Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Crime / Policing

Internet Surveillance: Yes, It’s Another Round of Big Government Bingo!

OK, so far, I’ve got:

  • “combating terrorism”
  • “need to take action”
  • “serious crime”
  • “potential for saving lives”

I’ve also picked up the ‘ratchet effect’ bonus point for:

  • “There is nothing new about this….updating existing regulations.”

And for triple points the perennial:

  • “paedophile”

Of course, it’s another broken manifesto promise and another desperate attempt to pander to a perceived Daily Mail constituency (the last six years of courting the Guardian having gone so well). Today it’s the proposals to force ISPs to install equipment to monitor everyone’s internet traffic (to conform, it appears, to EU desires). It’s OK, though, they won’t be storing the contents of your emails (yet) and they will need a court order to undertake the interceptions (for now).

Indeed almost every sentence that is spoken or written in defence of the plans can be suffixed with the words ‘yet’ or ‘for now’ without negating what has been said.

I suppose we should congratulate the Home Office for so effectively house-training the Home Secretary and her team.

However, judging by the comment ratings over at the Mail, this isn’t going down too well even there.

So let us, just for the record, run through the usual rebuttals, as they cannot be repeated too often.

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear.” If I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I have to prove it? Innocent until proven guilty and all that? It’s one thing to be questioned by a police officer if I was at the scene of a crime, or close to a suspect, but to have my everyday movements monitored on the assumption, or just in case I am a criminal? Oh, and don’t patronise me by comforting me that court orders will be required before all this happens; how many such orders ever get refused?

“If you’ve nothing to hide…” another variation on the above. You may not think you’ve anything to hide today, but we live under a law that criminalises free – albeit very distasteful – speech and is open about introducing retrospective legislation.

“It’s for the children.” Yes, they have actually mentioned paedophiles in all this, because they’re on every street corner, you know, and no-one has ever been picked up and prosecuted after surfing or downloading such material. That famous episode of Brass Eye episode wasn’t satire, it was a prediction.

It’s all OK, though, because there will be some vague form of independent oversight, and it’s not going to be a central database (yet). So that’s alright then, we can trust the government’s word on that can’t we?




What's Wrong With This Picture?

Via JuliaM:

Prisoners should be handed an anti-overdose drug when they leave jail in case they binge on heroin in their first days outside, the Government’s drug advisers said yesterday.

He wants it to be more widely used after figures showed that, on average, one in eight heroin–injecting prisoners overdose within two weeks of leaving jail and one in 200 die.

Ken Clarke

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke

So, we keep drug addicts in a supposedly secure, controlled and regimented environment, and yet we don’t take the opportunity with this literally captive audience to clean them up, fill any gaps in their often patchy basic academic and vocational skills and so ensure that they stay on the ‘straight and narrow’ once they’re on the outside?

Am I missing something here? Ah, of course, when Ken Clarke talks about reducing prisoner numbers it was by not locking them up in the first place! How could I have missed such a simple, sustainable and clearly far better solution to reducing crime?

Quote of the Day

Just conceive the state of…one parish, in which there are eighteen different local boards for [crime prevention], each acting without concert with the other!

The “day” was 11th May 1829: Robert Peel was discussing the case for the proposed new Metropolitan Police Force in a letter to the Duke of Wellington.

Of course, such bureaucracy and silo thinking would be unthinkable these days … there would be a partnership board to co-ordinate everything.

N.B. I have cheated a bit and modernised the language: Peel actually wrote, perhaps more poetically, of “the management of the watch” instead of “crime prevention”.

Blunkett Innoculated Against a Democratic Plague

There are many who would say that if someone like former Home Secretary David Blunkett says that something is very wrong, then that’s the way to go.

Mr Blunkett said that directed elected police commissioners should be avoided “like the plague” following his review of police accountability.

He said that not only would it politicise the police force but could also lead to far right groups “able to play to particular issues at particular times getting elected and being in control of our police services.”

Welcome to planet Blunkett, where the police no doubt patrol the quiet streets of Britain, probably with round red-cheeked faces, saying a jovial “mind how you go” to little old ladies. Oh, and on this planet the police are not politicised.

This, from a former home secretary in a Labour government that has done more than any other to turn the police into a politically correct, hamstrung by not only bureaucracy but an agenda driven from a left-liberal political establishment which has little to do with protecting the public and nicking bad people. Of course,the Left would say that started under the evil Thatch, but whatever, we arrive at much the same place now.

