Posts Tagged ‘Police’

It’s now such a farce that one must feel sorry for the Met.

2013 has been an absolute kicking for the Metropolitan Police. #Plebgate is nothing compared to the Mark Duggan inquest. And, the Mark Duggan inquest is mild when one considers the admissions that Doreen Lawrence was the victim of a police led smear campaign.

At the same time, the Met’s PR department, sorry ‘communications’ department, has gone from 150 to 100 members of staff. Despite the disasters, one of their PRs was promoted to the head of PR for Surrey Police.

The crisis in police PR was such that  in October, Henry Porter described police corruption as ‘rife’ and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe had to promise to be ‘ruthless’ in rooting it out.

Stories have filtered through the robing rooms that the public, in particular some juries, have not reacted well to police malpractice. One story filtered through shortly after the ‘Watson’ settlement (defence lawyer locked up unlawfully – not the Met of course), one jury was heard repeatedly to say that they wouldn’t believe a word the police said.

And that’s really the PR problem. At present it is only certain communities which really are entrenched when it comes to distrusting the police. But, the wider community have no tolerance for the Doreen Lawrence type scenario.

‘Us and them’ is fatal to any police force that seeks to police by consent. And any other model of policing would never be accepted in a liberal democracy.

It’s in the context, of all this that I was recently asked about my, ‘policy’ toward police instructions. Quite simple, I will defend an individual officer, I won’t defend the institution (i.e I won’t act for police forces.)

I understand that the upper tiers of the institution do not reflect the reality of what goes on at the grass-roots. And despite the positive noises, the public are starting to realise the same.

In 2013 I’ve had two very conflicting experiences of the same police force. One morning, my car was broken into along with two of my neighbours. I didn’t call the police, my neighbour did. Two response officers attended, they were polite, interested and respectful. Then a SOCO turned up, she was even better. And, then, the DC assigned the OIC was very good too. In my view, the best PR the Met can get.

Later in the year it was a rare foray back to the Mags’. I was defending a private client on a minor matter. Three officers attended, there was an air outside the Court straight away. Slouching, exasperated huffs, attempts at staring me out and the Defendant. (I point out, this wasn’t even an assault PC job or similar…). There was even a touch of childish whispering.

I’d been on the receiving end of this plenty of times before in the Mags (there’s rarely senior officers around or officers knocking about from specialist, ‘high respect’ squads as you find in the Crown Courts of London) and ignored it.

After the first witness gave evidence, there was a break, I walked outside, and instantly, I find one of the police witnesses talking to the witness. A full blown conversation. I couldn’t believe it. I told them to stop it, another officer, the OIC, made some remark I couldn’t hear, but was clearly full brush of attitude.

The officer who had spoken to the witness, got in Court, I put to him that he had been having a conversation with the civilian witness – ‘no, just told him I wasn’t allowed to speak to him’. I had been there, close enough, I knew that wasn’t true.

And when that officer lied, that to me had more of an impact than Plebgate, Duggan or Doreen Lawrence. That was an affront.

I know that we don’t live in a Capital city where all the police are bad. That’s why I will represent individual officers.

I am convinced that those 100 Eddie Monsoons would be better replaced. With 50 good coppers in professional standard and another 50 good coppers training up those who don’t meet Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s gold standard.

Sweetie, darling, where’s the squad car…. from absolutely fabulous, to absolutely warrantable, constitutional, legit…

I revisit my opening again, it’s such a farce one must actually feel sorry for those good officers in the Met. But, those officers, those good ones must help pick out the rotten apples too.

FTD

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The last six days have seen the Metropolitan Police under attack, from the media, from Parliament and from their own brass. The reason? Racism. Or allegations thereof.

The BBC especially have put their extra special shocked faces on. But, how on earth can there be racism in the Met post the Macpherson report? This is 2012, nobody is racist anymore.

Toss. British society has racist elements. Police officers are recruited from British society. As such, there’s always the risk you’re recruiting a racist. It goes in everything, football, the Arts, on university campuses, in bars at the Bar.

Racism was not fixed over night with Macpherson and it’s stupid to pretend otherwise.

I’ve always imagined that the Prison Service and the British Military were more susceptible to racism than the police for a variety of reasons. But, both of those have accepted that racism was a problem and have taken steps to stamp it out.

If one makes an allegation of racism in a prison or in a military institution they receive specialist investigation. Although I have no doubt there are still failings in both institutions, I think they’re certainly more honest to themselves.

