crime Trust founder] Norman Brennan’s suggestion that ‘the public have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime’ was accompanied by an explanation from Norman as to why this is the case.

The truth is, only people who can really deal with much of this stuff are the public themselves.

Indeed, they used to deal with it without us and, in many parts of the country, they still do. In the village where I live, for instance, we don’t have problems with kids smashing up the phone box, because our local parents control their kids. No-one else does that for us.

It’s not because of the massive police presence in the area, because there isn’t one. In a lot of places, people now look to the police to do that kind of job, but we just can’t do it, however much we might like to.

In the absence of 200,000 new bobbies or a radical change in working practices, I suppose we do have to have some method of getting crime down to a manageable heap.

Personally, I don’t think it should be done on how much of it there is; I think it should be done on the moral equivalence of it.

If 90-year-old Gladys has had some scumbag in her house nicking her life savings, that should be of greater priority than some drug dealer who gets boshed over the head when a deal goes wrong.

But it won’t be, because his is a ‘street crime’ and hers is just a theft.

Sorry, Gladys.

 

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Finally, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary has admitted what PC David Copperfield, Inspector Gadget and WPC E E Bloggs said all along: that the system of recording crime is as bent as a dodgy Flying Squad copper circa 1973:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences, according to the first official inquiry into the integrity of the police crime figures.

At the same time, confusingly, the police are rushing out to apprehend people for telling children that Santa doesn’t exist (true story from Gadget’s book). It makes no sense at all, unless you consider whether senior officers want their juniors to record crimes that are not easy to solve, but would quite like them to record crimes that are easy to solve.

For saying this sort of thing, Copperfield and Gadget were both lied about by government ministers. (Bloggs didn’t get lied about – she just sold the TV rights to her book.)

You can read free extracts from the three books here, here and here (and obviously we’d love you to buy copies if you haven’t already).

Meanwhile, here’s that Santa Claus story from Perverting the Course of Justice:

DETECTIONS

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.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections.Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

- A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

- A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

- A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

- Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

- A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

- A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares?

And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months.

What are these £1 thefts?

Well, this might explain some of them. If your card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice?

Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

*The reason we’re judged on ‘detections’ and not the outcome of a case at court is that the police have no real influence over what some crazy buffoon of a magistrate decides to do, and no control over a jury in Crown Court. All we can really do is influence the investigation. Though in many cases we can’t really do that either – witnesses decide not to give evidence because they are a friend of the accused, or victims (often women in DV cases) are frightened to assist in prosecutions.

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…is all over the airwaves at the moment, in the wake of a serious case review (after which lessons will no doubt be learned, gold standard best practice adopted, and many new and more complex forms introduced).

I’ve just been listening to Sir Peter Fahy squirming on BBC 5 Live as Victoria Derbyshire asked him over and over again how it was that his officers failed to take seriously those complaints which were made.

It’s a very good question, and one I’d be asking were my daughters involved.

Of course, my daughters wouldn’t be involved, because I know where they are and who they are with at all times, as – doubtless – do any parents reading this. That is the point, really. Yes, there were other factors, but young teenage girls cannot be abused (systematically) by anyone if their parents or carers (most of the victims having been in care) know where they are, and who they are with.

But as The Guardian says,

There was a lack of strategies to respond to frequent “runaways”, which allowed them to return to their abusers.

‘Frequent runaways’ is a bit throwaway, isn’t it? I can think of at least one simple ‘strategy’ for stopping kids from ‘frequently’ running away, which is, don’t let them. Unfortunately, for reasons not unconnected to lawyers and other experts, it seems it’s not that easy.

But what is the relevance of this to our books? Well, a number of them have explained frequent runaways and the problems they cause.

In Wasting Police Time, PC David Copperfield defines ‘MISPER Enquiries’ as:

Enquiries into missing persons – usually kids who have run away from care homes or school to play in the amusement arcades and drink cider in the park.

But why don’t the care home staff or teachers bar the door? PC Bloggs (Diary of an On-Call Girl, criminally under-rated) explains why in this story of a missing child:

I AM STILL in custody, waiting for Will to find me, when the radio pipes up once more.

‘Could you attend the Benucci Foundation. Colin Roach has gone missing again.’

The Benucci Foundation is a Care Home, providing twenty-four hour supervision of troubled under-16s, and the name of Colin Roach is more familiar to me than my own. He goes for a jaunt two or three times a week, and the staff at the home do little to prevent it.

