Sunday, 24 July 2011

Hacking, Working with Probation and Supervision

I've gone out of my way this week to talk to people about the phone hacking issue. It is clear to me that the general populous are thoroughly bored with the subject. There is an acceptance that this has happened, the politicos are trying to score points, millions will be wasted on inquiries and little will change. The terrible events in Norway have now taken over the front pages and even Amy Winehouse shooting up her last dose of heroin is up there above the hacking story.

So moving on and back to the sharp end; this weekend my team were joined by a Probation Officer who wanted to come out on patrol with the police and see what it is like from our perspective. I like these attachments and hope that we can genuinely show partners what we have to deal with and that they will learn and take something back from this. There is always some trepidation, I still worry that an officer may say something stupid, but after two years of weeding out the idiots I am confident they will acquit themselves well.

After almost two nights with various officers I met the Probation Officer to have a chat about her experience. She told me that she had been surprised at how tolerant officers were. In the face of drunken abuse, threats and violence she felt that officers had shown remarkable restraint and maturity. She told me that whenever 'clients' had been arrested for drunk and disorderly or public order offences they always said that the arresting police officer had wound them up. This excuse is so commonplace that most Probation Officers accept that D & D and public order offences are actually caused by the police, hence no one ever gets recommended for any substantial penalty in the Probation Officers report. Worse still, Probation Officers when compiling their reports for any offence simply interview the 'client' who gives their account full of bullshit excuses and lies, which the Probation Officer's generally accept. So when the case comes to court the prosecution case is outlined and then the defence outline their case, which is supported by the Probation report. Two one to the defence and their story is accepted as the truth.

We hadn't finished our conversation when a neighbourhood officer called for assistance nearby. I attended with the Probation Officer. On arrival we find two neighbourhood officers, a drunken idiot and a gathering crowd all in a residential street. The drunken idiot is shouting at one of the officers. "Fuck off you bald cunt." The officer is trying to reason with him and to calm him down and send him home. The other is standing there like a lemon. After repeating the abuse twice more I told the officer to arrest him. "What for?" says the officer. He later told me that abusing a police officer was not an offence. I end up arresting the idiot before more embarrassment is caused. He wants to fight but he is drunk and he finds his face kissing the tarmac before he knows what is happening. The crowd are the residents of the street and not the usual drunken town centre morons. So instead of abuse and threats I got a cheer and a few claps from the residents who obviously thought it was about time someone did something.

Back at the police station I have a frank discussion with the Neighbourhood officers, including suggesting they might like to think about a change of career. I will speak to their supervisor, hope they are not equally useless, and tell them to put the officers on performance measures. I have one request for supervisors. Don't send useless officers to Neighbourhoods or CID. Deal with them and if they cannot be developed then get rid of them. In my Force Neighbourhoods have become infested with ineffective officers. We cannot afford to carry them. If we had good Neighbourhood officers our jobs would be so much easier. 

Update 24th July - I have just found out the officer who failed to make the arrest has not arrested anyone this year. How can an officer be out working the streets and not make an arrest for almost 7 months. I am going to be on his case from now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Direct Recruitment of Police Leaders

Goodbye Ma'am, Been Great Working With You

David Cameron and the Tory hierarchy have decided to use the phone hacking scandal as an excuse to reopen the debate on direct recruitment of police leaders. In his address to parliament today he said. "We believe this crisis calls for us to stand back and take another, broader look at the whole culture of policing in this country, including the way it is led. At the moment, the police system is too closed. There is only one point of entry into the force. There are too few - and arguably too similar - candidates for the top jobs. As everyone knows, Tom Winsor is looking into police pay, conditions and careers, and I want to see radical proposals for how we can open up our police force and bring in fresh leadership."

The first thing I will say about this is that it is one of a number of proposals that Cameron made today criticising others in an attempt to deflect the concerns regarding his own actions and decisions around the phone hacking issues. For example, at least the Met fired Coulson when concerns were expressed regarding his integrity. Cameron kept him on the payroll for sometime afterwards. So should we consider the direct election of Prime Ministers in the same way as American Presidents? Would that open up the job to those that haven't been corrupted by expenses, junkets and nest feathering in Parliament?

His statement criticises police leadership but at least some of those leaders have fallen on their sword and gone as their judgement and integrity has been seriously questioned. I look forward to some politicians doing the same............NOT! And let it not be forgotten that it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that cosied up to News International more than any other politicians. And the insipid Milliband, who is trying show himself as being above all of this, was Gordon Brown's chief advisor and still employs a news International executive.

Cameron gave further details about the Public Inquiry. It is broad. It could take years. I suspect that he hopes that after the summer recess the whole issue will have died down and be thrown over to the Inquiry and I will be surprised if the Inquiry reports before the next election. I suspect the whole thing will be a waste of money.

I am against direct recruitment of police leaders. This issue has been discussed at length and I don't think there is any point going dissecting those arguments again here.

