This article is accompanied by the below audio commentary by Charles Malet on footage of the wild misapplication of the Public Order Act 1986 by an inspector of West Midlands Police, as shown by UK Column News at 1hr07′ on 17 October 2022.
Charles Malet’s previous article, referred to in the below audio, is here.
The Public Order Act 1986 (a whole-UK statute) is here; the pertinent sections are 4, 4A and 5.
The breakdown in the relationship between the public and the police is lamented as much as it is documented. Getting Sir Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 over the line took some doing. For the most part, initial resistance was based on a mistrust of government, the belief that Britain would end up with an unpopular French-style system, and fears that the ‘rights and liberties’ of people would be threatened by centralised control of police. Peter Joyce explains this well in his book, Policing: Development and Contemporary Practice.
Nearly 200 years later, the original concerns of the British public appear to have been well-founded. Weeks no longer go by without some sort of absurd (though usually highly distorted) story in the mainstream press which seems to indicate a profound lack of judgement on the behalf of the police. This cannot be coincidence, so why is it thus?
To begin to answer this question, I will draw on my own recent experiences as a police officer and, in particular, the way in which the training environment shapes the police view of the public. This article follows a recent one (linked in the italic rubric above) in which I sought to explain how a loud and hysterical woke minority mob has managed to manipulate the police into a position of fearing the consequences of ignoring them.
Regardless of your opinion of the police at this point, it is highly likely that you believe in policing of some description. After all, police constables—in some guise or other—have been about (in England, at any rate) since at least 1285, and the interim has produced a constant stream of malevolent individuals, gangs and corporations for them to deal with. In recent decades, numbers of police have risen and then fallen again, and the statistics appear to show that crime is on the up and up (with a couple of blips during the great internments of 2020 and 2021). Whilst such statistics are incredibly misleading, they form several vertebrae in the backbone of police problems.
A misconception which police forces do not appear in a hurry to dispel is that the numbers of police officers are historically low. This is not the case. Whilst difficult to come up with exact figures for any given moment, there is certainly not a relative shortage of police officers, in real terms or per head of population. In addition to the number of police (reckoned to be around 160,000 across the UK), there are their unsworn assistants, the Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs), and more sworn constables roving between constabulary areas in the guises of the British Transport Police and the National Crime Agency.
So, if the numbers of police are not actually too bad, why are they currently deemed so ineffectual and so little respected?
The answer, in large part, is technology. Just as wheat had the power to domesticate man and confine him to one place, so the technological revolution has created slaves in the name of progress.
A conversation with one of the old guard gave me a fascinating insight into how much things have changed. After completing his national service (the military draft), he joined the police, and one of his beats included a hamlet in which I used to live. Other than keeping an eye on things and chatting to the natives (community relations and intelligence gathering, in police-speak), he was encumbered only by his pocket notebook and the requirement to stand by the telephone box on the hour, every hour, so that the police station could get hold of him if necessary. These days, every policeman lugs a virtual office with him, wherever he goes, in the form of a mobile ‘device’.
Such gadgetry will vary by force, but typically takes the form of a mobile telephone and, in addition to the usual features, these will give access to local and national intelligence systems. The devices contain endless electronic forms to complete for recording crime, vulnerability, sudden death, traffic collisions and violations, searches and much else besides. They are also an electronic version of the pocket notebook, in which all actions and decisions must be recorded. E-mails and telephone calls can—theoretically—be taken at any time, and victim and witness statements recorded.
On top of this, each officer carries a radio linking him to the control room and to the other officers on shift. It is not uncommon to be fielding calls on the radio and telephone simultaneously, whilst trying to record a first account from a victim during a live incident. Is it reasonable to expect that a police officer distracted by the bearing of such an electronic yoke is best placed to do his or her job properly?
If such systems allowed for greater efficiency, reliance on them would be understandable. Yet, despite the many benefits of the capabilities afforded by this technology, the reality is that they merely generate work. Not all on their own, though, and this is where we return to the crime statistics.
The requirement to record crime, at the behest of the Home Office (Britain’s interior ministry), is oppressive. Again, there are benefits to doing so, but it is hard to argue in favour of the overall result being positive. Under the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR), a crime must be recorded when alleged by a victim or someone on behalf of a victim, unless there is “credible evidence to the contrary immediately available”.
In essence, what this means is that if police receive a call about a crime in progress, then unless a police officer is at the scene and can say otherwise (or if live police CCTV shows the scene), it is taken as a given that a crime has occurred. This being the case, a crime report will be generated.
So far, so good. However, when a ‘witness’ hears a vase smash as a cat knocks it from a table late at night, and calls the police with a report of burglary because he heard a window pane breaking, does it really make sense to generate a crime report? Even if the apparent ‘victim’ calls the police right away to confirm what actually happened, this will probably need to be confirmed by a visit from police officers. Because there was no evidence to the contrary at the time of reporting, a crime report must be opened, simply so that it must be closed.
Not only do these sorts of instances skew the data; they come with a considerable administrative burden. A crime report may need to be viewed or reviewed by four or more police officers, which represents a disproportionate number of man hours relative to the incident itself.
