Archive for October, 2011

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance, the trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance…

The trap is set... or is it?

Not too long ago an officer I know was sat in his unmarked vehicle on a car park at a local supermarket. Looking around he noticed a well known criminal, let’s call him Billy, loitering about. Knowing it was likely Billy was up to no good he continued to watch and did not have to wait long before Billy proved his instincts correct. Billy sidled up to an unattended car, broke in and began removing items from the glove box.

Unfortunately for Billy no sooner had he done so he found himself tackled to the ground and placed under arrest. A short trip to the cells later, Billy was interviewed but protested his innocence claiming he was a victim of ‘entrapment’.

What is entrapment though and why was Billy very much not a victim of anything other than his own stupidity?

In England and Wales, entrapment is where a person has been enticed into committing an offence that they otherwise would not have committed. To claim that a person has been the subject of entrapment is to say that police have provoked them into the commission of a crime. It is to say that they have not broken the law voluntarily, that the circumstances have been engineered to ensure their guilt.

Arguments about entrapment can be relevant both when it comes to obtaining evidence relating to an offence which has already been committed and also in securing evidence for crimes that have not yet happened.

When it comes to deciding whether evidence should be excluded because it has been obtained by entrapment, the courts will consider things such as how difficult a particular offence is to detect and whether the crime investigated is particularly prominent is a certain area. Evidence obtained through a degree of entrapment is not automatically excluded, it is down to the court to decide the necessity for the police’s course of action.

As entrapment involves enticing someone to break the law, simply providing them with an opportunity to do so is not likely to qualify as entrapment. This means that undercover ‘sting’ operations – sending scruffy-looking officers to buy drugs off a street trader for example – would not amount to entrapment as the officer has done no more than given the dealer an opportunity to ply his trade, allowing him to voluntarily break the law in the process.

So was Billy the victim of a cruel police entrapment? He hadn’t been provoked into breaking into the car, nothing has been set up to ensure he did so and the fact that he did it right in front of a police officer was his own misfortune. A victim of entrapment he was not.

I’m conquered in a car seat, and I’m lookin’ straight at you…

This is what most police stakeouts actually look like. Probably.

The stakeout is a big part of any decent cop film. Two lonely cops sitting in their car for hours at a time, eating junk food and watching nothing happen at a shady address across the street. Is it this simple though in real life?

The short answer is yes. And no.

Whilst a decent stakeout will almost certainly involve doughnuts and boredom, it will also involve getting the proper legal authorisation to be ‘stakeouting’ in the first place.

In England the capability for public bodies to carry out surveillance is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, also known by time pressed, acronym fond police officers as ‘RIPA’. This Act tells public organisations such as the police, councils and even, when he’s in the UK, James Bond, what they can and can’t do when it comes to covert investigations and the collection of private information.

The Act is important as without there being proper legislation and scrutiny in place, covert surveillance could be seen as in infringement on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which grants everyone the right to ‘respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’.

Article 8 is one of the Convention’s ‘qualified‘ rights meaning that in the right circumstances, surveillance can be carried out if it is necessary, done so legally and in the pursuit of a legitimate aim.

The Act defines ‘covert‘ in relation to steps having been taken to ensure the subject is unaware that surveillance is taking place. ‘Surveillance‘ means monitoring, observing or listening to people, their movements, activities and includes making recordings of this information.

When it comes to the police stakeout, the Act splits our powers into two categories – ‘directed‘ and ‘intrusive‘ surveillance.

Directed surveillance means employing techniques during the course of an investigation that are likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person. Information collected as a result of day to day activities or in response to something that has happened there and then (hiding behind a lamp post to observe suspicious activity, for example) would not qualify as ‘directed’ for the purposes of the Act.

Intrusive surveillance is different to the above as it involves the collection of information taking place inside a residential premises or private vehicle, be it by placing a bug or having an officer stood in the corner of a room disguised as a pot plant. Because it involves intentionally invading a place in which a person could reasonably expect privacy, intrusive surveillance is, to understate, a big deal.

