Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Too many targets? Surely not?

Well its a day old news now (sorry, been busy, blah blah) but the prize for the least surprising news article of the year so far goes to the BBC.

Despite the reams of bloggers telling the world for months and even years in some cases that we have too much paperwork, and discretion comes a limping second place to government imposed targets and directives, it is now official. The HMIC say so.

The Home Secretary comes up with the usual pseudo-enthusiasm about how they will listen to this report and suddenly free up 400,000 of police hours by engaging his recommendations.

Forgive my unabashed criticism but my arse you will. I'll believe it when I see it. The trumpeted reports about how many forms have been discontinued is a sly move as they completely fail to mention that the old forms have in the majority of cases simply been replaced with a newer version that is not necessarily better or quicker.

I can remember the old version of the stop / search forms. The size of half a piece of A5 paper it recorded the essential details- who, where and why (what power) and that was it. However, the new version is half the size of A4, has codes for why someone was stopped and then a different code to enter for what they've been searched for (to help statistical compilation), has a space for you to explain why they weren't given a copy of the form at the scene (the office brigade get very uptight if that isn't completed, and I get sent them back with red pen and highlights). And we have to fill out one of these every time we ask someone what they're doing.

"Excuse me sir, would you mind telling me what you're doing? Its 2am, a residential area and you seem in a bit of a hurry".

"My mate's just dropped me off, and I really need the toilet, and the wife'll kill me because I'm this late".

"Fair enough, on you go..... oh no, hang on wait, I need all of your personal details, date of birth, current address, self-defined ethnicity, clothing description, height, distinctive features, hair style, and offer you a copy of everything that I'm writing including why I felt it necessary to ask you to account for your behaviour."

"Do I have to wait?"

"Er no but......"


"Dammit. I've still got to write this thing out in its entirety and now additionally add why I failed to give him a copy of it. Oh and transfer all the details of it onto a computer database. Best get myself a cup of tea then".

I was about to write this is a fairly extreme example, but it isn't. Seriously, if I or any other officer asks someone to account for their presence in any particular place, we are required to fill out a form detailing just that and why.

The logic behind this is to keep the individuals concerned in being asked to account for their behaviour an opportunity to understand why, and to have a record of it if they are feeling victimised.

Noble ideas. But the end result is we don't ask as many questions of people we think are up to no good as perhaps we should. For if one does complain that he's been victimised, and you haven't filled out your stop form, then you shall face discipline.

Yet from personal experience the only ones who really get targeted are the ones who we know are up to no good, but don't always have the level of proof required for a conviction. Amnesty would therefore say they are innocent and perhaps in some cases they are right.

But not always.