There are two important points that may come out of all of this. I hope that now the focus of the police moves away from media spin and returns to crime prevention, detection, terrorism and disorder etc. The press should go back to reporting on our performance and not reporting the spin and garbage being produced by the police media machines. Secondly, ACPO, to date, has been very silent regarding Tom Winsor and his reporting on police pay, conditions and structures. Now that ACPO's future careers face curtailing can we look forward to their voice joining the rest of the service's concerns regarding some of his proposals?

PS - Getting political but I feel the need to remind people what a useless cretin Gordon Brown was. Banking crisis aside, he spent this country into over £100 billion of debt. He has never explained why he sold off 60% of Britain's gold reserves. The only conclusion is that he wanted to spend more. Between 1999 and 2002 he sold 395 tons of gold at an average price of 276.60 dollars an ounce. Since he sold up, gold has risen steadily and now stands at 1600 dollars an ounce. Had this moron kept the gold we would be almost £10 billion better off. Or we could have paid off 10% of the debt the halfwit left us with. Thank you. Just needed to get that off my chest.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Murdoch's Not All Bad.

Mrs Ferenda has taken to buying the Daily Torygraph. Like all the national papers it contained a grovelling apology from Rupert for all the upset caused regarding the phone hacking. Reading the Torygraph does make you realise that The Times is probably the only decent paper you can read these days. The Times only exists now because it is subsidised by The Sun and News of The World (RIP.) So we have something to thank Sun and News of The World readers for and even Rupert for continuing to produce it.

A story in the Torygraph did catch my eye. It appears to be true. If it is, what has happened to common sense in the police and could we still learn a lesson or two from News International in offering apologies?

Page 16, Daily Telegraph 16th July 2011.

A motorist stopped for being drunk behind the wheel was told to drive himself to the police station for a breath test, a court heard yesterday.
Jon Herron, 33, a marine engineer, was stopped in his Land Rover on his way home. Officers were unable to breath test because they had run out of the disposable straws suspects are asked to blow through. Instead they asked him to continue his journey slowly to the police station as they followed behind in a patrol car. The route took him across three junctions including two roundabouts. When the father of two was tested at the station in Lymington, Hants, his blood alcohol reading was 105, Southampton magistrates court heard. The legal limit is 80.
Hampshire Constabulary defended the decision to ask Herron to drive himself to the station. A police spokesman said. "He said he had only had one pint of lager." (They all do!) The distance was minimal."

I thought the police had moved on from defending the indefensible. Sometimes acknowledging that perhaps a decision was stupid and offering an apology sounds better.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Phone Hacking

I picked up the Sunday Telegraph today and the first 8 pages were dedicated to the phone hacking story. Four pages of excuses, apologies and promises from Assistant Commissioner John Yates. Three pages of hand ringing and editorial. One page of opinion on how the press should, or rather shouldn't, be regulated in future.

I am not sure that there is public interest sufficient to justify this coverage. Did anyone give a damn when the Royal Family, celebrities and politicians were having their voice mails hacked?  The current revelations are quite disgusting and the politicians are falling all over each other to be seen to be taking action and show some leadership. The same politicians that were fawning all over News International to get support for their party.

After two very expensive public enquiries we will learn that there has been extensive phone hacking taking place within News International and perhaps elsewhere. Some people will go to prison as a result of the police investigation. (The current one that is actually investigating rather than burying it.) Phone hacking will still be illegal. We may get a new body to replace the rather toothless Press Complaints Commission although this is fraught with danger if the independence of the press is to be maintained.

Little will change while there still remains an insatiable appetite by a significant proportion of our population for the salacious gossip and scandal that fills most of the Sunday rags.

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Drugs Debate

I did not want to get into this debate again but in a recent post I was challenged to put the case for drugs to remain illegal. I delayed this as Gadget stuck her toe in the water on the same subject, although for some reason this did not attract the usual hysterical pro drugs legalisation brigade.

I have read extensively all the arguments for drug legalisation. They are largely weak and flawed. Firstly, the pro legalisation lobby need to come up with a cohesive strategy that sets out exactly what they want to achieve. What is meant by legalisation? Does it mean that there are no controls on drugs and anyone of any age can just buy them in Sainsbury's with their weekly shop? Does it mean that they are licensed in some way such as cigarettes or alcohol? Does it mean that we prescribe controlled drugs to addicts so they do not have to go out burgling and stealing every day? Does it mean that simple possession of a limited amount of drugs is not illegal or subject of  non criminal process. Until there is a clear strategy and model the pro legalisation lobby will not be taken seriously.

In country's where drugs have allegedly been 'legalised' it usually means that possession of small amounts of drugs is not dealt with through the criminal justice system but may mean a mandatory referral to a drug clinic etc. This model has been hailed as a success in Portugal, where possession of small amounts of drugs are dealt with by way of mandatory referral to drug counsellors. Portugal had the highest use of heroin in Europe at the time and this reduced up until 2009, but if you delve a bit deeper there are other factors that account for the alleged benefits of legalisation. Portugal's affluence increased significantly during the early 2000's. Portugal had almost no rehabilitation in place when possession was legalised, but significant rehabilitation was introduced at the same time. Some academic studies point out that heroin use is cyclical and has natural peaks and troughs. This is because every decade the current batch of heroin users either die or reach such a low that they chose to use rehab. Heroin use in Portugal is rising again as the current cycle of rehabilitation and deaths has taken its course and the economy finds itself in recession again.