And they have to be, they don’t have the scrutiny of the public. People can’t spot what they’re upto on the streets, or overhear things. The army isn’t on the streets of London and the Prison Service don’t deal with road traffic incidents.

Being a public service which are truly in the public eye, we are to blame for continued police racism. And some of us are more to blame than others.

Defence lawyers

The criminal justice system is one of the biggest forms of scrutiny that the police face. Much more so than the complaints system or the civil/administrative court.

And on the most part it is for the defence to scrutinise what the police have done in a particular case. When I defend, I’m dogged, particularly when there have been avenues of investigation which haven’t been properly investigated. As too will I take points when evidence has obtained in less than proper circumstances.

But like a lot of other briefs, there’s a line of defence which makes me shudder. ‘They were racist.’ There’s been many a client who has said it to me. And once said and once part of the defence it’s my job to follow that instruction.

That doesn’t mean though that it’ll necessarily even be mentioned in Court. Why? Well sometimes it may not even be relevant. Other times we may advise our clients not to raise it.

Why on earth would you not raise a police officer being racist? One problem is the BBC effect. There has been a degree of post-Macpherson social conditioning that racism is a completely shocking thing and never happens, despite the fact is completely contrary to the reality of wider society.

And it requires a lot of bravery to bring racism into a case, for two further reasons:

The Magistrates

Of my Crown Court trials, racism only has ever come into one, and that wasn’t police racism.

Racism is often a Magistrates’ Court type of issue. A police officer was racist to me so I pushed them away from me. I swore at the officer as they used inappropriate words. I restrained the officer as they acted in a way which offended my religion and so on.

But one of the reasons we have to be so careful about ‘racism’ based defences, it because of the forum. I do not know a single black District Judge. It is incredibly rare that there is a black magistrate on a trial bench.

Does it matter? Yes, of course it matters, the point of magistrates is shared experience. If a section of the community is completely under represented then the Magistracy cannot access that element of shared experience. And I’m sorry to say but in London, being exposed to racist police officers is part of the shared experience of many minorities.

So why do we have to advise our clients not to raise a ‘racism’ defence? Because the Magistrates who hear the cases lack experience of the cultural reality of racism and therefore are less likely to believe defences which have a racial aspect.

And you have to think what type of person the Magistracy attracts. Some Magistrates are incredibly fair, in particular, the author of http://magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk/ Bystander. I am told (as I don’t know who he is) that I came before him a lot as a second six pupil, and if it’s who I think it is, he is incredibly fair indeed, he really took the oath to heart.

But others, some Magistrates are people who want to maintain order in their communities, their proclivity will always be to believe the police. And I’m sorry to say, but Magistrates are still too old, white and middle class (even some who match that description are some of my favourites!).

So defence lawyers can be blamed for police racism.

Magistrates can be blamed for it too.

And so can the draftsman.

Bad character

Within the eyes of the law, being racist is reprehensible behaviour. So if you accuse a police officer of being so, you risk all of your character going in under the bad character provisions.

This means?

If your client has previous convictions and he gets you, his brief, to accuse the cop of being racist, the convictions are likely to go before the magistrates/jury.

And that will always be a killer.

So we can’t blame entirely the police themselves for the racism that remains.

Society still has racist elements.

Defence lawyers will not expose racism as it is not necessarily in their tactical interest.

Until Magistrates are more diverse, racism will not be explored in the Courts. And until bad character rules are reformed, nobody who has been in trouble before can afford to make the accusation.

You can’t entirely blame the Met themselves for racism, when the system is set up in such a way it allows it to thrive.

FTD

West Midlands Police already have a corporate looking website. They found their most photogenic bobby and got him to pose with a radio. Then they got a couple of friendly looking PCSOs and took a picture of them talking to a member of the public.

Standard.

Oh, and they’ve got a motto too,

‘Serving our communities, protecting them from harm.’

Again, fair enough.

Twitter is all a flitter

But, West Midlands Police are causing quite a stir. They’ve deployed their PR folk on a Saturday.

Why? Because of the announcement that West Midlands Police are exploring the value of business partnership to the Police Service? In English, over the next 10 years they will pay a private sector company £1.5 billion to perform police functions.

Read their press release here:

http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/latest-news/press-release.asp?ID=3219

Sounds harmless I suppose? I mean, guarding crime scenes? Picking up CCTV? Both of these tasks are investigative tasks.

Crime scenes are guarded in case of further forensic analysis, to note the return of suspects, to deal with potential witnesses. And, if you knew the hours of court time was spent on CCTV collection and playback then you would know it’s not a tiny task.