One of the rules of the twenty–four hour supervision is that it is the police’s responsibility to keep track of the youngsters who live under it. Thus, when a Missing Person is reported, a police officer will be dispatched to the relevant home, where a five-page description and Risk Assessment will be completed. This is actually the most crucial part of the whole process, as without knowing whether the Person is classified as High, Medium or Low Risk we are unable to determine which rank of officer will be fired if they are found dead.

Luckily, we are proficient at finding them alive. Not only do we have the ability to telephone their family members and ask if they’ve seen them, but we’re also good at driving to their favourite haunts or texting them on their mobiles to ask them where they are.

These skills take many years to master and should not be attempted by civilians.

Most Missing Persons are regulars. They are usually in care or foster homes, and have poor criminal or behavioural records. They are between 13 and 16, they drink, smoke and do drugs, and they ain’t scared of no Feds.

All of these factors mean that their carer is under a legal responsibility to inform the police when the Person goes Missing, even if Missing just happens to be going down the shop for a Mars bar. No matter: the police delight in spending hours on pointless tasks, so we are more than happy to cruise the streets of Blandmore searching for these youngsters, and, when we find them, it’s always a joy to spend half an hour trying to persuade them to go home without any actual power to make them do so.

Colin is 13 and I have located him three times already this year. On each occasion I found him in the same place: back at the Foundation sitting in front of the television.

This time, we are shown in by Carlita, one of the live-in carers. She makes me a cup of tea and apologises for having to call us out.

‘So,’ I say. ‘Why did he go this time?’

‘He went for some fags. We usually let him have one after doing his homework, but he wanted one now. So he just left.’

I look at the front door, a sturdy-looking PVC thing with two bolts. ‘How did he get out?’

‘He opened the door.’

‘Did anyone try to stop him?’

‘We aren’t allowed to do that!’ She looks horrified at the suggestion. ‘If they become violent, we retreat.’

‘But couldn’t you just lock the door?’

‘We don’t lock them in,’ she says. ‘That might make them violent.’

Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the Foundation. I ask for a recap. ‘Why are kids here again?’

‘High risk offenders. Most of them have committed rapes or sexual assaults on younger kids. Colin raped a younger boy last year.’

‘And they aren’t in prison because… ?’

‘Well, most of them were also abused as kids,’ Carlita explains. ‘They’re not even sixteen, so it wouldn’t be fair to just chuck them in jail and throw away the key. They’re mixed-up kids.’

‘So let me get this straight: you have a house full of boys who have been victims of sexual assault, living in a house with boys who have committed sexual assaults?’

‘Well, they aren’t allowed in each others’ rooms.’

Colin is under a Supervision Order from the court and Carlita shows me the Order. It lays down in no uncertain terms that Colin is to stay indoors at the Benucci Foundation all day, except when escorted to school and back by staff or taken on outings authorised by staff. He is to abide by the rules of the house and is not allowed to be rude or threatening or to assault anyone.

‘So he breaks this Order every time he goes storming out?’ I ask.

She nods. ‘If he does it again he’ll be put in a high security home.’

Will takes out the paperwork. ‘He’s done it… let’s see… 30 times in the last three months.’

Sadly, this is no exaggeration. Colin and others like him really exist, as do their records of going ‘missing’.

She shrugs. ‘Well, like I say. One of these days he’ll be put in high security.’

While the sergeant is there, I trick him into signing his name on my Missing Person paperwork; that means it is now he who will be fired if Colin Roach is not found. Even as he realises what he has done, the radio controller interrupts us to inform me that Colin is now back at the Foundation and could I please go and lay eyes on him so the incident log can be closed.

Inspector Gadget (Perverting the Course of Justice) has the issue in his area, too:

CHARLIE is 14 years old, he lives in a care home and he’s vanished.

Again.

Charlie is a MISPER.

There are two types of missing persons.

The first type is persons who are actually missing.

They might be stressed husbands who left work four hours ago and haven’t come home. They might be mums with post-natal depression, or old people with Alzheimer’s, or kids who are playing in the park and have just forgotten the time. We don’t get many calls like this, and we take them very seriously indeed.

The second type of MISPER are persons who aren’t really missing at all – like Charlie.

In fact, in our area – as in any area – the vast majority of these cases fall into this category.