In those situations where charges are brought and where a case file must be prepared for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or its Northern Irish or Scottish counterpart prosecutor, new heights of inefficiency are scaled. Multiple forms, all requiring the same information—set out in slightly different ways—must be produced longhand. By ‘longhand’, I mean that there is no intelligent IT system which enables the population of such forms with the relevant information. No, they are mostly poorly formatted Microsoft Word documents, and the completion of such files is onerous in the extreme. Even the simplest case file for a ‘summary only’ offence (one which goes to the Magistrates’ Court for a maximum sentence of six months) can take several hours to prepare.
The reason for going into the tedious detail of this process is to illustrate the degree to which police officers are shackled to their computer terminals and how difficult it is to get out and about. The flip side of this coin is the mistaken belief that the bulk of the gathering of evidence and intelligence can be done by digital and electronic means.
Eclipsed only by closures of pubs and churches, the numbers of police stations reduces at a steady rate, forcing the very centralisation that was forecast and feared. There are very many downsides to this, and they all bear relation to the souring of the relationship between police and the public. Face-to-face interactions have all but disappeared, and the online or ‘call-centre’ experience with police usually guarantees a substantial dose of frustration and inefficiency. The vast majority of patrolling is conducted from the inside of a marked police car, rendering the cocooned officers unable to sense the sights, sounds and smells that should act as an early warning system.
To the public, a passing police car appears as a disconnected blur—or, to those cooking up something bad, nothing to worry about. There no longer exists any genuine synergy with the community; a loss which puts police perpetually on the back foot and gives the public a sense of helplessness and neglect. Instead, the intelligence picture is built up via a combination of digital surveillance tools.
Drug dealers are monitored via mobile communications activity and the use of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras which log vehicle movement. Sexual offences are mostly determined by a combination of data extracted from the mobile telephones of victim and suspect, as well as the surprisingly inexact science of forensic analysis. Solving burglaries—a feat very rarely accomplished these days—is often wholly dependent upon the availability of high quality CCTV footage.
The thread here is the reliance on technology at the expense of utilising all the available evidence. I am not making a case for dismissing the use of technology; merely one for not relying on it exclusively.
As an example, a rape case I worked on involved amassing a trove of digital records and forensic evidence, only for it to be closed due to something written on a piece of paper. Mobile telephone records and DNA samples were collected and analysed, costing as much time as money. It turned out that the victim had told her doctor that she had had consensual sex with the suspect and the doctor had duly recorded the conversation in her notes. Current police practices, combined with the looming spectre of some form of digital ID and central bank digital currency (CBDC), all rolled into a carbon- and pharmaceutical-based social credit system suggests that George Orwell might be even closer to the mark than perhaps he really imagined.
Time pressure, and a remoteness from the public whom they are supposed to serve, puts undue pressure on the exchanges that police do have nowadays with citizens. Policy is written to dictate positive action, which has been poorly translated at lower levels to mean making arrests and encouraging victims to make complaints. In so many instances, neither of these is an appropriate course of police action.
Discretion is the most underused weapon in the police officer’s armoury these days; it has been trained out of them. Actions taken by police officers must be able to be justified by the individual (‘rationale’ being one of the most important records to keep in the pocket notebook), so it is a poor reflection that so few feel able to justify leaving the liberty of the suspect intact.
The requirement for all police officers to be degree-holders or apprenticed equivalent has narrowed the filter and, though this is a great generalisation, it has undeniably given rise to a swell of recruits lacking the confidence bestowed by life experience, albeit experienced in the online realm. The upshot tends to be a fear of the flesh-and-blood public, as opposed to past policing generations’ knack of working with the public. This shortcoming asserts itself as a sort of bossy defensiveness and the expression of ‘small man syndrome’.
Police training incorporates very regular promotion of Betari’s Box, which is supposed to assist with conflict management and, especially, the de-escalation of incidents. It is a straightforward circular model (a version from the College of Policing website is shown below) which hypothesises that there is a fluid relationship between attitudes and behaviours when people are dealing with one another.
There is no question that Betari has it right—but, of course, it works both ways and may be equally effective at escalating the situation. In my own experiences, I witnessed much more escalation by police than de-escalation. The results of these escalations were unnecessary, often unpleasant and came with dual and cast-iron guarantees of a greater burden of work and reinforcement of a negative image of police.
The obsession with arrest as an end in itself is terrifically counter-productive, especially in crimes where there is a victim. Whilst there are plenty of circumstances in which arrest is the only option, it should otherwise be used as a last resort; something I dealt with in my recent article Woke Police: Bad Judgement or Bad Law. I will not cover the same ground here, but I will look at the consequences.
Raising and dashing hopes
In situations when the suspect’s voluntary attendance at a police station would have sufficed, arrest is much more likely to result in a tedious and surly ‘no comment’ interview, as well as the individual having an axe to grind and a story to tell. As far as the victim is concerned, he is liable to believe that he is on firmer ground if an arrest has been made, which gives him a misplaced conviction that pursuing a complaint is the right thing to do.
