Posts Tagged 'PACE'

There’s always another point of view, a better way to do the things we do…

Heroin addiction can be a horrible affliction, a little understanding can go a long way to helping address the issue. (Image from Psychonaught)

It was one of the strangest prisoner interviews I’ve done in a while. Just me and a shoplifter who had already admitted taking spirits from a shop and was now telling me all about why she had done it.

For the interview itself, the confession was what I’d needed.

Yes, she’d taken the goods. No, she hadn’t any reason to think that she could take whiskey and vodka from the shelves without paying for them and yes, had she have got away with it she would have quickly sold the bottles.

Points to prove for a theft covered.

It’s at this point that the interview would usually finish but as I’d asked whether there was anything else she wanted to tell me, it being her interview, she’d propped herself up and opened up about not what she had done but why.

There’s a heroin habit that needs to be fed. A methadone prescription helps to an extent but it doesn’t see her through the whole day. Drinking her prescription in the morning under supervision of a pharmacist, come the afternoon the ‘rattling’ sensation returns leaving her with a gap that she has little choice but to fill by scoring.

The alternative is a crippling sickness as withdrawal symptoms take over, compelling her to find another fix and not letting her think about anything else until she has done so.

This means stealing although as she has suggested, as have many others to me whilst in similar interviews, she doesn’t want to be out running the risk of getting arrested for theft. She doesn’t want the hours spent in police cells, the drugs are the sole reason that she’s here.

The alternative she tells me is prostitution and the sexual abuse at the hands of rough, uncaring punters that inevitably follows. The shops closed, this is sometimes her only option and the sad stories she tells me about life on the streets I know are repeated across the country night on night.

She shows me her arms and the collapsed veins faintly visible under her needle scarred skin. Only the worn look in her eyes offer any real explanation for the premature ageing of her body, the unpleasant realities of having to inject heroin reinforced when she contorts her arm around to demonstrate how she reaches her few remaining useful veins.

The story starts six years prior being handed a drug by a ‘friend’ which she had thought was more innocent than the heroin that it turned out to be.

Addiction quickly took hold and took over, the years that followed were marked by consistent dependence on the drug, largely untroubled by spells in rehab.

It can be very difficult in our job to know what to think about some of the people we come into contact with. Addiction, poverty and unfortunate circumstances push people to do some terrible things. It’s easy to label someone as a ‘junkie’ or a ‘drunk’ and slam the cell door.

From time to time we are presented with timely reminders that the question of why is just as important as what and that there’s always room for understanding, for compassion.

Having listened to the girl’s account and her acknowledgement that people think she’s ‘just another junkie’, it was clear to me that there’s no such thing.

Maybe she’ll pick him out again…

You lot again?

Ask anyone what it is that police do all day and the following things are likely to feature in one way or another – driving through piles of cardboard boxes, chasing bad guys across rooftops, throwing our badges at the lieutenant, crewing up with someone who only has one day until retirement, eating doughnuts, lining up dodgy suspects for an ID parade.

Whilst we do indeed do all of the above on a regular basis, it’s the ID parade that I’m going to concentrate on in this post. What are they, why do we do them and are they really like they look in the movies?

No, they’re not.

Before we get to the procedure itself though, why do we have to do them in the first place?

An ID parade is basically a process that helps us either strengthen the case against a suspect or eliminate them from an investigation. They’ll be held when a suspect disputes that he or she was the person seen by a witness during the commission of an offence.

To give an example, I’ll call upon my go to criminal, Billy*, who has just been seen by two witnesses running out of a butchers on the high street clutching strings of stolen sausages. The police arrive at the scene, take notes of Billy’s description from the two witnesses and then after a brief search locate Billy around the corner. As he matches the description given he’s arrested under suspicion of theft.

Back at the station Billy is interviewed and decides to deny that he was involved in the incident. “Well officers, the awful criminal responsible for this crime certainly sounds like he looks a lot like me but I had nothing to do with it” he says. He’s asked if he’s willing to take part in an ID parade and he agrees, hence an Inspector comes to see him and formally serves the written request for the parade.

It’s at this point that many people might think the officers will begin calling around for people who look a bit like Billy to come and stand next to him in a line up.