Most of them are wayward teenagers who have disappeared from one of the foster/children’s homes on our patch. They’re kids with no obvious future except crime, unemployment and poverty: disturbed, unwanted youngsters from broken homes, born to underclass parents who just drop them and never bother to pick them up again. Usually, mum or dad is in the middle of some drug or alcohol daze, or has a new partner who doesn’t want to know. The result is young boys and girls left to fend for themselves, out in the big wide world at the age of 10 or so. They end up in care, and they abscond very regularly – some of them several times a week – after being told by the staff that they can’t smoke cannabis, or can’t drink, or simply because they want to go and hang around in town with their mates. The staff watch them stroll away (they are not allowed to detain them), and then they call us.

They’re undoubtedly tragic, these kids, and they’d break your heart if you let them.

[E]very time Charlie vanishes, we ramp up an entire system.

How this starts is with a risk assessment.

In theory, this is to decide which of three levels of response we adopt: high, medium or low.

In practice, it’s really about getting some poor bastard’s name on it – usually that of a Duty Inspector like me – so that if and when things get bent out of shape they have someone to stick it to. Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see it.

Let’s go back to the theory. It sounds sensible: if someone is at high risk, let’s have a high level of response.

The problem is, what is ‘high risk’? If it means any kid who goes missing, you can forget it. A high level response requires a helicopter. It needs search dogs, a Gold command (Assistant Chief Constable or above) and incident command posts. It needs large teams of level two-trained officers – the specialists who you see on the TV news, dressed in white overalls carrying out painstaking, fingertip searches. Charlie’s always disappearing and he’s not alone in that: if we act like this for every kid who goes missing in our area every time they do it, I’m going to need eight helicopters a day. I will need hundreds of people. It’s impossible.

As for low risk… well, no-one is ever going to be low risk, are they? I mean, would you put that on a form if you were me?

So what happens is, we end up recording the vast majority of MISPERs as ‘medium’ risk (I think I’m supposed to make that judgment based on an e-learning package I did on the computer once). Hence, the entire, bureaucratic, time-consuming, box-ticking, arse-covering exercise that is the risk assessment is actually a big fat sham.

Medium risk doesn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and don’t do much about it, though. There’s still a whole list of things that have to be done – at least 50 of them, on forms which are about eight pages long.

For instance, you have to:

- Search Charlie’s home and any outbuildings

- Check for any diaries, letters and calendars he might have, seize them and put them in evidence bags

- Question all people in the home.

- Carry out house-to-house enquiries locally and in areas of interest.

- Do an area search of the places that Charlie is known to frequent.

- Alert CCTV.

- Broadcast his disappearance to other officers.

- Get it on to the briefing.

- Put him on the Police National Computer as ‘locate-and-trace’.

- Go to his school – even though it’s long after dark, and he doesn’t go to school most days anyway.

- Visit his last two known addresses.

- Contact his family and friends, and physically go round and check for him there.

The list goes on for quite a while yet – and everything, of course, has to be written down and recorded in triplicate, just in case something bad does happen, so you and your bosses can prove you did all that was humanly possible to prevent it.

So I take two officers off my shift and put them to work on finding Charlie. They trawl the canal towpaths and the children’s playgrounds and the underpasses and all the hidden away places Charlie likes to meet up with his mates and they eventually find him, mildly pissed, lying in a rosebed next to the bandstand in the park.

By that stage, he’s quite happy to get a lift back to the home. They drop him off, knowing they’ll be out looking for him again within the next three or four days.

I could give you many, many examples. Mandy is another 14-year-old who also lives in a care home in one of our towns. She has an ‘Acceptable Behaviour Contract’ with the home: if she generally does as she’s told, once a week she’s allowed out to go and buy cigarettes. Yes, I know this is illegal but they have to work with what they’ve got; if they just say No to her, what’s going to happen? What sanctions do they have?

(One day, undoubtedly, Mandy will find a no-win-no-fee lawyer who will sue the local authority on her behalf for allowing her to smoke.)

She’s supposed to go to the local shop, or to her mother, or to whoever it is that provides her with the fags, and then come straight back. She gets half an hour for this, and every single time she doesn’t come back. Instead, she goes into town, nicks a load of make-up from Dorothy Perkins, swipes some vodka from the offie and spends the afternoon getting smashed with a load of older kids. All our medium risk responses grind into action and we get officers out looking for her. Sometimes we find her, other times she comes back of her own accord. Depending on how she’s feeling, it might be that night, but more often it’ll be a day or two later. The following week, we’ll go through the same thing all over again. And the week after that, ad nauseam, until they’re no longer juveniles.

