Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The state we're in (a long one, but bear with us)

It's no surprise when you read stories like this that members of the public have, are and are continuing to lose faith in the police to look after them.

This is not helped by some forces taking the attitude that 'crime prevention is not our job', and that this area should be the sole responsibility of citizens; businesses; intiatives like Neighbourhood Watch and the trillion-and-one initiatives/partnerships that are set up.

Such an approach not only baffles the public, but would have Sir Robert Peel turning in his grave. After all, his first principle of the 9 Principles is that "The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder."

Unfortuantely, that the prevention of crime is now a low priority is not entirely the fault of the police. It's thanks to the government, and the press in their endless demand for crime figures to make headlines from. I'll elaborate shortly.

Instead of an organisation focused on preventing crime, the police as an institution is now focused on detecting crime, and specifically, crime that is flavour of the month for that particular force, in some cases to the exclusion or de-escalation of the prevention, investigation and detection of such crimes which are not all the rage at the moment.

Let's go through the above news story to highlight the flaws of today's policing system. This is not aimed at GMP in particular. Stories of this nature occur everday in forces across the country. Some are reported in the press, some are not. This one just happens to be on GMP's patch, and the force can't be blamed for what it did or didn't do. It was just collectively following orders.

Each force has what is known as "key crime areas". This translates to crimes that the force is being hammered for, and which they are keen to get on top of, and prioritise any investigation for. Look at any Force's strategy documents, and if you manage to stay awake, you'll eventually identify what their key crimes are. So, if you are a victim of crime and you report it as one of these key crimes, you can guarantee a good response and that your investigation will jump to the top of the queue. Often these key crimes are national anyway.

Leading on from this, forces, and divisions within forces, have 'detection targets'. This means they need to 'detect' a certain number of each type of crime over a set period. If the target is met, it's raised for the next period, which means that even more crimes of this type must be detected, usually within the same period (i.e a higher workload and more pressure). Because shit rolls downhill, everyone from Chief Constable down is under pressure to ensure that these targets are met. If the targets are met, the force, and by extension, the Home Office, and thus Tony Blair, gets good press as they're seen to be 'doing something' about crime.

The logical conclusion therefore is that crimes which are not measured in this way do not receive priority investigation, whilst those which will accrue towards the detections target will. If you are a victim of a crime which isn't a key crime, therefore, you'll just have to wait your turn. It isn't that your crime is any less serious or deserves any less attention, it just doesn't count towards the various divisional or force targets.

So to relate it to this story, Anti-Social Behaviour, in the form of Youths Causing Annoyance, is not a defined crime in and of itself. It could be defined as harrassment, if the offenders are known to the victim, or public order if the youths are REALLY causing problems ongoing as the police turn up, but generally speaking you can't do a Report of Crime for "Youths Causing Annoyance". Therefore, it's not a priority that police turn out, as they're busy working on existing crimes that count towards the detection target, or going to jobs that are likely to result in such crimes being investigated. Why go to a job which doesn't count towards your personal targets or the divisional targets when you can go to one that will get you a few extra ticks in the box? Those youths will always be around anyway so you can come back another time when you're less busy! Most officers, if they do turn up, will just shoo the youths away, result the job as "groups of youths advised and moved on, no offences" and drive off. And why not, it's not as if there's much more they can do!

Sure there's powers to disperse etc. if the area has such powers granted by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, but such powers take ages to put into effect. More often than not, the officers will arrive on scene of a YCA and, unless specific crimes have been committed, will be powerless to do much else other than ask the youths to go elsewhere. ASBOs are regularly breached and I personally think are not often worth the paper they're written on.

Now, combine this situation with NCRS, and you'll see why the two men in this story resorted to taking the law into their own hands, and why they were the ones who ended up being chewed up and spat out by the Criminal 'Justice' System.

NCRS is the National Crime Recording System, and requires that any reported incident likely to be a crime be 'crimed'. This means a crime report is taken and an investigation opened. The days when an officer could dismiss an allegation as a 'ball of shit' (ie absolutely facetious or without any foundation whatsoever) are long gone, and officers who fail to 'crime' something face disciplinary action and may even be sacked.
I've already had my fingers burnt on this one, when I refused to investigate an allegation of assault by a guy who claimed, after I had arrested him for burglary, that a very slight young lady had hit him in the face, causing bruising. Seeing no injuries or any marks whatsoever, I told him I would not be taking him up on that one and explained why. Some weeks later, I was called in to see C&D.

So, as stated before, with the YCA not being a crime in itself, NCRS doesn't come into play, and no officer is obliged to do much about YCA calls other than attend them if they're able to. Understandably, this makes the police look utterly incapable of doing anything about the problem, and to a certain degree that's true. For some youths there's nothing better some of us would like to do than get a few digs in, especially the cockier, gobbier ones, but losing our jobs just ain't worth it.