Mexico legalised drug possession two years ago. It may be too early to judge, but clearly this has had no effect on the drugs cartels murdering and butchering each other for their stake of the trade. I do understand that most of that trade is north of their border.

Holland has long been lauded by the pro drugs brigade as a society where a liberal attitude to drugs has brought benefits. Go and visit Amsterdam. There are seedy drug dealers crawling all over the city and equally seedy users looking for their next fix and the money to buy it. Property crime in Amsterdam is one of the highest in Europe. For example, there are 1.5 million bikes in Amsterdam and every year 600,000 are stolen.

Sweden has one of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe and is a model many western countries should consider adopting. They have strict enforcement of drug legislation coupled with significant investment in prevention and  rehabilitation.

To my knowledge, no country in the world has de-criminalised or licensed drug production, sale, distribution or supply. This is largely due to the fact that  there is a United Nations mandate in place that states that all member countries must have legislation in place to make these activities a criminal offence.

I can understand the argument to supply existing addicts with drugs to prevent them turning to crime to feed their habit. This may make sense but there are risks attached to it. Supplying addicts with drugs will mean that unlawful dealers will work harder to maintain their market and recruit other customers to fill that gap. A strategy will need to be in place to deal with this which will undoubtedly mean further investment in prevention. I am a firm believer in consequences though and if anyone being supplied with state drugs sells them or has other drugs then it is straight off to prison.

I have heard all the arguments against regulating drugs including for the police; diminished public respect, alienation from youth, recruiting difficulties, increased workloads, budget pressures, corruption, injury and death. For society in general; reducing, gang violence, organised crime, property crime, HIV and Hep C, negating organised crime. For the user; state control on price, purity and safety of the product, controlling supply to minors, encouraging users to control or abstain from drug use.

I wanted to touch on a few of the myths that the pro legalisation lobby roll out and which, I believe, are total bunkum.

1. Prohibition of alcohol didn't work in America and drug prohibition does not work either.  Prohibition was actually tried in a number of country's before the USA jumped on the bandwagon in 1920. Organised crime took over the supply and distribution of what was an already large and developed alcohol market. What seems to be ignored is the fact that alcohol had been in common use for hundreds of years and was used by the majority of the population. Prohibition was never going to work when alcohol consumption was endemic in society. With a few exceptions, drug use was the preserve of the affluent few until it was made illegal in the 1920's. Making drugs illegal did not mean that a large vacuum was created and it did not affect the general population. Most importantly, by making it illegal a strong message was delivered that drug use was harmful for you and society. Drugs are far more addictive and potentially harmful. The number of alcoholics as a percentage of alcohol users is tiny compared to drug addicts/users.

2. We are losing the war on drugs and we cannot afford to enforce drug laws and we are criminalising 'innocent' people and filling our prisons with drug offenders.
We are certainly not losing the war on drugs and in fact strong drug enforcement combined with rehabilitation has ensured that drug use has remained under control. Drug users have a false belief that more people are using drugs than in fact are. This is because users tend to associate with other users and non users avoid users. In fact only 7% of the British population regularly use cannabis and only 3% cocaine. 

Using the same argument there is a better case to legalise all crime. Crime has been endemic in society since the evolution of man and that war is no closer to being won. It is criminalising and alienating far more people than drugs legislation. At age 25 almost one third of young men have criminal records. If we legalise criminal damage, shoplifting, assault, public order offences, drunk offences etc. etc. we can prevent criminalising almost all of society. The argument is ridiculous.

3. Drug legalisation will significantly reduce or eliminate organised crime and make drugs safer.
This is another complete fantasy. Organised criminals currently involved in drugs are not going to just disappear and become volunteer churchwardens because the state is supplying or allowing regulated drug supply. Organised criminals will fight for their market share and simply supply drugs at cheaper prices, target new markets such as young people and, more worryingly, develop more and more new drugs with higher potency and effects. If you look at the current licensed alcohol and cigarette trades, organised crime has moved into it  supplying duty free bootlegged goods at cheaper prices but also supplying fake beer and wine largely produced in China and the Far East. The pro legalisation lobby then argue that we don't tax drugs and make them so cheap that the criminal suppliers cannot undercut them. There is some evidence that legalisation does not affect use but supply and price does. Cheap readily available drugs will cause an increase in users and all the costs to society that that brings.

In my view the risks of a liberal experiment of lawful drug supply by way of regulation coupled with lawful possession far outweigh any potential benefits. Liberalisation of possession in countries such as Portugal and Holland has done little to address drugs and crime. The Swedish model of strict enforcement with investment in prevention and treatment works better. Legalisation to an extent that the state is in competition with unlawful suppliers brings genuine risks of significant increases in users and addicts and the damage and cost to society that this will bring. Once you end up with a significant percentage of the population using drugs going back will be very difficult, if not impossible, as was prohibition. Most importantly, making drugs unlawful delivers a strong message to society that, like other crimes, drugs are bad for the user and society and should remain criminal offences.