As a normal person, unfamiliar with the way these things work, you are probably thinking that this all sounds a bit mad.

If she keeps going missing, why don’t the care home staff just ban her from going out in the first place? (Because she’ll ignore them and go anyway.)

Why don’t they lock the doors? (They aren’t allowed to.)

Why don’t they grab hold of her? (They don’t want to get done for assault.)

And Mandy and Charlie are but two of many. At any one time, I will have half a dozen of these cases on the go.

In other news, our office cat Harry had to be put down this week. He would usually be sitting on my desk looking disdainfully at me as I batter yet more nonsense into my keyboard; 16 years we’ve had him (and his brother Percy, until he died a couple of years back). It’s a terribly sad thing.

Harry

Still, the office dog is sleeping easier:

molly.jpg

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In another shock, horror revelation, the Public Administration Committee was told yesterday that the cops sometimes fiddle the figures when recording crime.

A witness told the MPs that

“cuffing” crimes could involve officers deciding they did not believe complainants, recording multiple incidents in the same area as a single crime or recording thefts as “lost property”, burglaries as “theft from property” and attempted burglaries as “criminal damage”.

Hmm. Where have we heard this sort of thing before?

So how widespread is this, and why do they do it?

Today, Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon told an ACPO conference that ‘he had spoken to officers from many police forces who said senior officers were applying pressure on them to reduce the crime figures.’ They are

‘inadvertently… still putting pressure on officers to do all they can to manipulate and create crime reductions.  I don’t think they do it because they are inherently corrupt but because pressure is put down to reduce it. It is whether we have the nerve to step away from crime reduction and obsession with crime figures, and whether we can move to a real environment where we do properly record.

But why are these ‘senior officers’ putting this pressure on?

Probably hundreds of run of the mill bobbies have moaned to me about this since we published Wasting Police Time, Perverting the Course of Justice and the rest. They would probably answer the above question with three of their own:

1. Do senior officers get bonuses if the figures look good?

2. Do politicians get re-elected at least partly on the back of boasts and lies about crime?

3. What is a PDR?

Of course, it’s not just that sometimes a shed break-in gets recorded as damage by badgers, there’s also pressure to criminalise effectively innocent people – if you can create a ‘crime’ that you know you can ‘solve’, that’s so much better than recording actual crimes you know you probably can’t. Here’s probably my favourite piece from Inspector Gadget’s book:

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 that his ex’s nasty text message 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.

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 on her mobile from the street outside, 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 hot spot 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’ (or 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.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee with a handful of crisps.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections. Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

– A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

– A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

– A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

– Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

– A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

– A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares? And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months. What are these £1 thefts? Well, this might explain some of them: If your credit card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice? Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? In the case of the police, the answer is the PSD (professional standards departments – though names vary from force to force).

These are the watchmen who watch the watchmen (though I understand there is an ongoing debate within the ranks of the thin blue line as to who watches the watchmen who watch the watchmen. From talking to a lot of police officers over recent years, it seems that, in many cases, they have some very interesting issues of their own. But that’s for another day.)

A number of people have contacted us – including members of the media – to ask whether Gadget has been busted by his* own side.

As I said yesterday, the answer is no.

It will disappoint certain people, who simply cannot stand the fact that Gadget had a voice listened to across the world, while their own was ignored even in their own street. To choose a subset entirely at random, monomaniacal lunatics from Huddersfield, say.

But the fact is, Gadget has quit entirely on his* own terms, at a time of his* own choosing. After seven years, enough is enough. Let someone else have a go.

So: to the concerned, I say: don’t worry about him* and if you haven’t read the book, here’s a free extract, and here’s a link (and, at the bottom, given today is booze day on the BBC, is another segment from the book).

To Melvin T Rumpelstiltskin, I say: keep on stamping those little feet!

*Or her

24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE

WE HEAR a lot about ‘booze Britain’ these days, but it’s not the booze which is the problem, it’s the people.

Most of us like a drink now and then. As a younger man, particularly when I was in the Army, I had a few beers and rolled back home drunk more than once, but I never smashed all the car mirrors off in the streets on the way back, or attacked anyone with a baseball bat, or told the police to fuck off. I still enjoy a pint from time to time, but I don’t get absolutely slaughtered and I don’t go out and smack people in the face and puke all over the pavement. I don’t drink-drive and I don’t beat up my wife or kids or neighbours. I don’t smash shop windows, or urinate in doorways, or use foul language at the top of my voice.

