Monday, May 22, 2006

How to apply force policy - long

Lately I've been increasingly reflective about my time in the Job. I've been comparing how I saw and did things when I was very new, to those same matters and my approach now. Initially, Force Policy, and only Force Policy, was my guide. Now, however, Force Policy is followed, but only in situations where it applies.

Indeed, an officer's interpretation of a situation is often the deciding factor in a particular course of action, not a prescriptive set of guidelines and procedures written from above by those who are under pressure to meet the latest Home Office counting rules. I think if senior managers (I don't call them officers because they are so far removed from what police officers do that they are constables only in name) found this out, they'd be most upset.

An example of this is the latest 'proactive assault' policy. In a similar vein to domestic violence jobs, on high has divinely decreed that we should be looking to make an arrest wherever possible in incidents in which allegations of assault are made, and that all allegations of assault MUST be fully investigated and prosecuted, even if the victim changes their mind.

If this policy were to be unquestionably applied to every situation, you would never see another police officer on patrol in your lifetime again.
"Where are all the police?"
"Investigating about 10 or 11 slaps and shoves in the street that occurred last Saturday. It'll take 'em weeks, y'know".
"But someone got deceived!"
"Sorry, that's not a key crime right now."

When I first started, I would have been enthusiastically following this rule, turning up to, or coming across jobs where allegations of assault were made (the vast majority being neighbour disputes and public drunks) and happily locking up anyone who was alleged to have assaulted someone, even if this mean locking up both parties due to the inevitable counter-allegations. Indeed I see the younger-in-service brigade do this on a regular basis, wasting endless amounts of their time and taxpayer's money putting together prosecution files for which the parties involved will later be vehemently opposed to, but unable to stop. Can't really blame them, they're just following orders, but there are better ways of going about it.

Common sense and disrection would dictate a different approach than just blindly interpreting the letter of the policy and arresting because it says we have to. Common sense and discretion are no longer conducive to modern policing. They are are phased out in training school, to be slowly regained with experience.

First, we see if the policy even applies. Is anyone even making any allegations or has an assault taken place? If there's no allegations and no evidence of assault, all is well.

Next, if there are allegations, is there anything in it? Force policy would say "Doesn't matter, arrest anyway". But if you arrest for assault just on the say-so of one party and nothing else, you're flying in the face of basic police work!
Take the Jeremy Paxman approach, think "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?".
It's well-known that in cases of assault, those involved are rarely innocent or predisposed towards telling the whole truth. Instead, you'll get an account which puts them in the best possible light, whilst putting anyone else in the worst, regardless of what actually happened. It's human nature and there's nothing anyone can do about it. So, with this mindset, look for holes in the story of the victim and physical evidence to support what they are saying. If the story seems to hold up and is consistent, you've probably got as much truth out of them as you can before taking a formal statement. Then speak to the alleged offender.

It's difficult to shake the prejudice one has when speaking to someone who is alleged to have committed a crime, because we are conditioned to oppose those who commit crime. Thus the person making an allegation has an automatic psychological advantage insofar as they are the one with whom we should initially sympathise, having being wronged by exactly the type of person we are obligated to protect against and prosecute. Some people know this and exploit it by making allegations after they've been slapped by someone they've badly provoked. It's vital, therefore, to be impartial and let you own emotions get in the way of a judgement. It doesn't affect you personally, so don't you personally get involved. Often, on speaking to both parties and (eventually) obtaining consistent stories, it's often the case that the roles of victim and offender are reversed from those of the initial reports.

If we have allegations, have we evidence? If someone's alleged to have been punched in the face by a 6"4' male built like a professional wrestler, are they really likely to be stood up, talking to you normally, without even a wince of pain or reddening of the face? Force policy would say "Arrest anyway". Unless one happens to be on their way back home from an abbatoir in full work gear. blood or bleeding from or on anyone is usually a good indicator. Someone on the floor out cold or having difficulty moving can also be a telltale sign. This one should be obvious really. If there's no good evidence whatsoever to match up with any allegations, then it's a safe bet that your prosecution won't get very far, nor will the victim be bothered enough, due to lack of significant injuries, to inconvenience themselves significantly over the coming months by giving statements, doing IDs, testifying etc.