What actually happens is that Billy is sat down in the same photo booth that would have been used to take his custody photo. A member of the custody staff strikes a few keys on the keyboard, a short video is made of Billy’s face and is then sent remotely to the ID bureau at Police HQ. For Billy’s involvement, this is the ID parade done and dusted.

At the ID bureau the staff access their database and select eleven other similar looking video captures which they put together as part of an ID package. This package is then sent back to the officers so that it can be shown to the witnesses.

As the officers who are investigating the theft are not allowed to be involved in the ID parade (to avoid any suggestion that they could have influenced witnesses), they ask an independent officer to meet the two witnesses at the police station and separately show them the ID film. Having picked out Billy as the same person they saw nicking the sausages, they complete statements saying as much and with these the case against Billy is strengthened and he should be able to be sent to court.

The rules surrounding identification procedures are covered by Code D of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and whilst the above overview is hopefully fairly straightforward, ID can be a fairly complicated area to get your head around. It can also be fun with us occasionally having to dress suspects up in funny hats and scarfs to hide scars and tattoos!

If you’re asked as a witness to take part in an ID parade then it’s certainly not something that should cause any concern. It’s one of the few areas of policing that isn’t really like it is in the movies – no frightening criminals and no one way glass. More likely its a cup of tea, a comfy ID suite with sofas and ten minutes spent strengthening the case against the bad guys.

* For other adventures involving Billy, see this post about public order offences and this one about police custody.

You want me? Well come on and break the door down…

A historial image of West Midlands officers forcing entry at Dudley Castle. Probably.

“Can you make an immediate for me?” asked the controller over the radio. A male had sent messages to his girlfriend suggesting he was about to hurt himself and we needed to attended his flat to make sure he was alright. With life and death potentially hanging in the balance, we spared no time in getting to the location. Blue lights blazing a path through the night and the speedo reaching the higher end of the scale, we soon skidded to a halt outside the man’s apartment block and ran inside.

I used my best ‘police knock’ to draw the attention of anyone inside whilst my partner went around the outside to look in through the windows. We knew the male was inside but there was no sign of life. The control room advise us their last update suggested the male had placed a plastic bag over his head.

Still no answer at the door and so the sense of urgency takes over – I take a few steps back and deliver a forceful kick to the wooden door panel. Resolutely it stays still so I deliver another blow, then another and another. The gap begins to widen as the lock loses its grip of the plaster around the frame. Another kick and it’s nearly given way, one more and it slams home against the wall followed shortly after by myself and my partner as we storm the flat and locate the male.

This is a good example of our powers of entry being put into action. S. 17 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act defines the conditions under which we can legally enter a premises. Saving life and limb is only one example of a range of very useful, commonly used powers that see us breaking down doors around the West Midlands on a daily basis.

Other than saving a person’s life, the principle reason that we’ll need to enter a premises is to affect the arrest of a wanted person. S. 17 gives clear indications of the circumstances under which we can do this. They are either that we have been granted a warrant to arrest that person or that the person is guilty of a serious crime, otherwise known as an ‘indictable‘ offence. We have to be able to state why we believed a person was at an address prior to using our powers to go in as otherwise the entry could be seen as unlawful.

In addition to these circumstances, S. 17 furthermore gives us the power to force an entry to apprehend a person who we are either pursuing or is unlawfully at large. Under these conditions, the offence that a person has committed is not relevant – only that rather than stay and talk to us a suspect has decided to take flight and seek refuge from the long arm of the law.

S. 17 also makes reference to some more specific conditions that have had attached their own powers of entry designed to help us achieve specific goals. We are given the power, for example, to force entry and arrest a person who we suspect might have been driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs or whom we think might be guilty of committing an offence under the Public Order Act.

Other laws may also grant us further powers of entry for example the Road Traffic Act which allows us to force entry after a serious traffic accident so that we can administer breath tests on a person who we think has fled the scene of the crash.

In my example, when we found the male he had not suffered any harm. We were able to arrange for him to be seen by medical staff and put in place the help he’d need for the future. Yes, his door will need repairing but this is a small price to pay for having ensured his safety and achieved the right result at the end of the day. This is what our powers of entry are there to ensure – that we are not hindered and can go about our duties to the greatest possible effect.