I’m nothing special: there are millions of people who don’t do any of these things, and you’re probably among them.

The problem is, there are also quite a lot of Britons who don’t feel like they’ve had a decent night out until they’ve ticked several of the above boxes, and had a kebab/KFC.

Of course, their behaviour is often appalling when they’re sober, but it’s far worse when they’re drunk, as whatever inhibitions or social polish they might have had are swept away on a tide of Stella Artois and blue, vodka-based pop.

There are people who say that it was ever thus, and point to Hogarth’s Gin Lane and the back streets of our port cities where sailors would get tanked up and fighting drunk after months at sea. But this new phenomenon is happening on our High Streets, at least three or four nights a week.

The protagonists are often young, and they have a lot of disposable income: they can’t afford to buy houses anymore so they all live with their parents way beyond when they used to. With no responsibilities, and with discount drink far cheaper than it ever was, why not go out and get hammered every night?

Into this poisonous cocktail the Government recently threw another ingredient – 24 hour licensing.

Not many places are open 24 hours, it’s true, but lots are now open much later than they were. I don’t care what the figures say, this has caused us huge problems.

When the nightclubs used to shut at the same time, we could gear everything to that point. We would have a flurry of issues – the town centre fights, the robbing or bilking of taxi drivers, the drink-driving accidents, the people falling over and smacking their heads on the concrete etc – but at about 2.30am it would all start to die off.

Now it carries on all the way through to 6am. Ask any front line cop, and they’ll tell you: broad daylight on a Sunday morning, getting towards the end of the shift, and they are still going to fights in the High Street. What’s going on?

The Government calls it the ‘Night Time Economy’ (NTE). This Orwellian phrase refers to those bars, clubs and other such venues operating at night in town centres. It is a nightmare of vomit, urine, chips and police officers being punched in the face, but that doesn’t square with the official vision of longer licensing and the NTE – where everyone meets up in cafés to share polenta and vine-ripened tomatoes, sips their five units of alcohol and chats about the issues of the day.

Again, I may have missed it but I don’t think any minister has gone on telly and admitted that the NTE licensing experiment has been a disaster. They don’t like to admit they’re wrong about much, do they? Instead, the pressure is on the police to find ways to deal with NTE crime and anti-social behaviour.

Launching an advertising campaign recently, Jacqui Smith [the then Home Secretary] said, ‘I am not prepared to tolerate alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder on our streets and this new campaign will challenge people to think twice about the serious consequences of losing control. It reinforces Government action already underway to deal with excessive drinking, including tougher sanctions for licensees who sell to young people, new powers for the police to disperse disruptive drinkers and better education and information for everyone.’

The Government’s input, then, is an advert, some ‘better education and information’ and the wildly misguided hope that the lunatics we arrest each weekend will somehow start to ‘think twice about the serious consequences of losing control’.

As for actually sorting it out, that’s down to us. Luckily, they are legislating to give us ‘new powers’.

The problem with politicians these days is that very few of them have actually ever done anything in the real world. They go from university, to jobs as MPs’ research assistants, to themselves becoming MPs and then Ministers. Being law-abiding types themselves (save for the odd run-in with cannabis), they actually believe that a ton of extra verbage on the statute books is all it takes.

If only it were that simple.

The Government says irresponsible landlords who serve drunk people should be prosecuted, and that we should also identify the bar staff who served these idiots their booze. Which sounds great when you announce it at the despatch box in the House of Commons, or on Richard and Judy’s sofa, or in an exclusive interview with some newspaper political editor. It’s not so easy at midnight in our towns, when the streets are full of paralytically drunk yobs who are kicking off, smashing windows and fighting with us.

We don’t have the time or the personnel to start checking CCTV to find out where they just came out of. Even if we did, and we went to speak to the manager of the venue, what’s he going to say? He’s going to say, no, we didn’t serve them, they came in pissed so we kicked them back out. So we spend however many hours reviewing the tapes to find all the previous venues they went to, and the managers there say, no, we didn’t serve them either, they were pissed when they came in here, too.

