an autodidact meets a dilettante…

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Posts Tagged ‘police

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.

Written by stewart henderson

January 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Posted in arrest

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the battle for justice part 3 – is there any way to clear your name?

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A prosecution should not proceed if there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction being secured. This basic criterion is the cornerstone of the uniform prosecution policy adopted in Australia.

from ‘The decision to prosecute’, in ‘Statement of prosecution policy and guidelines’, Director of Public Prosecutions, South Australia, October 2014

shit, please don’t tell me the other 24

I’ve argued that it’s pretty well impossible to clear your name, once you’re arrested and charged with a serious crime, due to the nolle prosequi conundrum. And if the charge has to do with a child, you’re unlikely to get work which may involve children, even if no evidence whatsoever has been presented against you, as in my case. But surely there must be some way to clear your name. It can’t be all doom and gloom. Can it?

  1. Approach the former plaintiff

A number of people who know about the case have asked me – what about the boy who accused you? He’s a young man now, maybe he regrets it all and has changed his tune. If he could be prevailed upon to admit it was all a lie..?

To be honest, I have no inclination whatsoever to go looking for him, and it would probably look bad if I did. And if he changed his story after encountering me, or someone acting in my name, how reliable would his new story be? So I’m very reluctant to go down that path, though it might be a last resort.

2. Approach the DPP

More promising, perhaps, would be to go to the DPP. Why did they abandon the case? My guess has always been that the boy’s story was full of contradictions and kept changing, but it’s also possible that, under pressure, he admitted it was all made up. Way back then. As one of my quotes on nolle prosequi, from my previous post, states: Normally the DPP doesn’t give a reason for such a decision. I’m in the process of requesting all the court documents from the case, and maybe a reason for the decision will appear there, but again I’m very doubtful. And approaching the DPP for a reason now would surely be like trying to get blood out of a stone. Still, such a request might be worth a try.

3. Take it up with the ombudsman/human rights commission

Assuming my appeal fails – and it probably will – the DCSI website kindly suggests that I could take the matter up with these other organisations. The obvious problem with this is that it would be a long-term process, and I’m 61 years old, poor, and desperate to be reinstated in the job I love now. So, yes, I do feel it’s a human rights issue, and I would like to take it up, regardless, with the HRC, though I can hardly imagine it being a priority for them. It’s not a serious option for my immediate situation.

4. Appeal to consistency of character

This is the one that screams at me (and at others) as my best defence. We’ve all heard of criminal profiling, where the police or criminologists seek to predict future offending and victims based on past behaviour, but I have no criminal profile. When I was accused by this boy I was forty-nine years old, with no history, and never any accusations, of violence or sexual abuse of any kind. I’d fostered two young boys before this lad, and I fostered another three after him, with no complaints. I’m proud of what I did as a foster carer, and I’m particularly proud of my work as a teacher in recent years, with mostly young adults but a sprinkling of under eighteens in each class – scores  of them overall. And never a hint of a complaint. On the contrary…

And this is what really hurts. When the police arrested me for rape, they had never so much as seen me before. They knew nothing about me, they wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap. They arrested me purely due to the seriousness of the allegation. When the DPP took up the case, passing it from lawyer to lawyer for about a year, none of them knew me from a bar of soap. I was no more than a name. Similarly, when the DCSI began screening me 11 years later, they didn’t know me from a bar of soap. I was just one of the presumably thousands of individuals they had to screen. And they didn’t investigate me, in the way the Dunedin Study studied particular individuals longitudinally – profiling them, essentially. They investigated documents. The documents of the police and the DPP. The documents relating to that one, isolated allegation. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.

So an appeal to consistency of character won’t work when character isn’t being looked at at any point down the line. The DCSI appears to look at documents, not at character. The DPP also looks at documents, police documents, and the police don’t seem to look at anything much. The DCSI has stated that an adverse finding isn’t binding. Employers can make up their own minds. But it’s no surprise that employers, especially large-scale impersonal employers, given the current state of moral concern or panic over sexual abuse, will have a policy of accepting the DCSI finding. Thus in this case, they’ll rely on DCSI documents, which rely on court documents, which rely on police documents, which rely on, in this case, nothing much. I think they call this ‘procedural fairness’. Let’s not let our human, personal biases get in the way of effective decision-making.

The Dunedin longitudinal study, and every other study of its kind, give strong scientific credibility to the insight that the best guide to future behaviour is past behaviour. My life-time record of civilised, tolerant, non-violent and caring behaviour, however, was never taken into account by the police when they asked me to sit down at the Port Adelaide police station, not knowing me from a bar of soap, and promptly charged me with rape. And everything that I suffered over the next year, and everything that the DCSI is putting me through now, results from that event.

I had a chat with my semi-former boss today (I’ve been sort of suspended from work pending the outcome of my appeal). I told her I held little hope of my appeal being successful, because ‘I had nothing more to declare but my innocence’. I didn’t actually say that, just thought of it now, but that was the gist of it. But interestingly I feel more confident now as I go through the processes. That’s the usual way when you’re under this kind of cloud, your thoughts oscillate, often extremely, from pessimism to optimism and back again.

My hope, ridiculous as it is, is that when organisations like DCSI have their noses rubbed into the basic injustice of taking the most extreme, conservative view of nolle prosequi, thus destroying the careers of good people, they will see reason. And they might also be persuaded of the obvious truth that everyone else is taking the most extreme, conservative view of their findings.

I’ll no doubt survive, deprived of my vocation. I’ll go into retirement earlier, I’ll be more pressed for funds. I’ll most certainly miss my students, more than anything. But I won’t give up the fight. I don’t want any of these people to feel complacently that they’re making this world safer for children and young people. In this case, they’re most definitely not. And it’s not good enough to shrug and think that some collateral damage is necessary when you’re doing the ‘right thing’. It isn’t.

Written by stewart henderson

November 14, 2017 at 11:32 am