Who can authorise us then to cut eye holes in a newspaper and sit outside someone’s house? Well, for directed surveillance we need to have obtained the authorisation of a Superintendent.

To launch intrusive surveillance though, we need to go to the head honcho himself – the Chief Constable. Even with the green light from the Chief though, the authorisation also needs the approval of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners before it can go ahead. In addition to this, intrusive surveillance will only be authorised in relation to the investigation of the most serious crime, again ensuring that it is proportionate and so does not breach Human Rights law.

A stakeout isn’t simply a matter of parking up outside someone’s house and nor should it be. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is there to ensure that police powers are set out clearly and used properly. It doesn’t stop us spending long nights guzzling doughnuts and talking about the ball game, it just means that we’re there for the right reasons.

Tell all the people that you see, follow me…

Twitter's famous Fail Whale, a rare sight over the past year. Where's the Success Whale is my question?

Many, many important events have taken place on October 21st. Even without scanning Wikipedia’s extensive list I was aware that it was on this day in 1945 that women were first allowed to vote in France.

It’s common knowledge that on October 21st 1977 the European Patent Institute was founded, that on the same day in 1854 Florence Nightingale was sent to the Crimean War, in 1956 Princess Leia was born and in 1125 Cosmas of Prague died.

Also today in 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was being fought and Nelson was running around kissing his crew before dying.

Up amongst these momentous events – and strangely not yet on Wikipedia’s list – was that on October 21st 2010 I was speaking to Gina Lycett, communications honcho at Walsall Police Station, who helped my set up my @pcstanleywmp twitter account.

I’d decided to try it out after seeing PCSO Skinner use it to chat to the folk on her beat and had thought ‘what a good idea, why don’t I give that a go myself?’. A year has now passed and looking back I don’t think there’d have been any way of predicting how my feed, and others around the force, would have taken off.

The reception has been fantastic and the amount of people contacting myself through twitter each day shows how well the idea of getting police officers tweeting has been received.

As it’s Friday today, traditionally on twitter this means it’s time to participate in ‘Follow Friday‘. For any of you unfamiliar with twitter, this gives users of the network a chance to recommend their favourite accounts to their followers.

I’ve never been particularly good at getting involved in Follow Friday myself, mainly because there’s so many excellent accounts to offer that I struggle to pick my favourites.

As it’s my ‘twitterversary’ today, I thought I’d try and highlight a few of my favourite accounts on this blog in an attempt to make up for fifty-two missed Follow Fridays.

I’ll split them down into categories, starting off with -

1) Great West Midlands Police tweeters -

I’d started off tweeting after seeing how PCSO Skinner was using the site so she has to get a mention first of all, as do PCSO Latham, PCSO Taylor and PCSO Haynes who are all doing fantastic jobs showing the public what the role of a PCSO involves.

When it comes to tweeting police officers, who can’t go far wrong with Sgt. De-Hayes and PC Marshal, both working in Walsall. Sgt. O’Reilly from Solihull is another good pick.

Twitter has been put to good use by our central communications teams for ‘official’ accounts such as the @walsallpolice and @brumpolice feeds, the latter of which has been nominated for several awards.

There are also many senior officers using twitter to keep in touch with the public, particularly Supt. Payne, Supt. Fraser and Chief Inspector Blakeman who is something of a pioneer with the use of videos and live broadcasts.

Also highly recommended would be Inspector Guilfoyle, Head Special Constable James Horton and the ever-popular account of the WMP helicopter, Alpha Oscar One. Click here to see the full list of West Midlands Police Social Networking links.

2) Great police tweeters from further afield -

Taking things outside West Midlands Police, I have a growing list of over five hundred tweeting police officers to pick from. This is by no means easy but would definitely suggest Sgt. Main from Lincolnshire, PCSO Beckett from Sheffield, PCSO Giles from Devon and, of course, the team of the Portsmouth City Centre Unit who were winners of a recent national tweeting competition.