OK, so we grill the bar staff instead. We push our way into a club we think a given bozo has come from. There are 300 people in there, the ‘music’ is at about 140 decibels, the five barmaids are all Polish and hardly speak a word of English. Shouting to be heard, we’re trying to ask them if they served a man in a striped shirt with tattooed forearms and a gold earring, in a club containing about 200 men in striped shirts with tattooed forearms and gold earrings. Back on the street, meanwhile, a whole different group of drunks is now kicking the living shit out of my officers.

This is the stuff of fantasy. It is ludicrous. It is dreamed up by people sitting in air conditioned rooms whose experience of modern drinking, I can only think, must be limited to nights out in country inns in the Cotswolds or metropolitan bars in London. In a trendy pub in Islington, there might be three dozen people sitting listening to jazz all night and if one of them later goes mad outside the 24 hour Tesco possibly you can pin something on the people who served him his last quart of pinot grigio. But these are not the places from which the trouble emanates.

The police can shut problem pubs, says the Government. Yep, we can. But it’s not quite as easy as it sounds when you say it to Andrew Marr and he’s nodding in agreement. I have shut a pub down. Once. But it was a really difficult thing to do, it took days of police time and it wasn’t easy to get it through at court. The licensees don’t just roll over, they put up a vigorous defence because it’s their livelihood you’re taking away. Plus, all it does is displace the problem. People don’t stop drinking and brawling just because their favourite bar has closed, after all.

I don’t know the full answer to the problem. I suspect no-one does. It probably involves all sorts of things, from improving attitudes to civility and behaviour from a very young age, to changing our drinking culture, to making booze harder and more expensive to buy (though this would penalise non-problem drinkers), to tougher enforcement of the basic laws against public drunkenness and violence.

This latter element of a wider solution is the one thing the police actually could do something about – after all, Ms Smith says that she has given us new powers to ‘disperse disruptive drinkers’. But this is another one straight from the la-la land school of public order: ‘Excuse me sir, can you put that bottle down and stop trying to blind that other man? We have new powers to disperse you, you see.’

Disperse them with who, Jacqui?

I know the Home Secretary says we have more police than ever, but how many of them are working Response? I know, too, that we have PCSOs now, and that they look a bit like police, but very few of them work beyond 9pm because it’s too dangerous (it’s not too dangerous for the public, note, but it is too dangerous for PCSOs, despite their stab vests and their radios). In the first few months of 24 hour licensing, we were given enormous amounts of centrally-funded extra money to put more bodies on the street – the overtime was great for the Sergeants and PCs. As a result, everywhere you turned there were police. Once that dried up, we were back to normal – and we really don’t have the numbers to do much more than control things to a just-about acceptable level.

So, what if we could do something to the figures, to make it look like things are better? If it’s not within our gift to stop the nations’ youth getting drunk and fighting, and it’s not, the only place left for us to go to, to get the reductions we need, is our bureaucrats.

If we arrest lots of people for relatively minor things, so we get lots of ‘detections’, we at least have some ammunition to use in our defence when people start squealing about NTE crime. Or if police statisticians start to look at definitions of crime, maybe we can shift things that would have been counted into areas that wouldn’t be?

For instance, someone is being aggressive and drunk in the street. We have two options. We can arrest him for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ or for one of the offences under the Public Order Act 1986 – sections 3, 4 and 5 of which are more commonly known as ‘Affray’, ‘Threatening Behaviour’ and ‘Disorderly Conduct’.

What’s the difference? The difference is that ‘drunk and disorderly’ is not a recordable crime. You are found in that state by a police officer, arrested and bound over to keep the peace at court the next day (or, more often, given a Penalty Notice for Disorder and sent on your way). It doesn’t show up on our figures. S5 POA is recordable, and does.

There is widespread anecdotal evidence of PCs being put under pressure to arrest for drunk and disorderly. Even if they arrest for S5 POA, it can later be changed to d&d – this is perfectly legitimate, no-one is doing anything technically wrong or illegal, but it does have the added benefit of making the NTE figures look a lot better than they actually are, doesn’t it?

I don’t even really blame senior officers if they are creating this pressure: the Government has said it wants to see reductions, so we have to provide them.

Whether it actually makes things better… well, who in authority really cares? As long as they aren’t getting stabbed in the kebab house, or having their car walked over at 3am, or being woken up by people fighting in their front garden – and they aren’t – then is there really a problem?

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The fall in crime in England and Wales ‘may be exaggerated’, says the BBC.

What? Crime figures being manipulated to meet targets set by the idiots in government?

Who knew?