As is fashionable these days, Blunkett has called up the spectre of a favourite bogeyman (when it’s not terrorists or paedophiles), the (misnamed) “Far Right”. He seems oblivious that one development that has given the Far Right Left traction is the fact that the police, increasingly, are seen as being directed by a politically correct agenda that bears little relation to the priorities of those the officers are meant to be serving.

The fact is that with directly elected police chiefs, which is Conservative party policy now, it is unlikely that a candidate of the Far Left, who actually enjoy the support of only a small minority of voters, will either get elected or even see support increasing once a truly locally accountable person is at the helm of the local police force.

As long as Commissioners and Chief Constables have to answer to unelected ministers they are in a political environment. In particular, when the Home Office falsely uses national security grounds to encourage the Met Police to arrest an opposition politician, then the police are politicised. When officers arrest a heckler at a party conference who was simply expressing a viewpoint, the police are politicised.

As I have noted before, one man’s politicisation is another’s democratic accountability.

It’s Not Direct Action – It’s Assault

I agree with John Prescott.

OK, I’ll pause while you read that again….

And I think it was wrong to attack Lord Mandelson.

OK, another pause….

Well, I should point out … it was wrong to physically assault Peter Mandelson. Note, “assault” not “direct action”, that term much beloved of many in the media, whether with or without weasily quotation marks.

From the feted Swampy to the latest green custard incident, examples of criminal damage, assault and various other acts of law-breaking are excused as “direct action” – though strangely only when such acts are perpetrated in the name of some left-friendly environmental cause (yes, even one that crosses party boundaries, like the Heathrow third runway). The laws being broken are not draconian rules imposed by a totalitarian regime, but basic rules of decent behaviour necessary to hold a civilised society together.

Worse, we recently had a legal case of direct action being excused in a court of law on the grounds of – to strip away the frills – a very heartfelt cause. Much as the perpetrators might dress up their actions by paper thin accusations about a lack of democracy – and of course such complaints usually only come to the surface when a democratic process doesn’t come to a decision they like – it should bear little more weight than a burglar justifying his actions by citing his victim’s wealth or his own financial situation.

Yet one is left wondering, as so often these days, how much effect the media coverage has on such events. Naturally they only occur to gain media attention, but the soft-handed way in which such actions are written off with acceptable sounding terms like “direct action” has a cumulative effect on establishing a legitimacy for them, and a longer term corrosive effect on how democracy and free speech works in our country – and the excuse that is given to those who would use the power of the state to restrict all our freedoms.

(And yes, for the record, I also agree with my own party’s statement on the matter. Those who oppose the third runway should be making the loudest condemnations of this attack.)

The Police and Politics

The storm over the Damien Green arrest hasn’t gone away. Like being in the eye of any storm, it’s relatively quiet right now, but the winds will pick up again tomorrow when MPs debate the issue.

With the furore over the Speaker’s role, and Martin trying to shift blame onto the Serjeant-at-Arms (one of his staff, in effect), we mustn’t forget the wider implications for the Police.

Let’s face it, there has been a degree of ineptitude on the part of the police – though not to the extent of the Stephen Lawrence or de Menezes cases, but as with them, I suspect it has been mainly a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy (though I’m not commenting on the motivations of those in government who have allegedly led the police into this mire).

But when defending themselves, the police cannot just step back from the situation saying “we don’t do politics”. When officers arrest an MP and/or search his home and office, they are getting involved in a political situation, whether they like it or not. It is unavoidable, but what they can do is be better prepared for the inevitable fall-out.

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Who OK’d The Green Arrest?

Damian Green, Shadow Immigration Secretary, was arrested last night in connection with a leak enquiry. It would be easy to point out the Mugabe-esque nature of arresting opposition politicians for being awkward to the government. Nor that it is not out of character for Labour who, after all, created the national security legislation that was abused in order to silence critics at their party conference.

An interesting question, though, is surely such an arrest must have required clearance from the highest level in the Met? One Sir Ian Blair, who coincidentally has had his own run in with a senior Conservative recently and is now leaving, grumbling, and under a cloud?

Goodbye Mr. Blair (The Sequel)

So now the other Blair has gone, after failing to receive the support of Mayor Boris Johnson. Livingstone has decried the move as marking a politicisation of the Commissioner’s role …. like it’s a wholly bad thing. While the Mayor may not (yet) have the explicit power of appointment or dismissal of the commissioner, today has shown that the power and influence that comes with the directly elected Mayor’s position can still have much the same effect – at least, so far, as far as an effective dismissal is concerned. It has laid down an important marker that the person directly accountable to the people of Greater London can trump the delegated authority of the Home Secretary and, perhaps more importantly, the constant of the civil service that serves her.