And although the PR bods at West Midlands have used those examples, I would suggest you read the fine print. I’d love to be able to, but I can’t find the sodding notice, even though I have read the supplement of the journal and googled until I can google no more. No doubt one of you will be able to provide a link.

But, when questioned, one of the PRs let slip, yes, there might be an element of patrolling involved too from these security guards.

Scarecrows

Without legislation, these individuals employed by the police will be little more than security guards. They will not be able to arrest individuals more than you and I can, they will not be able to detain persons more than you and I can – effectively, you’ve got the local old fella from Asdas on the street corner, with a hat on, paid for by your taxes.

And I tell you what, if you need that visual reassurance on your street corner, then go for it. But pay for it yourself, get together with your neighbours and sign a contract. That’s what happens in the US. In my apartment building we paid for security. In my girlfriend’s neighbourhood, they paid for a private security company to patrol.

Scarecrows. I’d rather not pay a private company for that with my taxes.

The dangers

There is no doubt that this is the thin end of the wedge.

But this is the reality, these scarecrows will mess up. Not because they’re bad people, but because they will be low salaried, low skilled and low trained. They will contaminate crime scenes. They will prejudice investigations. They will injure members of the public and they will fail to protect them. They will not build a bank of skills and experience as they will not do the job for life. There will be no working culture (maybe not a terrible thing).

And for our clients

Don’t get me wrong, there are still ‘wrong-uns’ in the police force. But there are many methods of seeing that the police are accountable. Those methods fade away when you start bringing profit into equation. Decisions are not made through duty, but through cost efficiency.

And, my experience of dealing with private prisons has never been good. Corners are cut. Continuity is non-existent. Force is used disproportionately. The management fear external scrutiny and are extremely poor at engaging with stakeholders. And, where do I start when it comes to diversity issues…

…oh and let’s look at the present provisions from private contractors. Prisoners regularly arrive at Court late, sometimes they do not arrive at all, the private contractor does not care. Why? Because they build the fine they receive into their business plans.

The risk to my clients is clear. They will be subjected to unlawful force, they will have their investigations jeopardised. And if the ‘private investigator’ is one of those ‘wrong-uns’ they’ll be harder to detect if they falsify evidence/act unlawfully.

Time for the police to parle with the old enemy

It’s in the interests of my clients and the public at large for this development in the West Midlands to be put to bed quickly and not replicated.

But if the police want to protect their position, then they will need to speak to the dark side. Yep, us. Because otherwise they risk being dismissed as self-interested civil servants protecting themselves.

There are some in the police ranks who scoff at defence lawyers and action against the police lawyers like me. A number of police officers think that Liberty are the devil and want anarchy on our streets.

But imagine, imagine how strong the opposition could be to the privatisation of the police if both the cops and counsel spoke out. Imagine if Liberty and the Police Federation could agree a united stance on the issue.

The police could not be dismissed as being self-interested.

We couldn’t be dismissed as being bleeding heart liberals.

I certainly won’t be buying shares in Plod PLC,

FTD

 

 

 

 

Coppers has become compulsive viewing for anyone who works in the criminal justice system. It is by far the most honest portrayal of policing. And, refreshingly it shows the view of individual police officers without the PR spin of senior ranks.

Tonight’s episode is the first where I haven’t shouted or screamed at the TV.

Why? Because I felt some of the frustration that those officers described. Barristers and solicitors on either side have to deal with ‘community crime’. Often we cannot believe how something has got to Court. Particularly neighbourhood disputes. Harassment. Low level public order offences. Why are we here?

These offences too generate hundreds of pages of paperwork and it would seem hours of police work.

Then, we see as tonight, a neighbourhood dispute where one of the parties refused to engage in mediation. I rolled my eyes. I remember doing a case similar, in a rural Magistrates’ Court. I was paid privately, it cost my client a lot. It cost the tax payer even more. On the second day the Prosecutor had simply had enough. He invited the Magistrates to bind both parties  over and they were sent on their way. Told to keep the peace.

PC Porter

Is the police officer who has to spend time trying to solve this dispute. I have a great deal of sympathy. He was there trying to invite the parties into mediation. One party wouldn’t give.

At the same time, the chair of the Magistrates’ Association has been talking to Frances Gibb of the Times about the role of the Magistracy in this century, outside of Court rooms.

An easy solution in my view is this: train the Magistrates to be mediators. Magistrates could directly engage with community members. They can warn individuals what the consequences might be if they continue in their behaviour. And, the cost of training and their deployment would be less than that of deploying police officers or lawyers.