Watching the people get lairy, it’s not very pretty I tell thee…

Riot police move in to tackle protesters (Image from BBC/PA)

Back in March I’d written a blog post all about the intricacies of what constitutes a ‘public order’ offence. This was published against the background of the March for the Alternative demonstrations during which several protesters were arrested under various sections the Public Order Act.

The point of the post was to explain a little what these offences were as whilst the media were happy to report people having been locked up for public order offences, there didn’t seem to be much clarification for non-legal bods about what the term might mean.

If you read the post at the time or have just pulled it up to have a scan now, you may have noticed that I covered Sections 5, 4A, 4, 3 and 2.

Where, you might ask, was Section 1? And what is Section 1?

Section 1 refers to a highly topical offence taking into account the recent disturbances in London. Section 1 of the Public Order Act is riot.

How does the law define a riot though?

According to the Act, riot is very close to violent disorder (Section 2 of the Act) in terms of how it is described. To quickly recap ‘violent disorder’, it is where three or more people act in a way that causes another person to fear for their own personal safety. Their actions have to be more than words and can be directed against another person or against property.

Very simply put, riot is the same as violent disorder but rather than involving a minimum of three people, involves a minimum of twelve.

These twelve people have to be using or threatening violence for a ‘common purpose’ and do not have to all be doing so simultaneously so if eleven people are smashing up a bus stop and the twelfth is with them but taking a break to drink a nice cup of tea, there is still a riot.

Today’s offence of rioting replaces the older offence given in the Riot Act 1741 under which miscreants could be prosecuted if twelve of them had gathered and not dispersed within an hour of the Riot Act itself having been read out to them. This is where the term ‘reading the Riot Act’ comes from.

Whilst The Riot Act itself has since been replaced, another similarly elderly law relating to today’s offence of ‘rioting’ still sits on the statute books and is applicable today. This is known as the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.

The implication of this Act is that should a riot occur, the police may be required to pay compensation for the damage.

This has happened recently to Bedfordshire Police Authority after an immigration detention centre was destroyed by a fire started by ‘persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together’ and its owners sued accordingly.

The £42 million cost for repairs to the centre is one of the reasons that in legal terms, ‘riots’ are very, very rare. A large scale disorder will be classified as many separate incidents of criminal damage, violent disorder, affray or assaults rather than as a riot with the argument sensibly being made that there is no ‘common purpose’ amongst those gathered.

Call them as you will, however, the ‘Tottenham riots’ and ongoing issues in London are still totally unacceptable and I think it’s fair to say there’s a great deal of sympathy up here in the West Midlands for those countless Met officers who will have been working long, stressful shifts restoring the peace and reassuring the local communities in the areas affected.

The BBC are continuing their coverage as events unfold and the Met too are providing regular updates through their News & Appeals page. Finally, for an insider’s view of the riots and what it’s been like to police them, I’d recommend you take a look at Inspector Winter’s excellent blog on the events which is available here.

What the mama saw, it was against the law…

In my last post I wrote about our powers of arrest and encouraged you to have a look at what the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has to say about what we can and can’t do.

Assuming that you did glance at what at first appears a complicated piece of legal text (and I’d entirely understand if you didn’t) you may have noticed that some of the powers of arrest conferred on police officers are also applied to ‘other persons’ – yourselves.

Yes, whilst many people reasonably think that police officers are separated from the public by their power to make arrests, S. 24A of the Act clearly states that we do not have a monopoly over the ability to lawfully detain someone and that given the right circumstances, anyone can do so. In this post I’ll look at what these circumstances are.

So called ‘citizens arrests’ are for the most part poorly understood, mostly because I would imagine few people are aware where their power actually comes from. Citizens do not have as extensive powers to make arrests as police officers do but in the right situation have at their disposal a useful tool to help bring offenders to justice.

What are these situations and circumstances then? You have the power to make an arrest if you catch a person committing an indictable offence, or suspect he or she is doing so. You also are able to arrest a person who has committed, or you suspect has committed, an indictable offence.