Nick Keane from the NPIA deserves a mention for his hard work in coordinating us tweeting officers as does Chair of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, who uses the site to update everyone on what the Fed is up to, Royston Martis from Police Review Magazine and also Mike Downes who has been a great help to the force in developing our social media strategy.

3) Great police supporters -

The best thing about twitter is undoubtedly reading the messages I get sent from people in the local area, across the West Midlands and further afield.

Regular followers from whom I’m always looking forward to receiving a message from include Brownhills Bob (author of the Brownhills Blog), Matthew Walton, Tim Lewis, Claire Meal, Lesley and her friend Laura. Others include Ian Paintain, Joanne Moore, Keith Povall, Rich Johnstone, Kate Harney, John Walker, Chelle Sandland, Kate, Steve Wilcox, Zach Clist, Helen and Sally Morgan.

There are also a wide range of officers with personal, unofficial accounts who are worthy of a follow including Inspector Winter, Gav, Stephen Vickers, PC Rescueme, The Custody Sergeant (who has been doing a Follow Friday ‘story’ himself over on his blog) and solicitor type lady, Charlie Fox.

Now it’s been no easy job putting together the above list and it really is only the tip of the iceberg as there are so many more worthy feeds that you’re only likely to discover by delving into twitter yourself. Here’s to another year tweeting!

P.S. Apologies to anyone who having read the above has spit their tea all over the screen and shouted ‘What about me!!!?’, I’m aware I’ve probably missed a few important followers so apologies in advance. In addition, I wasn’t sure where I should include one of my favourite accounts, Weird Horse, so I guess I’ll have to squeeze him in here. Neigh…

It ain’t easy…

The above video is a short message from our Deputy Chief Constable, Dave Thompson, all about how the force aims to close the funding gap that we’re facing over the next four years of £126 million.

This works out as an equivalent to around a 20% reduction in our budget or to put it into terms that people (me) can more easily understand, the amount that we’re required to save could buy around 210 million Creme Eggs*.

Clearly doing so is no easy task but this said, the savings are to be found over a gradual four year period and will hopefully come from changing the way our backroom operations work to make the service more efficient.

Efficiency is certainly the current buzzword and it’s because of this that the thrillingly-named ‘Priority Based Budgeting’ strategy will be so important. Basically it means reassessing how we’re set up to deliver policing and identifying how we could improve to both cut waste and cut cost.

As DCC Thompson stresses, we’re not looking to alter how the front line services are delivered in any noticeable way so you shouldn’t worry about your neighbourhood beat surgery closing down or your favourite, most handsome and dashing Walsall A Unit response officer disappearing from the mean streets.

Times are tough and the decisions that need to be made even tougher – the first consideration though is the public. We put them first and when it comes to our finances, that’s the bottom line.

* This calculation is based on the assumption that the Creme Eggs are purchased at the extortionate 2011 rate of around 60p each. Obviously I’d expect any decent wholesaler to offer a bulk buying discount.

Licence, registration – I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience about the things that I done…

The HORT/1. You can call it a producer though...

You’re driving down the road, you see a police car in your rear view mirror and you get that traditional feeling of ‘Oh my god, the fuzz are behind me and they’ll pull me over for the smallest indiscretion’. Don’t worry – we won’t, but we might decide to exercise our powers under S. 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which grants us the ability to pull a motorist over for the purpose of a document check.

This is a position many motorists will find themselves in and doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve done anything wrong, only that for whatever reason an officer has decided that a quick peek at their driving documents would be a good idea.

Assuming that a motorist has with them at the time of the stop both parts of their driving licence (photo card and paper counterpart), their MOT certificate, insurance cover note and that all of these items are in order, the motorist is soon off on his or her jolly way.

An inability to display any of these documents at the roadside, however, means that a police officer is likely to issue to the motorist a catchily titled ‘HORT/1′ form, otherwise known as a producer.