The two men in this story, quite rightly exasperated by the ongoing situation, ended up arming themselves to defend themselves and assaulted one of the youths. Now here is where the men fall foul of NCRS. Here they have committed two fully crimeable and investigatable offences - carrying an offensive weapon, and s.47 assault (according to the injuries in the article). I can't see much happening with the 'offensive weapons' crimes, but as soon as that youth reported the assault to police, the police were duty bound by NCRS to crime the assault and investigate it, regardless of the fact that the youth was probably one step removed from pond scum and had it coming to him. With s.47 assault usually being a key crime for most forces, there was probably pressure from above to get the offenders locked up ASAP.

Again, another example from personal experience. A grandmother came to our area from the other side of the country to visit family. Whilst her little grandson is asleep upstairs, youths congregate and throw stones at the windows of the house. Grandma comes outside to ask them to leave. The youths surround her and square up to her. Fearing for her safety, she pushes a couple to try and get back in to the house, causing them to fall over. Some of the youths beat her over the head with pool cues. When I take the statement from her in hospital, it's quite clearly self-defence, and this is backed up by family and several witnesses. She's too scared of reprisals to report assault so wants nothing done about it. Meanwhile, over the radio comes a message that one of the youths has turned up at the police station wanting to report an assault. Strictly speaking, someone should have taken the assault report by the youth and arrested the grandmother. Another officer and I made sure the log was written up so as to unequivocally state the grandmother was fully in fear of her safety, if not her life, and the act was wholly for self-defence. As it happened, no officer was free to listen to the youth's sob story, so diddums went home after the unsuccessful little self-indignant attempt to shaft someone who had the balls to stand up to them.

Getting back to the MEN story, our crap-for-brains youth is now officially a 'victim of crime' and deserving of all resources able to be allocated to its detection. Unlike the youths making hell for the citizens of Ramsbottom, the men who had the balls to try and do something about it (and god forbid DEFEND themselves against the little bastards) have committed crimes which are easily solvable and detectable, with the assault probably counting towards a detection target. So it makes life much easier for police to arrest and process the two men rather than focus on the youths. Result = Good Samaritans and good citizenry acts are dissuaded, the public are disgusted and fed up with the police, youths get the message that they truly are invincible and have the full power of the law to protect them whilst they cause havoc, and those who stand up to them will be punished.

There's nothing worse for job satisfaction and morale than taking a victim statement off a teenage worm, that you know full well makes residents of an area quake in their homes, resulting in you having to arrest and process an innocent member of the public who was just fed up of noone seeming to listen or care about their woes. You know this same 'victim' will abuse you the next time you turn up to yet another call of him and his mates causing trouble, yet you have no choice but to go through the motions and investigate the crime.

Some of the public get shocked by these stories - personally I just sigh and carry on - it's yet another example of the law weighted in favour of the offenders and the obssession with meeting stats and targets affecting the very same people that we as an institution are supposed to protect. As previously mentioned, stories like this are a regular occurrence across 'Great' Britain.

It's not all bad, though, for the detected crimes of 'offensive weapons' and 's.47 assault' will go on the stats sheets as 'detected' crimes, making police look like they're effective at detecting crime, which will improve crime stat trends overall, giving the Home Office good press and will generate positive publicity for New Labour and Tony Blair - 'tough on crime, tough on the victims of crime' - so they'll score a few more votes come election time. Thus, they'll end up with yet another mandate to fix the system so that this story can be repeated up and down the country on a regular basis until we end up with civil war. See, everybody wins!

(c) Bow Street Runner. None of the material contained in this post, or this blog as a whole, may be reproduced without the express and written permission of Bow Street Runner. All rights reserved.
I agree with your points.

I'd like to make the following observation though: the two men in this case were sent to court, and not cautioned. Now, the two most likely reasons for this are:

a) They had previous convictions/caution for assault.
b) They chose not to admit the offence honestly in interview.
c) They chose to show no remorse in interview.

If the case was a): then some blame has to be attached to these men for not learning from previous mistakes.

If the case was b): then again, some blame must be attached to the men for not taking responsibility for their actions. I too understand why they did what they did, but if they decided not to admit it, it also shows that they knew it was incorrect.

If the case was c), and I hope it was, then this is another example of the system failing these men. Of course they aren't going to show remorse - nothing was done to assist them! However, if I could only give a caution to people who truly believed meant it when they said they were sorry, only 1 in ten people currently being cautioned would get one.
A really interesting, insightful post. Thanks.
BSR - how are the "key crimes" identified ? Aren't these made high priorities because they are also blighting people's lives ? You imply that targets to clear these up are being pursued just to satisfy the political masters, am I naive in thinking that the targets have been set as a response to problems that need addressing ?
A former trainee priest? A police worker? If anyone knows vigilantism is wrong, it should be them. But maybe I'm unfair. After all, even law enforcement officers are human, right?
Ninja sticks? Where did they get those? This reads like a premeditated act. No wonder indeed that there is a lack of confidence in the police, if this is how a police worker acts. So, Mr Foster, the ex-future-priest, claims he was only defending himself. Well, maybe, but if it had been a youth claiming he acted in self-defence, would he get the sympathy of the proponents of repression? I doubt it. really are a twat
Good article. Thank you
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