Sunday 29 November 2009

The Policing Pledge

I have been hoping for months to be able to write something positive about the police service and at last it seems the time has come. The Policing Pledge was introduced last December and Forces are queuing up to announce they are all signing up to it. Not that we have a choice; the Home Office have imposed it and that means if you don’t do it, black marks from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

There are ten key points in the pledge. If you cannot be bothered to learn English, it has been produced in at least nine different languages for you:
1. Always treat you fairly with dignity and respect ensuring you have fair access to our services at a time that is reasonable and suitable for you.

2. Provide you with information so you know who your dedicated Neighbourhood Policing Team is, where they are based, how to contact them and how to work with them.

3. Ensure your Neighbourhood Policing Team and other police patrols are visible and on your patch at times when they will be most effective and when you tell us you most need them. We will ensure your team are not taken away from neighbourhood business more than is absolutely necessary. They will spend at least 80% of their time visibly working in your neighbourhood, tackling your priorities. Staff turnover will be minimised.
4. Respond to every message directed to your Neighbourhood Policing Team within 24 hours and, where necessary, provide a more detailed response as soon as we can.

5. Aim to answer 999 calls within 10 seconds, deploying to emergencies immediately giving an estimated time of arrival, getting to you safely, and as quickly as possible. In urban areas, we will aim to get to you within 15 minutes and in rural areas within 20 minutes.

6. Answer all non-emergency calls promptly. If attendance is needed, send a patrol giving you an estimated time of arrival, and: - If you are vulnerable or upset aim to be with you within 60 minutes - If you are calling about an issue that we have agreed with your community will be a neighbourhood priority (listed below) and attendance is required, we will aim to be with you within 60 minutes. - Alternatively, if appropriate, we will make an appointment to see you at a time that fits in with your life and within 48 hours.· If agreed that attendance is not necessary we will give you advice, answer your questions and / or put you in touch with someone who can help.

7. Arrange regular public meetings to agree your priorities, at least once a month, giving you a chance to meet your local team with other members of your community. These will include opportunities such as surgeries, street briefings and mobile police station visits which will be arranged to meet local needs and requirements. Your local arrangements can be found below.

8. Provide monthly updates on progress, and on local crime and policing issues. This will include the provision of crime maps, information on specific crimes and what happened to those brought to justice, details of what action we and our partners are taking to make your neighbourhood safer and information on how your force is performing.

9. If you have been a victim of crime agree with you how often you would like to be kept informed of progress in your case and for how long. You have the right to be kept informed at least every month if you wish and for as long as is reasonable.

10. Acknowledge any dissatisfaction with the service you have received within 24 hours of reporting it to us. To help us fully resolve the matter, discuss with you how it will be handled, give you an opportunity to talk in person to someone about your concerns and agree with you what will be done about them and how quickly.

If some of this sounds familiar, it is. Most of it was in customer service charters we produced in the 80’s and 90’s. Did that make any diference then? No, to be honest. Most of it very basic and sensible but my biggest concern is the Pledge is symptomatic of our society at the moment. It is all about rights but silent on responsibilities. In an ideal society we wouldn’t need to remind people of their responsibilities but we are certainly not an ideal society. A small minority of the population soak up all the police resource and the Pledge is just a charter for more of the same. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean:

3. We won’t be in your neighbourhood 80% of the time. We will be in the neighbourhoods of the underclass dealing with their alcoholism issues, domestic arguments, fights over girlfriends, petty squabbles etc. All those problems that the uncivilised and needy have, living in close proximity to one another, which they can now allege is harassment or threatening or abusive behaviour. If you have trouble with rowdy drunks walking down your street at midnight, we might patrol it once in a while, at 3 a.m. when everything else has settled down.

4. In the Utopian police force we have employed some police staff ready to return your call within 24 hours to comply with this and to tell you that your neighbourhood team will call you back when they are next working. At weekends we have neighbourhood police officers sat in the police station returning the calls within 24 hours telling you that your neighbourhood officer will call back when they are next working. So you used to ring your local officer and you would be told when they are next on duty and you can expect a call back then. Now you ring your local officer and get told someone will ring you back within 24 hours. Then you get another call to tell you when your neighbourhood officer is next working and that you can expect a call back then.