Next, if we have allegations and evidence, is there present a desire to prosecute and a willingness to proceed? Force policy would say "Doesn't matter, arrest anyway". Never EVER ask "Do you want to press charges?". This will inevitably lead to an initial "yes", fuelled by the collective blood pressure of the situation, the alcohol or the loss of face (pun not intended) and bruised ego that an assault inflict on people. These are often more injurious to the victim than the physical injuries, and to regain their perceived sense of status, they will take advantage of this well-intentioned question, only to regret it later. NEVER assume that people want to press charges either. What can often be a serious assault will sometimes be accompanied with an abject refusal to co-operate or comply with the police. If you arrest the offender and try to take the victim through the investigation procedure, they will be un-cooperative and CPS will give you a dirty look as they decide not to prosecute the offence, wondering why you bothered to bring it to their attention in the first place when the victim won't even give a statement. By all means arrest the offender for a serious offence and place them in a secure vehicle at the scene, but ascertain from the victim first whether or not they want to proceed. This leads on to the next paragraph.

If we have evidence, allegations and willingness to proceed with prosecuting the assault, you MUST explain the assault policy to them. This is where many probationers fail, as they just apply the policy without explaining it to the victim. Hell, with the Victim's Charter now law, this is merely an extension and interpretation of the obligation to inform about what you are doing and what you will do. So explain to the victim, on the scene, then and there (if you're able to of course, if they need to goto hospital don't keep them there) that, if they decide to prosecute, they cannot change their mind later on. They can't, a few weeks down the line, decide it's not worth it and request to retract their allegations. They will have to give a detailed statement; have photographs of their injuries taken; be called in to identify the suspects and eventually testify at court. If they don't want to attend, they'll be sumonsed, and the consequences for not attending then really aren't good. Emphasise that it's an initiation of a serious set of events, and not something to be taken lightly whilst nursing injured pride. Don't say "I think you should press charges" or "Mate, just leave it". That's not your call to make. But if you fully explain the procedure, including what will be required on their part, and that it is a road down which they cannot return. If they want time to think about it, you'll have their details, and the offenders (which you have, of course, verified through PNC, local and voter's roll checks), so if they call back the next day and want to proceed then at least it'll be an informed decision. More often than not, in light of this information and their responsibilities therein, they'll decide it's not worth it. You've saved their time, your time and taxpayer's money just by taking the time out to explain something.

The best part of this approach is that you can't be accused of "cuffing" jobs either. In a slightly longer amount of time it takes to cuff a job, you've systematically assessed whether or not there are any substantial allegations, whether or not a crime has even been committed, and if so, whether or not the victim wants to proceed. A couple of sentences in the pocket note book (signed by the victim if need be) and you're got your arse covered so well that not even a crime evaluator could come back at you alleging you've breached force policy by not arresting someone at that job.

Discretion and common sense are being continually eroded, but the pervasive police mentality of "let's find the best way of interpreting and applying this" for any new piece of procedure, bureaucracy or law means that this potentially onerous policy only applies in genuine situations. Thank God for creative thinking. They'll probably issue a force policy against it soon.

(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.
Hi, your post is spot on. I think I must have the same level of service as you and deal with jobs in the way that you describe. I am currently tutoring and it is hard to get this accross to new probationers (I will not call them student officers!).

However, once a log has been created (after the helpful call staff has asked) stating injuries have occured, we must produce a crime report. There would be hell to pay if we did a skeleton crime report with no MG11. Even if you have all the evidence and m,ade the right decision it takes a brave (or cocky) officer to stand up to the DVU officer or sgt.

That being said im printing this off and giving it to my probationer as a learning tool.

Have you ever thought about going into police training?

PC Midlands
its the same all over i did argue a number of times to wonderful senior managers THAT DONT GO TO THESE JOBS but they state that these are the orders,i rised the point of unlawful arrests in certain circumstances only to be told not to worry,i wonder will they be there if any officer is sued a number of years down the line and he can state i was only obeying orders, the ss tried that in 45 it didnt work
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