PC David Copperfield in Wasting Police Time:

The country seems to be divided between those who think that things are getting worse, and those who think that things are getting better and that it’s all in our heads.

The latter includes most politicians, the liberal left, and ACPO. Many of these people earn quite impressive salaries and can afford to live in areas where crime is, for the time being, relatively low. This may explain their optimism.

The former includes: everyone else, many of whom live in areas where crime happens, and are people to whom crime happens.

The UK population has risen steadily over the last century or so, from 38 million in 1901 to around 60 million today (note, it hasn’t doubled).

In the same period, the total number of police officers employed by the State has risen from around 40,000 to close to 130,000 now (ie it has more than trebled).

What about crime? Well, the number of indictable offences known to the police in 1900 was 2.4 for every 1,000 of the population. In 1997, the figure was 89.1. I’d put my house on the fact that it’s gone up since then.

I suppose some cynics might interpret these figures as to show that the police are actually causing crime. I wouldn’t go that far. But I do wonder this: where are all these new police officers and what are they doing?

Inspector Gadget in Perverting the Course of Justice:

I don’t trust official crime figures… I know the Home Secretary says we have more police than ever, but how many of them are working Response? I know, too, that we have PCSOs now, and that they look a bit like police, but very few of them work beyond 9pm because it’s too dangerous (it’s not too dangerous for the public, note, but it is too dangerous for PCSOs, despite their stab vests and their radios). In the first few months of 24 hour licensing, we were given enormous amounts of centrally-funded extra money to put more bodies on the street – the overtime was great for the Sergeants and PCs. As a result, everywhere you turned there were police. Once that dried up, we were back to normal – and we really don’t have the numbers to do much more than control things to a just-about acceptable level.

So, what if we could do something to the figures, to make it look like things are better? If it’s not within our gift to stop the nations’ youth getting drunk and fighting, and it’s not, the only place left for us to go to, to get the reductions we need, is our bureaucrats.

If we arrest lots of people for relatively minor things, so we get lots of ‘detections’, we at least have some ammunition to use in our defence when people start squealing about NTE [‘night time economy’] crime. Or if police statisticians start to look at definitions of crime, maybe we can shift things that would have been counted into areas that wouldn’t be?

For instance, someone is being aggressive and drunk in the street. We have two options. We can arrest him for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ or for one of the offences under the Public Order Act 1986 – sections 3, 4 and 5 of which are more commonly known as ‘Affray’, ‘Threatening Behaviour’ and ‘Disorderly Conduct’.

What’s the difference? The difference is that ‘drunk and disorderly’ is not a recordable crime. You are found in that state by a police officer, arrested and bound over to keep the peace at court the next day (or, more often, given a Penalty Notice for Disorder and sent on your way). It doesn’t show up on our figures. S5 POA is recordable, and does.

There is widespread anecdotal evidence of PCs being put under pressure to arrest for drunk and disorderly. Even if they arrest for S5 POA, it can later be changed to d&d – this is perfectly legitimate, no-one is doing anything technically wrong or illegal, but it does have the added benefit of making the NTE figures look a lot better than they actually are, doesn’t it?

PC Bloggs in Diary of an On-Call Girl:

(M)y mobile rings. It is the Scrutineer Herself.

‘Hello, PC Bloggs? About this racist incident?’

‘Yes?’

‘We can’t just reclassify it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, how do you know it wasn’t racist?’

‘The victim doesn’t think it was.’

‘Well, how does she know it wasn’t?’

She’s got me there. I mean, just because Mrs Patel doesn’t think it was racist doesn’t mean it wasn’t, I suppose. But I recover like lightning. ‘Um… well, how do you know it was?’

There’s a momentary silence, and it sounds like an irritated one. Then she replies. ‘I will change it to a criminal damage, but unless you can provide verifiable evidence that it was not racist, the classification will have to stand.’

Will is now watching me with his head on one side, looking thoroughly amused. That’s the problem with more experienced officers: they treat all this Crime Managing stuff as a joke and just go along with what the Scrutineer wants.

I swivel my chair to face away from him and refuse to succumb. ‘Verifiable evidence that it was not racist? Like what?’

‘Perhaps if we knew the motives of the offender?’ She says this as though she is talking to a small child, or an idiot.

‘Perhaps if we knew who the offender was,’ I say, ‘I could arrest him or her and find out. Do you know who the offender was?’

‘Now, now, PC Bloggs, I know it seems pernickety, but we have to abide by ethical crime recording rules.’