7. We are committed to so many clinics, surgeries and street meetings, there is hardly any time left to deal with all the problems that people want us to deal with. Being there and listening to people is an absolute requirement of neighbourhood policing. But if you don’t deal with the problems people raise they will lose trust and stop bothering to tell you.

I have been involved in Neighbourhood Policing for many years and I am committed to it. I believe that having local officers in communities finding out what the issues are and tackling the problem people and places is the way to make a difference. I want my officers taking on the yobs, drug dealers, violent thugs and car thieves. I want my officers in their faces and banging on their doors and arresting them. Does the Policing Pledge take this forward and help achieve those aims?

We need to break away from being a front line social services department for the needy in society. All the time we make promises to respond to allegations of abusive texts, harassment via Facebook and name calling, we commit, and waste, most of our time to this and don’t have time to tackle the problem people and places that the majority would like us to. We have been in neighbourhoods long enough now. We know what the problems are. If we don’t tackle those problems we will lose the trust of our communities, Policing Pledge or not.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Victims of Crime

" The wall is owned by a property company based in the Bahamas, Sarge. OK if I pay them a visit next week?"

We must be approaching an election. Our Home Secretary, Alan Johnson has announced that he believes all victims of crime should be seen by the police no matter how trivial. I have some sympathy with this view but in practice this is unworkable.

Any crimes that the public would regard as serious deserve a visit and if you have your home broken into or if you are assaulted you will be visited. Many people who have their car broken into will get visited by a Scenes of Crime Officer to see if there are any fingerprints or DNA left by the offender.

What about the chap that rang the Utopian Police Force to report two dust caps stolen from his car wheels? Have they really been stolen or did he leave them at the garage when he checked his tyre pressures? Will a visit achieve any more than the phone call and the 30 minutes we have already spent recording, analysing and filing his crime? At least we have fulfilled our obligations to the Home Office by recording it and ensuring we don't feel the wrath of the National Audit Office for not having done so. What about the scratched car? Was that someone with a key vandalising it or a careless shopper in the car park with a shopping trolley? A visit might help decide. For now it is just recorded over the phone as criminal damage.

If we start visiting all these people we won’t have time to visit real victims of crime. Victims like Tracy who rings us to say that her boyfriends ex, Sharon is threatening to kill her. That certainly deserves a visit. Look she’s sent me a text saying ‘You’re a f**king slag and I’m going to f**king do you.’ After we have visited Tracy and spent hours taking statements etc we visit Sharon. Sharon then shows us the text Tracy sent her. ‘He’s mine now you slut. Just f**k off or I’m going to slice you up you f**king bitch.’ So now Sharon wants to allege that Tracy has threatened to kill her. Tracy gets another visit and after we have spent 6 hours time on their allegations they decide to call it quits rather than both risk ending up in court.

If we didn’t have to visit all these real victims of crime we could visit most of the victims of crime that are currently perceived as too trivial to warrant it. What would you rather we did?

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Police Cautions

I cautioned a 17 year old lad recently. What was slightly unusual was that it was for Grievous Bodily Harm, Threatening Behaviour and resisting arrest. He had been drinking with friends in a park on a Saturday afternoon. They decided to go into town for a burger. In a busy takeaway on a Saturday afternoon he decided he didn’t like someone. There was no reasoning behind it. He started pushing another lad around. Families scattered, lots of threatening abuse and frightened kids. The other lad didn’t want to get involved and just kept asking him to leave him alone. The drunken yob eventually punches the victim in the face knocking him over and he cracks his head on a table leaving him requiring 8 stitches. The offender then runs off but is followed by CCTV and the police turn up and arrest him. He decides he wants to fight and there is a scuffle and he ends up handcuffed.

The police take statements, seize CCTV, seize victims and offenders clothing and cover all the bases to get this lad charged. There is a problem though. He has no previous convictions. CPS decide he must be cautioned. Three times the case is referred back to the CPS but they would not budge.

I do feel sorry for the victims who have said that they feel the police have only carried out cursory investigations before cautioning offenders for theft and assaults. I hope victims understand that we have put up with this position for years. As soon as an offender is booked into custody a check of previous convictions is carried out. If the offender has no convictions, unless the offence is murder, manslaughter or rape, they will almost inevitably be cautioned. It is pointless spending hours and hours building the case. If the offender is making admissions, you can hardly blame us if we caution them and move on to the next case. Is this justice for some of our victims? Of course not. Many first time offenders quite rightly deserve a chance and cautioning them is the right thing to do but for many they should be in Court.