I’ll leave the discussions of the merits or otherwise of Sir Ian Blair’s tenure to others. A positive and powerful precedent has been set, and a clear example of real devolution has emerged.

"Useless" Would Be An Improvement

Today sees the Government unveiling its latest brainwave to tackle binge-drinking / underage drinking / anti-social behaviour.

The proposals also include handing the police tougher powers to disperse gangs of young people congregating outside.

A new offence would make it illegal for someone under 18 to be regularly caught in the possession of alcohol.

I know that in my own area, the local bobbies take it upon themselves, in a dangerous display of initiative, to empty the bottles and cans of errant youth, as well as donating the unopened vessels to the Hayes Village Fete bottle stall (14th June this year – put it in the diary). They seem to be able to do this without any new laws, and I have no doubt that if things really kicked off, they could nick the relevant miscreants using public order laws.

But hey, Something Must Be Done, so let’s have another law. Which adds little to the previous laws, and is no substitute for some decent coppering (when coppers are allowed to get on with the job of coppering, of course). One major reason that dispersal orders and alcohol exclusion zones are so understandably popular is that these days, nicking one errant member of the public the old fashioned way will take the officer off the street for half a shift at least.

While we’re on the subject of useless things to do while waiting for the General Election, this comes just a couple of weeks after the grand but unworkable plan to keep us safe in our beds by recording details of every electronic communication that everyone makes in the UK in the preceding twelve months. Dizzy demolished that one beyond repair, but I suspect it’ll resurface again in a year or so, and will be dutifully reported by hacks working to a deadline and with an inexplicable lack of access to Google.

Finally, in a similar vein, we hear of this fantastic (as in, of a fantasy world) development, from the Register:

EU project scans air passengers for terrorist tendencies

An EU aviation safety project is testing a camera-based passenger surveillance system intended to spot terrorists poised to rush the cockpit.

[The system] … relies on video cameras being built into every passenger’s seat….

Each camera tracks passengers’ facial expressions, with the footage then analysed by software to detect developing terrorist activity or potential air rage. Six wide-angle cameras are also positioned to monitor the plane’s aisles, presumably to catch anyone standing by the cockpit door with a suspiciously crusty bread roll.

But since people never sit still on planes, the software’s also designed so that footage from multiple cameras can be analysed. So, if one person continually walks from his seat to the bathroom, then several cameras can be used to track his facial movements. (Or maybe to track the freshness of the tuna pasta? – NR)

As the Reg correctly concludes:

But isn’t it a little late to be detecting terrorists once they’re already on the plane? And how prepared are we to have our every last twitch monitored and analysed?

As many commenters have pointed out, how many false positives will there be out of all the thousands of passengers flying every single day on the highest risk routes? How many times will a terminal be closed as an escorted airliner is landed with a particularly nervous flyer on board, setting off the system?

The fact that it is billed as an EU project should fill us with both relief and foreboding. Relief, since if the EU’s involved it’ll take decades to actually happen and then won’t work properly anyway and foreboding because when it does happen it’ll cost a fortune, so it’ll be worse than useless.

It’s Not Just the Knives

So, almost days after Jimmy Mizen’s tragic murder in Lee, comes another knife fatality. Rob Knox, stabbed in an apparent fracas at the Metro bar next to Sidcup station, was the latest addition to this year’s grim statistics. Like Mizen, but unlike many of the other knife deaths, this murder was not gang related. (This sort of event is getting closer to home: Knox’s murder took place only a couple of hundred yards from where I used to work.) Just under a year ago, of course, we had the murder of Ben Hitchcock (in what did appear to be a gang incident) in Beckenham.

Clearly, Mayor Johnson’s determination to target knife crime is right, and equally it is right that the police should be emboldened to go in hard when dealing with it, as they did a week ago in Deptford. However, whether it is fuelled by gang culture or just a more general readiness to resort to potentially lethal means of violence, measures to tackle simply the possession of knives, though right and necessary, are largely dealing with the symptoms.

What makes someone seem so ready to put a knife into another human being, knowing that there is a good chance it will kill them? If it wasn’t a knife, would Knox’s killer have simply used a broken bottle?

As with the debate on gun control, it should be remembered that knives don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course, tackling the underlying cultures will take a lot longer and a lot more than just policing. That being said, the police can play a role in demonstrating that it is unacceptable to resort to violence, whether lethal or not, on our streets or off. Part of this is to make it clear that the violence and conspiracy to commit it will be not only prosecuted (which means letting the police get on with the job) but rewarded with fitting sentences. This means that the Mayor or police alone cannot solve the problem – it goes all the way through the criminal justice system, and all the way to the top of Government.

RIP Rob Knox.