‘But if it’s racist, I have to do a report to the Hate Crime Unit. I can’t do that because the victim doesn’t think it’s racist. So the report will just say that it isn’t racist, in which case why am I sending it to them?’

‘Well, I’m afraid that’s just the way it is.’

‘But…’ I am starting to doubt my sanity. ‘How did it become a racist incident in the first place? The victim doesn’t think it is, for goodness’ sake.’

‘If someone perceives it to be racist, then it is.’

‘It looks like the only person who perceives it to be racist is the Crime Centre.’

‘Well, that is ‘someone’.’

‘Look, this is just some kids chucking stuff at a door. It’s antisocial, it’s annoying and I’d love to arrest the little blighters if I knew who they were, but it isn’t racist.’

‘That’s your view.’

‘Fine… can we just file it then?’

‘Not without the report to the Hate Crime Unit. It won’t get through Crime Compliance.’

‘Fine, I’ll do the report.’ The call ends.

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In yesterday’s Observer, Nick Herbert, the former police minister, wrote at some length about what he said was the public’s loss of faith in the police. He said this had been caused by the fact that some detectives in Kent are being investigated for a scam involving TICs, and because of Hillsborough and ‘Plebgate’.

Leave aside the question of what on earth an MP of all people thinks he is doing lecturing people about a loss of faith; and the fact that the TIC scam is as old as the hills, and is partly in response to the government’s own insane target culture; and that Hillsborough happened in 1989 (90% of the cops in the country on that day having long since retired).

Andrew Mitchell resigned of his own volition after swearing at the police, and good riddance to the foul-mouthed yob. Arguably, the real scandal is that Mitchell was not arrested; if I were a youth who had been nicked for swearing at the police outside The Jolly Friar Chippy last night, I might be wondering why it is that pompous Tory MPs get a pass and I don’t.

But my main gripe is with this paragraph:

Anyone who doubts what was behind Mitchell’s downfall need only read the blog of Inspector Gadget. A serving police officer, the self-promoted Gadget (he is not an inspector) says: “The relationship between Conservatives and police officers is not just toxic, it is over.” Feelings about the reform of pay and conditions were so strong “there was bound to be trouble. Plebgate is trouble”.

So, just to recap: I say Inspector Gadget is a serving police inspector, or at least has been (s/he may or may not have been promoted).

Nick Herbert says s/he is not.

Does that mean Nick Herbert is saying that I am a liar?

Given that I publish non-fiction books, it is quite important to me that people believe what I say (outwith the usual disclaimers about names and details being changed to protect the guilty).

Can I sue Nick Herbert for libel? It’s an interesting question, with shades of Tony McNumpty.

Incidentally, I have met Herbert once: I found him to be on the slimy side of charming. It was (from memory) some time in early 2007, when PC David Copperfield was invited to give a talk to Policy Exchange, the Conservative think-tank.

I went along to hold his coat, the Daily Telegraph‘s Philip Johnston acted as MC, and the then opposition MP and shadow police minister Herbert was among the invited guests.

The audience was small but rapt: none of them had ever seen or heard a ground-level PC talking, openly and articulately, about the problems British policing faced (and faces). This was because no serving PC had ever done so. (This was a few months after Wasting Police Time had been published, and Copperfield had not yet outed himself; it took a lot of guts for him to attend, as he would certainly have lost his job if identified.)

Copperfield’s key messages were that, yes, the police sometimes are terrible – being human – but here’s why: too much police time was being taken up in pointless paperwork (he recounted how it could easily take six hours to deal with two teenagers for the theft of a pushbike; no-one was saying theft of a pushbike was not important, but six hours was a bit much); that serious recidivist criminals were not being jailed for the protection of their (usually poor, elderly and otherwise vulnerable) victims; that the target culture introduced by the Blair government was changing police priorities for the worse; that discretion was a thing of the past; and that policing much of modern Britain was a bit like dealing with drunk toddlers.

Herbert sat there and listened, gave an interview to some TV people who had attended, and then left.

Wind forward five years, and the paperwork has got worse, the targets are still there, people are still drunk and entitled, and the government can’t wait to let violent criminals out of jail. But then, thanks to the Plebs at the Gates, Dave and Sam have zero chance of being burgled for the kids’ Christmas presents.

Of course, if you want to read more by Inspector Gadget, you can always buy the book.

On that note, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our reader!

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