Monday, May 15, 2006

Policing perspectives - Re-offending... far more commonplace than most would like to accept. The Sun today has highlighted two examples, although the contexts are worlds apart. The first concerns a female who was raped by an offender on bail awaiting trial. I should be surprised this guy got bail in the first place if he was awaiting trial for two sex crimes - I normally make a pretty strong case for remanding them, based on the grounds of public safety and the likelihood of the offender disappearing or reoffending. That said, I've seen a Custody Sergeant bail an offender for breach of bail before (I'm not kidding, though I wish I was), so anything is possible these days. We haven't got the cell space to remand everyone who's potentially dangerous anyway, so we have to prioritise the most pressing cases for remand. Still doesn't stop me from requesting remand for people I think that need it, or stipulating very strict bail conditions if remand isn't granted.

The second , also covered by the Telegraph refers to Home Office figures that a large number of offenders on probation re-offend. Bystander posts a good explanation as to why we should not be demanding the heads of members of the National Offender Management Service.

Re-offending on probation should hardly be surprising if you think about it. Offenders, who have wound up in prison through the commission of crime (usually to fund drug habits) will, upon release or probation, find themselves jobless and unemployable; usually penniless and staying in a probation hostel. So they do what comes naturally to them - they commit crimes to acquire money, then score hits with that money, usually with better skills and know-how than before they were incarcerated.
They know no other way of getting by, and often most other avenues are closed to them. The cycle continues until they either wind up dead or go back inside. It happens in many countries across the world, and no amount of resourcing or funding is going to stop this pattern of behaviour.

Some decide that they don't like staying in a hostel and 'disappear', usually living on the streets or in drop-in centres and hostels under false names. A lot of homeless people I encounter are recently-released cons. One guy turned up to our station and requested he be sent back inside. We told him we couldn't just send him back in on a whim, but maybe if he committed a crime, then we'd be talking. He threatened to kill a fellow hostel resident if we didn't send him back in. We said that wouldn't cut it, so in our presence, he kicked the door of the station hard enough to be arrested for criminal damage, thus breaching his probation and going back inside, which is exactly what he wanted. If only all criminals were so considerate. The door needed replacing anyway.

Conversations with some people I stop on the street can go like this:

"What are you doing around here?"
"Just enjoying the sunshine"
"I'll rephrase the question. What are you doing, really?"
"Just got out [of prison] so finding somewhere to stay/sleep"
"Bullshit. You're grafting. What were you inside for? No wait, let me guess, we're in a car park, so you were inside for stealing cars or nicking gear from them. What do you think of the new TomTom? Will I be surprised if I find one in that grubby bag you're carrying, along with a crowbar and screwdriver?"

Sadly, being naive and optimistic in thinking that released criminals are reformed characters is a waste of mental energy. I usually assume that, as soon as they're out, they're grafting again. After all, they're busy people - places to case; things to steal; people to rob; habits to feed. I'm usually right.

Eventually, after obtaining their details and performing the usual identity checks on them, during which they point blank refuse to accept a Stop & Account form, they're advised that they'll be the first people I'll come looking for if a crime is committed that matches their MO (Modus Operandi) or previous convictions. It's usually a matter of days before their MO starts ending up on crime reports. In other cases, they'll commit crimes which aren't even reported or which we aren't able to solve due to lack of leads (witnesses, CCTVs, decent victim descriptions of the offender etc). Sadly we can't arrest people on the grounds of a matching MO.

Sometimes, offenders do us all a favour. We were called out to a body found in a water feature. A man, with a long string of previous, robbed an elderly couple by a water feature, during which the bag of money, which was the source of the robber's efforts, ended up in the water. Everyone ran away from the scene, and an independent witness later saw the self-same robber swimming around, probably trying to recover the bag and its money. Nobody was surprised, then, when the body that was dredged up matched the description of the offender. An Olympic swimmer he was clearly not. No tears were shed, and the death saved countless hours of investigation time. These are "public service deaths", because it's one less blight on society, and we can usually put a number of unsolved crimes with the same MO, or which were committed in that area, to them.

So, if you are shocked at the figures quoted in these stories, just remember that people on probation or release commit far more crimes than those published, we just either aren't aware of them or haven't solved them.

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