Indeed it could well be an attractive qualification for younger people and bringing them onto the Bench.

Soft touch

There was a slight hint that PC Porter was a little soft. But, when it came to dealing with the Mother and Son on tonight’s episode I think he was bang on. A number of London areas have a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence. The young lad who had hit his mum was an example of domestic violence. It is policy often that arrest is inevitable, despite the wishes of the victim.

PC Porter’s intervention had helped the family. The lad clearly has issues. What would be gained from dumping him into the criminal justice system? This was an example of proportionate, clever policing.

Again, my lawyer readers will have been there when they’ve been instructed to represent a son or daughter  alleged to have thumped or threatened a parent. Court often turns into an episode of Trisha. Or, one of the parties does not attend. Time and money are spent in the Courts which often has no real positive outcome.

You’re under arrest Danny

Local alcoholic and drug addict Danny was well known to the police. His ASBO caught him out on each occasion. The local police did genuinely seem to want to help but as their Inspector pointed out they don’t have the training.

Again, ASBOs provide very little protection to the public. Instead, they’re an expensive means of taking problematic people off the streets.

Having worked with individuals who misuse substances before and during my time at the Bar, I think treatment must be rapidly rethought. Some individuals want to change and can be motivated sufficiently to get help. But, some aren’t. Rather than lock them up in the generic prison system, why not think about secure community facilities where they might detox?

Again, expensive, but surely cheaper than police time, court time and prison places.

Muggers, rapists and murderers

PC Porter said, the public want him to deal with the muggers, rapists and murderers of our society. And of course we do. But I’m happy too for him to act as a peace officer. Keeping the peace in these more minor disputes avoids escalation. Escalation to more serious violent offences.

Preventative measures in the community require sometimes unpopular decisions. It means not prosecuting some people. It means talking to people rather than punishing them for doing unpleasant things. It means trying to force some people to act in a way which is good for them.

It is also means capital expenditure. But capital expenditure now will save budgets in future.

If Magistrates are looking for a role in the heart of communities then it could be as mediators.

No need to scream at Coppers tonight as it would seem that some agree with a pragmatic and proportionate approach like me.

FTD

So said Robert Peel. And one has to remember, at the establishment of the first professional police force the general public weren’t keen. The public thought that there was a risk to their civil liberties.

2011 was a bad year for police public relations, 4 days into 2012 and police public relations have not started at a high. But, if we don’t like the way we’re being policed, if we disapprove of how certain matters are handled don’t we shoulder some of the blame?

The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.

This is a Peelian principle. This doesn’t mean we have to shout and cheer every time a shoplifter gets collared. It means quite simply that we accept the actions of the police. If you see a police officer using excessive force in arresting someone, what do you do? Do you stop, take their number? Do you telephone the police station the next day? Do you write a letter to the Chief Constable? No, you might tut to yourself, you might change your facebook status if that excised, but you move on.

Doreen Lawrence did not approve of police action. The Macpherson inquiry did not approve of police action. The police knew they had to change and it would seem that there is some slow change in that regard.

So next time you disapprove of the actions of the police, be it an officer, or a local force, do more than tut or tweet. (I don’t advocate being a hero though – might soon find yourself in handcuffs for obstruction. Watch and write, it’s terribly British).

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Another Peelian principle. Part of this is simple courtesy. We ought to be courteous to the police, they ought to be courteous in reply. When I recently had my phone snatched, three PCs from the robbery squad turned up in minutes. They knew, suit, wheelie bag and where I was calling from what I did for a living. We laughed, joked and after they came into chambers and I provided them with the necessary details.   

When I was a student the interaction was never as pleasant. Starting any sentence with ‘oi you lot,’ has never been a winner with me.

Manners are important. A sense of equality is important.

Selecting the people who wear the uniform is extremely important. If police are only members of the public, then they must reflect the diversity of those whom they police. The Met knows that it is failing in this regard. It must not be allowed to.

So, they ought to treat us as equals. They ought to be like us. We ought to treat them with politeness. We ought to be able to communicate with them easily.

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

The final Peelian principle of today. Officers need not crowd around peaceful protestors. Officers need not pile into pubs. Officers need not form phalanx at the local tube station.

Visibility of public policing in a double-edged sword. People can easily feel oppressed when surrounded by flourescent hordes.

How do you want to be policed?

If you don’t like how it is being presently done, you can change it. Doreen Lawrence has started a change, I think it’s in our interests to see it through.

FTD