The producer is a short receipt documenting the conditions of the stop e.g. who was driving what vehicle and at what time and makes a request to that driver to produce the specified documents to a police station for inspection within seven days from midnight on the date of issue.

The law states that motorists should carry their necessary documentation with them, although oddly it recognises that most people will not actually do this and so includes a proviso that no one will be prosecuted for being caught not carrying their documents if they produce them to a police station within the above given period.

Having taken the requested documents to a police station, the staff at the front desk will record the information given and providing that all is in order, no further action is taken. If a motorist brings in documents showing he or she was acting outside the law driving a particular vehicle, action is taken accordingly as it is if a person doesn’t fancy bringing in their documents at all.

Beyond issuing the producer, if an officer is being thorough he or she may also ‘report’ the motorist for not producing his documents. This means that the motorist is formally called to court to answer the charge, although this request is voided by the motorist producing the documents at a station within seven days. The reporting process involves the issue of a caution which can sound worrying like you are being arrested but not to worry, you aren’t and hopefully the officer dealing will explain the process to you.

The receipt of a producer is not an uncommon outcome of traffic stops and nor should it be something that causes any worry. We’re obviously keen that people’s driving documents are in order as if they aren’t the dangers are obvious – people without proper licenses or insurance can and do cause havoc and we’re keen to do everything we are able to stop them.

With the majority of producers the motorist brings in their documents which are fine and we then enter the results into our sophisticated filing system to be forgotten about. We’d not want you to go away from a traffic stop unsure about the next steps and if you do have questions, please ask. We don’t bite!

In a fast German car, I’m amazed that I survived – an airbag saved my life…

Wonderbra's poster campaign was famous for distracting male motorists. If you look very carefully you might just be able to spot a blog post below this picture...

You’re approaching a junction at low speed and notice from the brake lights of the car ahead that it is slowing. Your right foot begins to feather the middle pedal and you watch the needle on the speedometer begin to drift downwards. Glancing to your right you spot a billboard advertising a new series of your favourite television show. You didn’t know they were doing another series and from the looks of it all the original cast are coming back for another action packed run. When’s it starting though? You take another glance looking for the date when there’s a loud crunch, you’re jerked forward in your seat and then back again once you’ve traveled the short distance the seat belt will allow.

Unwittingly you’ve accidentally attempted to occupy the same bit of road as the motorist ahead. This rarely works and in this case has resulted in some very minor damage to both vehicles. No one’s injured but there are bits of broken headlights in the road. What to do?

This is an example of what we’d call a ‘damage only RTC’. It doesn’t necessarily need police involvement and is easily sorted through your respective insurance companies.

The first thing you’ll need to do is swap details. This means names, addresses and registration numbers. Once an accident has taken place you are legally obliged to remain at the scene and stay long enough to exchange these details, failing to do so is an offence.

If there is a reason that you can not exchange details at the time, perhaps because the other driver is not present, then you must inform the police of the accident in person as soon as possible and at the latest within twenty four hours. Again, failing to do so is against the law.

Any collision causing more than simply minor damage to the vehicles involved, for example if someone is injured, there is damage to something other than the vehicles or there is suspicion that someone involved has been drinking or is under the influence of drugs, then police attendance is required.

The standard policy is that if it’s thought someone has been injured then we’ll make the location of the crash as fast as possible. For us response officers that’s quick but for our traffic units that’s very quick indeed so it’ll not be long until you hear the reassuring sound of our sirens in the distance.

Upon arrival we’ll want to establish what has happened by speaking to those involved and may well conduct breathalyser tests to check that no one present has had ‘one for the road’ before climbing behind the wheel. We’ll then make recommendations based on our findings and seek to establish whether there are grounds to support a prosecution for any motoring offences.

The majority of smaller accidents are caused by drivers momentarily losing concentration and as such it’s rarely in the public interest to put the matter before the courts. This changes for larger, ‘life changing’ accidents though, the investigations for which can involve sealing roads off and bringing in specialist reconstruction teams to find evidence of what caused a crash.

