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police procedures, the DPP and subtle corruption

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For personal reasons, I’ve become very interested in police procedures lately. I’ve always been sceptical, not to say cynical, about these processes, but it’s time to do some fact-checking and re-examining of assumptions. I’m particularly interested in the criteria for promotion, and here’s what I first read, probably from an American site:

To earn a promotion in just about any police force, you must successfully complete all necessary training and duty requirements with above average to superior ratings. You must have met or exceeded any quotas, directives, mission and conduct protocols required in your current rank to advance to the next rank.

The word that jumped out at me in this para, because it was the sort of thing I was looking for, was ‘quotas’. I’ve always had a suspicion that promotion is very much a numbers game – numbers of arrests and convictions in particular. Of course it might be said that arrests are a police matter and convictions a matter of criminal law, but it obviously would be a problem for a police officer/detective if the arrest-to-conviction rate was low. It would suggest over-zealousness in arresting, turning a brownie point into a black mark.

Try googling ‘police and quotas’ and you’ll immediately find it’s a hot issue, especially in such low-level crimes as speeding, DUI and other traffic offences, which generate revenue – though I’m not sure where that revenue goes, as  yet. But whether it’s explicit or not, I’ve no doubt that quotas are in the minds of higher-ups pretty well constantly as they assess the lower ranks, in all areas of policing. Here’s a local example from November 2011 – several years ago, but several years after my own negative police experience, in 2005-6. An article from The Advertiser, titled ‘Leaked email reveals police ordered to meet arrest quotas’, described an email sent by a Senior Sergeant at Holden Hill police station to patrol officers. The email set a five-week target for the officers:

MAKE five arrests and reports. ARREST or report two drink-drivers. MAKE nine traffic contacts, including on-the-spot fines, using mobile breath tests. ISSUE one drug-related fine or diversion (for minor illegal drug possession).

The email went on to say that though the majority of police easily met these quotas, and even ‘blitzed’ them, a small minority were ‘coasting along’ in terms of their ‘duty’. Though the email directive was quickly rescinded when they were caught out – it was admitted to be ‘outside of SAPOL’s policies and guidelines’, it was pretty clear from its contents that quotas such as these were standard. The only mistake here, from the police perspective, was to put them in writing. I’d be willingly to bet all my hard-earned (and that ain’t much) that Holden Hill police would’ve spent more energy seeking out the leaker of that email than in trying to improve their procedures.

Arrests for such crimes as rape and murder are of course much more rare, but any such arrest would be a major point-scorer, though of course rape arrests are almost entirely dependent on reports from members of the public, and presumably the arrest will take place if the accuser’s story is convincing, and if it’s corroborated by physical evidence and/or by witnesses. But there’s also the pressure to arrest from within the department – for kudos. In this case, as in so many rape accusations, there’s no physical evidence and no witnesses. So you might think that everything hangs on the convincingness of the boy’s story, but it’s not so simple as that, for you have also to take into account the willingness to be convinced shown by the police, which is affected by the benefit to them of making an arrest. Given the ‘he said he said’ nature of cases such as mine, and given the moral panic surrounding child sexual abuse in recent times, the police could safely bet, assuming the boy’s story wasn’t too wildly improbable, that the case wouldn’t be dismissed out of hand; that it could ‘go somewhere’, all of which would be to their benefit. And the further it might go, the better.

Now to use the term ‘police corruption’ is a dangerous thing, but corruption can also be subtle. That’s why police quotas are frowned upon (by outsiders) – because they can be subtly, or not so subtly, corrupting.

I’ve only recently discovered that the case against me all those years ago could’ve ended in any of four possible ways (but I may still have more to learn about this): my conviction, my acquittal, dismissal, or nolle prosequi. The nolle prosequi verdict (or non-verdict) was unknown to me before last year, so I’d always assumed just three possibilities, of which conviction was out of the question as far as I was concerned. Acquittal, I gradually learned through my court appearances, was also out of the question because it entailed the whole shebang of a trial with witnesses, or at least testimonial-type ‘witnesses’, cross-examinations, a  jury perhaps, and much wasted expenditure. So it was definitely going to be dismissal, to my mind, due to a complete lack of evidence, or the frivolous nature of the allegation – though frivolous is surely not the word. No frivolity here.

Now, back in those days I kept a folder of all the documents sent to me relating to my case. I called it ‘the big lie’. Unfortunately, between the case being dropped in early 2006 and last year when it came back big time via the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) and their adverse finding on my being a possible danger to children, which has led to me being suspended from my teaching job, that folder disappeared, presumably because I chucked it out, though I can’t remember doing so. Anyway I wish I hadn’t. So now I’m not sure if I ever received a final document reporting the nolle prosequi finding. I don’t think I did, because if I had I’m sure I would’ve looked up nolle prosequi and been concerned about what it entailed.

Anyway, nolle prosequi is what it is, and it isn’t satisfactory. In fact it lends greater urgency to the letter I sent to the DPP immediately the case was dropped. In that letter, which I composed well beforehand, just waiting for the inevitable dismissal, I argued tersely that the DPP had flouted the fundamental principle enunciated on its website, that they would only prosecute if they had a reasonable chance of winning the case. Of course, my argument depended on the idea that having no evidence whatever equated to having no reasonable chance of success. Maybe I wasn’t entirely sure of this at the time, but I have to say that I’m less sure of it now, as, due to more people knowing about what has happened to me, I’ve been offered a number of tragic stories of teachers or carers being falsely convicted of sex crimes. Presumably these poor souls, released but never quite exonerated after the accusers changed or dropped their stories, were not convicted on evidence, but on some supposed balance of probabilities. That’s to say, the probability that the accuser was telling the truth was (significantly?) greater than the probability that the accused was telling the truth. But of course, this wasn’t probability in any mathematical sense. In fact it would be difficult to say what the probability might be based on. But it’s obvious that the stories from both sides have to ‘check out’, as they say in TV cop shows. What seems to be happening with today’s moral panic is that, perhaps to make up for failures to take sexual abuse claims seriously in the past, the bar for acceptance of these claims is lowering, and the police will rarely find themselves in trouble for accepting, without too much analysis, the accusers’ stories above the stories of the accused. And this moral panic is apparently infecting the DPP too, by virtue of the fact that they’re more easily able to secure convictions without evidence, based on a balance of probabilities that has become subtly corrupted over time.

We need to push back against this, insistently, or more good people will become victims of the police-judicial system, and fewer males will feel safe to become teachers and carers of young people. It’s already happening, of course.

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Written by stewart henderson

January 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Posted in arrest

Tagged with , , , ,

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