The media has at last picked up the fact that offenders are being cautioned for serious offences and have made a fuss about this. Inevitably we have had strong words from the Government about how things have gone astray but it is going to change. I am afraid nothing will change. Our prisons are too full and the Government don’t want more offenders in Court. I can only tell you that we will carry on arresting offenders and hope that eventually victims will see some justice done.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Drug Legalisation

I was hoping the last post regarding force structures might generate some debate; unfortunately not. So let’s have a look at something more controversial.

It seems to be de rigour at the moment to join the liberal call to legalise drugs. We are led to believe that spending millions of pounds fighting the scourge of unlawful drugs is a waste of money and we are criminalising thousands of people for possession of drugs for no good reason. The pro legalisation lobby claim that this will be more effective as drug dealers will be put out of business on the basis of supply not being required as demand disappears.

What does legalisation of drugs actually mean? Does it mean anyone can go and buy skunk, cocaine or heroin over the counter? Are we going to restrict purchase to the over 18’s like alcohol supposedly is? Or does it just mean we give it to addicts and they can lawfully possess and use it?

This seems to be the biggest problem with the pro lobby. There is no overarching strategy and solution to the problem just disparate suggestions based mainly around the contention that the current strategy does not work. I have looked at some of the suggestions from the pro lobby and I cannot see they provide the answer to the problem.

One suggestion is that the prohibition of alcohol did not work and so why should it for drugs? Alcohol was and is used by the majority of the population; drugs are used by between 3 and 5% generally. There is no comparison. If the majority of the population used drugs the very fabric of our society would fall apart. Who would be going to work, paying taxes etc? Who would pay for the free drugs for all these addicts?

Portugal is hailed as a country that has seen the light and legalised drugs. They have not. Portugal had a serious drug problem, the worst in Europe. They decided that a policy of education combined with feeding arrested users into treatment rather than punishment was the way forward. This is not very different to that which we do here. No one is prosecuted for a first offence of possession of controlled drugs. We have spent a fortune on education and treatment programmes. Offenders going into custody for acquisitive crime are screened and all are offered drug treatment and counselling. Few take up the offer. All Portugal has achieved is a reduction in drug usage to a similar level to the rest of Europe.

Tacit approval of drugs or legalisation in the same way as alcohol delivers totally the wrong message to society. Suggesting it is OK to use drugs and that we will supply you with free drugs until you fancy giving them up can only encourage more users. When are people going to realise that we cannot afford the mess the liberal brigade have already got us into and drug legalisation will only make it worse.

For example, society protocol used to demand that couples saved up to get married, found somewhere to live and then thought about having a family. The welfare state was there to pick up the pieces of those who made mistakes. Now we have a society where people just breed, get houses, never work and that is all OK. It is not PC to criticise as this is their right apparently. This is another story really but the point is that we are now paying out in benefits more than we raise in income tax for the first time in history. We cannot afford any more daft ideas and need to recover some ground already lost. If we start handing out free drugs to addicts we will have to give free drinks to alcoholics and free cigarettes to smokers. And it will have to be Chateauneuf du Pap as I cannot drink anything else and refusal will be a breach of my human rights.

I feel exasperated that some people think that by supplying drugs to addicts we will stop demand and so the drug dealers have no business and disappear. If we give free drugs to addicts the dealers will simply target other young people, mostly young teenagers, to increase the demand. At best, some of them will move on to other crime such as prostitution and people trafficking. At worst there will be a price war while they try and put the Government out of business. We are almost bankrupt so it is a serious possibility. The suggestion that they will disappear is ludicrous.

The laws of our land should reflect the sort of society we want to live in. We don’t want drugs in our society and we should not encourage people to use them. I am fine with users being encouraged into treatment. Dealers should be hunted down, imprisoned for a long time and every penny they own seized. The state should not become just another drug dealer.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

The Brief Return of Hobbes

I've been out of the blogging business since my last post 'Market Research' way back when. My colleague Inspector Lex Ferenda has done a wonderful job taking the blog further and the visitor mark past 20,000. He's doing a better job than I ever did, and he's more handsome too. I'd pretty much said all I wanted to say when I handed over the mantle to Lex. Except, however, for one post that I couldn't quite articulate. There are times when we - the police - get things wrong. Quite a lot of things in fact. Our problem is, if we're the investigative experts, the ones who get paid the big bucks to get things right, who can tell us when we've done otherwise? Below is an admirable example of who can, and a pertinent reminder that behind every victim there is another victim, and another victim, and another....those being the primary victim's family and friends.