Most motorists will be involved in some bump or other during the course of their lives and it’s not something that’s difficult to sort out. Obviously we’d prefer that motorists weren’t distracted by advertisements, funny dogs and nice rainbows but sadly this is always going to be a risk of putting us humans behind the wheel of a car. At least now it should be clearer as to what you’ll need to do should it happen to you.

Not guilty, no use handing me a writ while I’m trying to do my bit…

Today’s post has been written in response to the news published today that a suspected burglar has been shot during an incident in Worcestershire. As this is a developing story the details are rather scarce and whilst it is not clear at the current time exactly what had happened, I anticipate that the report is likely to bring back into focus the debate on what housekeepers can do to protect their properties and how the police deal with such reports.

Whilst I am going to touch on what the law says about what you can – and perhaps more importantly can’t – do if you’re unfortunate enough to confront a burglar in your house, the main aim of this post is to explain why it is the case that victim may end up being arrested along with the burglar himself.

To do this I’m going to consider the widely reported case of the burglar, John Bennell, who was stabbed by Peter Flanagan during a raid on his Salford home back in June this year. Below is the ITN report on the original incident.

On attending a report of an incident during which someone has received a serious injury or has been killed, it is the role of the police to establish exactly what has happened and under what circumstances.

Whilst media reports of incidents involving home owners using force against intruders ofter portray the matter as a black and white ‘got what he deserved for breaking in’ story, for the officers first on the scene things are rarely as simple and we need to look at the evidence in front of us to establish what has really happened.

People rarely tell us the whole truth and as such we become very skeptical about accepting a version of events without there being something to support it, without the account being tested and compared with those of others so that we can establish some idea about the account’s veracity.

Put simply, if we walk into a house and find a body and someone standing over them with a knife we can’t take their word that the deceased was a burglar and stabbed in self defence.

As we need to be sure that things have indeed happened as the homeowner has claimed, we need to be looking at preserving the scene and asking the homeowner some questions. Because we suspect that homeowner has – rightly or wrongly – killed the intruder we need to be interviewing the homeowner about the matter on tape.

For these reasons – because we need to preserve the scene, gather the evidence and interview – we need to consider arresting the homeowner as again at this point we can’t be entirely sure what has happened.

If you caught my previous blog about arrests, you might remember that we can arrest on suspicion of an offence. This means that being arrested doesn’t necessarily carry an implication of guilt, only that we have reason to suspect a person may have been involved in the commission of a crime.

Having fully investigated what has happened and taken a full account of the incident from the arrested person, we’re then likely to need to consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with our evidence.

It is the CPS who decide firstly whether there is enough evidence to take the matter to court and secondly – and crucially in cases such as that considered – is it in the public interest to do so?

Relevant to the use of force by homeowners (or indeed anyone else) is S. 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967. It basically allows anyone to use ‘such force as is reasonable’ in the prevention of a crime. The CPS have to look at the case, decide whether the evidence gathered supports the homeowner’s account of events and then consider whether their action was ‘reasonable’ in the given circumstances.

I’ve touched briefly on what may be considered ‘reasonable’ in a previous blog and will say now as I’d said then that the topic could not be done justice over several blogs, let alone a paragraph. Furthermore I wouldn’t even feel qualified to write about it with any authority, such an involved topic it is. I would say though that the easiest way to define a ‘reasonable’ use of force is that the force used was necessary and proportionate to the threat faced and absolutely no more.

Should the CPS, having considered the facts of the case, be satisfied that the actions of the homeowner were necessary, they can rule than a prosecution would not be in the public interest and any charges considered be dropped.

Crucially they cannot make such a decision without a detailed, impartial police investigation beforehand.

On the face of it I can understand that the police arresting someone for ‘protecting their home and family’ may seem contrary to what appears right. It is, however, in the interests of all parties that the matter is fully investigated so that the CPS can act to do the ‘right’ thing.

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