The interpretation and exercise of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales has been conducted in such a way as to set the victim up for a fall. Whilst it is quite right that victims of crime should be treated with the appropriate level of respect and attention, they should not be given false hope. The vast majority of victims think that giving police the green light to investigate a crime on their behalf means not only that they have been believed, but also that the police will be able to bring the suspect to justice. In most cases, this is a far cry from the truth—but training in this area does not support police officers giving an honest appraisal of the situation.
In taking the time to explain to the victim the evidential requirements of a case that the Crown Prosecution Service is able take to court, a police officer would accomplish several things. The victim would understand that he is being treated fairly and honestly; he would appreciate the complexity surrounding criminal prosecution; he would be prepared for a negative outcome; and he would have more reason to consider whether or not he really wanted to put himself through the protracted, stressful and often invasive process of an investigation.
In short, this stage of the process should be an opportunity for police to strengthen relations with the public, even if there is no realistic chance of prosecution. Nowadays, blind adherence to a tone-deaf system is much more likely to end in flames. Telling a victim that his case is to be dropped, after months of stringing him along, is predictably disastrous.
Not only has reputational damage been inflicted, but all the problems mentioned so far are exacerbated because the whole exercise has taken up so much time. Adhering to the Victim’s Code has become such a focus that it is common practice for this to be the only aspect of an investigation that is monitored or audited by those at the rank of Inspector and above. This is because there are written targets and timelines, and there will be hell to pay if these are not met. Whether or not a proper investigation is being conducted plays second fiddle, or no part at all.
This approach to management, if it can be called that, has rolled downhill from the PEEL (Police Effectiveness, Efficiency and Legitimacy) Assessments made by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). Although these are presented as an objective and qualitative body of work, they are in truth grades produced from data and statistics supplied by each police force, subsequently interpreted as success or failure.
With regard to time spent, it is not just a question of scarcity, but also one of misusing what time on duty police do have. A great example of this is the lip-service paid to what is called ‘evidence–based policing’ or EBP. The College of Policing has made much of the concept in recent years (though term was coined back in 1998 by Lawrence Sherman). A little confusingly, EBP is nothing to do with the ‘evidence’ gathered during investigations. Rather, it is the fairly fundamental suggestion that the path towards best practice is most likely found by examining the results of previous efforts to achieve more or less the same thing.
In return for paying taxes and giving their consent to be policed, the public should expect that the police will act in the most efficient and effective manner on their behalf. Not so, says the EBP model; and it is easy to demonstrate areas of failure.
Burglary is always an emotive crime and statistics show appalling results—notwithstanding the issues surrounding said statistics. The Kirkholt Burglary Prevention Project suggested a small number of simple and apparently effective techniques for bringing about a substantial reduction in burglary.
These techniques have been replicated hardly at all, and they have most certainly not informed widespread police practice surrounding burglary prevention. Equally, what has been called ‘hot spots policing’ is backed up by some very positive results (admittedly, not universally). The principle is that areas with a high incidence of crime, especially the more visible types of crime, will benefit from regular, though brief, visits from police.
There are obvious advantages to being able to conduct this sort of exercise, such as fostering relations with the community, boosting the image of the police and gathering intelligence. It is barely practised in the UK, and the College of Policing cites the following as reasons:
1. Disruption to the intervention due to staffing issues
2. Resistance from officers
3. Changes to computer systems and other technology failures
4. Lack of commitment to the problem-solving process
5. Lack of strict adherence to the target areas
6. Lack of support from other criminal justice partner agencies
Looking at EBP from the other side—and I make no apology for bringing this up again—the National Council of Police Chiefs (NPCC), the Police Federation (the police officers’ union) and all 43 Chief Officers of the local constabularies of England and Wales were only too keen to catapult police officers into the role of guardians of ‘public health’ once the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into effect. There was, and still is, absolutely no evidence that employing police officers to criminalise infractions of this legislation did, can or will prevent one person from making another person ill.
Despite the complete absence of such a body of evidence, the operational tempo of every police force in the UK was severely disrupted in order to accommodate the policing of this bizarre, inconsistent, draconian and utterly illogical legislation. The very obvious side-effect was neglect of those duties that police officers should have been carrying out in the first place and the bashing that the reputation of the police has suffered as a result is entirely deserved.
Like so many police practices and policies, evidence-based policing has the potential to be a rather double-edged sword. Whilst it may encourage treating problems in different ways, it can easily present as an obstacle to innovation and lateral thinking. If a body of evidence does not already exist, how do you justify allocation of resources on a hitherto untried method?
Aversion to risk, pandering to the shrill minority, wavering leadership, and the absence of clear direction for policing are just some of the wedges forcing open the fissures between public and police.
That this should be the condition in which we find ourselves as a tide of pernicious parliamentary Bills, and recently passed Acts, surges towards us, is deeply concerning.
The growing gap that I have briefly outlined here between the police and the public whom they serve is the clearest indicator of an underlying failure: failure in basic comprehension of the role of police, in the development of both legislation and policy for policing, and in the management of the constabularies at the highest levels.
If closing that gap were to be made the overriding goal, the procedural morass might start to drain.