If there was one guest post that is worth my coming out of retirement to publish, then it is the one below. I salute John Allore, and I sincerely hope he and his family finally receive the justice - and service from the police - that they deserve.

Us and Them (and fear of the other) *

Police are cold-hearted functionaries; at their worst, dim-witted donut-eaters - punching the clock, but never really solving problems. Crime victims are whiners; bi-polar depressives who through their “advocacy” ultimately serve as a distraction to serious police work.

The story of my sister’s murder, and how the Quebec police bungled the investigation over thirty years ago is well documented. If you want the full story you can find it here on my website. Moreover, the former Vancouver police officer – and now Geographic Profiling professor at Texas State University – Kim Rossmo featured an entire chapter on Theresa Allore’s case in his recent book, Criminal Investigative Failures. I have been asked to write down some words about the victim’s perspective in the victim-police-society equation. To that end I’d like to make some comments about how we often come round to seeing police as lazy functionaries and victims as whiney troublemakers:

  1. After 30 years the murders of Theresa Allore, Manon Dube and Louise Camirand remain unsolved. Quebec police to this day refuse to investigate a possible connection between these murders. The murders occurred within 17 months in 1978-79. The Quebec police claim they had no indication that the murders could have been connected despite the fact that the lead investigator in all three cases, who’s the whiney victim and who’s the donut-eating cop?
  2. The initial media articles in 2002 on the death of these three young women laid a foundation for serial murder with particular focus on Kim Rossmo’s groundbreaking ideas on geographic profiling. At the time the Quebec police pooh-poohed the concept of geographic profiling as a criminology fad. Two years later I intercepted the lead investigator into Theresa’s death on his way to Washington; why was he traveling to the States? To learn about a new frontier of police research called Geographic Profiling. Who was he going to study with? Kim Rossmo.
  3. Five years after all three murders remained unsolved Quebec’s Surete du Quebec made the decision to dispose of all physical evidence from the cases. I usually keep anything that has an unresolved connection with my past be it pictures, recipes or memorabilia: Again, who’s the investigator here?
  4. Having learned that my sister’s body was found with a watch on her wrist stopped at eleven o’clock, I resolved to purchase 4 similar watches on Ebay from the 70s and place them at the crime scene at the same time of the year that she disappeared (to see when they would stop, to establish a time of death). The Quebec Police ridiculed this exercise as pointless-victim-meddling, yet all four watched stopped within 15 minutes of 11:00 PM, thus establishing an approximate time of death. Again, who's the victim, and who's the investigator? Because it would appear that I am both.
  5. Similar to the watch; my sister’s wallet was discovered by the side of a road in the Spring of 1979. There was some disagreement as to whether the wallet had been thrown there the prior winter (when she disappeared) or whether it had been placed there more recently in the Spring after her body was discovered. To answer the question I purchased a similar wallet from the 70s, placed it in the Canadian snow around the same time that she disappeared, and retrieved it the following Spring (around the time that the actual wallet was discovered). The results? The wallet was probably tossed in the Fall when she was murdered. The Surete du Quebec’s reaction? I was a whiney troublemaker not contributing what-so-ever to solving my sister’s murder.
  6. Faced with the reality that my sister’s wallet was found by the side of the road approximately 10-miles from where her body was discovered, the Surete du Quebec was asked, “doesn’t this prove that the killer drove a car, and disposed of the wallet after murdering her?”.” Not necessarily”, replied lead investigator, Roch Gaudreault… “Wild animals could have carried the wallet from the crime seen to the resting place by the side of the road.”

Yes… wild animals… following the roadways of men, traveling ten miles, and conveniently disposing the evidence along the banks of a highway.

Do you still want to ask me why I question the professionalism of police officers?

* Footnote: Us and Them: Dark Side Of The Moon was the first album Theresa ever bought and she DID listen to it on headphones.