Things are made trickier here by the inclusion of the word ‘indictable’. This is a legal hard to sum up but basically means a serious offence which could be heard at Crown Court if it went to trial.

When it comes to citizens arrests, relevant examples of indictable offences include assaults in which injuries have resulted, theft and criminal damage.

Further to the above capability, a person making a citizens arrest must be able to show that he or she thought not only that it was not reasonable for a constable to make the arrest but also that the arrest was necessary to prevent injury, to prevent loss or damage to property or to stop a person making off before a constable can assume responsibility for the detained person.

Accompanying the ability to make an arrest is the possibility that ‘reasonable force’ may be required in effecting said arrest. This is a complicated topic that couldn’t be done justice over the course of several posts, let alone this paragraph, and has been subject to much debate in the courts.

S. 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 affords any person the right to ‘use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large’.

This means that you have a defence against an allegation of assault if you have used a proportionate level of force – and absolutely no more than that – in making a lawful arrest.

My advice, however, would be that force can quickly escalate against your favour and that no offender is worth putting yourself at risk to detain, hence unless you are confident that you can maintain the upper hand it’s likely a far more sensible option to allow a person to take flight and then provide officers with a decent description.

Hopefully this post will have gone some way towards clarifying what you can and can not do in detaining offenders. The powers are there and are there to be used, however as I have stressed unless strength is on your side you will never be criticised for putting your only safety first and deciding not to try and apprehend an offender.

As ever feedback is appreciated and the first person to post as a reply the correct name of the artist from this blog’s title will receive an approving nod from myself.

The warden threw a party in the county jail…

Today’s post is the first of a series of three concentrating on the theme of making an arrest. In this post I look at the circumstances under which police officers can make arrests and why we do it. On Wednesday I’ll be publishing a post on citizens arrests and then come Friday you’ll get a final post on how we deal with people once they’ve been arrested and brought into custody.

Dancin' to the jailhouse rock!

As a police officer I will, from time to time, arrest people. It’s a big part of my job and forms an important part of the investigative process. Speaking to members of the public though I often find that people do not really understand what it means to be arrested and the likely steps that we’ll take after making an arrest. I thought I’d use this blog entry to clarify the process a little for those who are curious, involved in an ongoing case or perhaps even liable to be arrested themselves.

Our powers of arrest come from S. 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This Act (‘PACE’ as we call it) is a fascinating bit of legislation governing everything from our powers of entry to searching, interviewing and making identifications of offenders.

S. 24 gives us the ability to make an arrest on suspicion that a person may have committed an offence, although it then goes on to state that we need to believe that it is necessary to make the arrest over other options.

Reasons that make an arrest ‘necessary’ are listed in the Act and include preventing damage occurring, stopping someone being injured and ensuring a ‘prompt and effective investigation’ which in plain terms usually means that the person needs to be interviewed on tape at a police station.

As we are able to arrest on suspicion, being arrested does not necessarily mean that a person is guilty and nor is it any kind of punishment. Rather it is a temporary deprivation of a person’s liberties judged necessary in the interests of justice.

Unless practicable the grounds of the arrest should be given to the arrested person at the time of their detention and then he or she should usually be taken to a police station where a custody sergeant will be told the grounds of the arrest and decide if said grounds are sufficient to authorise the person’s detention.

After this point the arrested person will likely be interviewed under caution, with a solicitor present if they choose, and asked questions about the offence for which they have been arrested.

If the officers dealing with person have further enquiries to make the person will then be returned to a cell whilst the officers do what they need to do.

The standard detention period is up to twenty four hours, which can be extended under certain circumstances, and whilst a person is detained they are entitled to meals and refreshments.

The custody sergeants are responsible for a prisoner’s welfare whilst at the station and so conduct regular checks and organise medical check ups if they are required.

Having completed their investigation, a decision then has to be made with regards to what to do with the prisoner.

If there is sufficient evidence a prisoner may be ‘charged’ meaning they’ll appear in court to answer the allegations that have been made. A prisoner who has been charged may then be released having been given a court date or instead ‘remanded’ in police custody as it is thought that if they’re released they may commit further offences.

Alternatively if the offence is minor a prisoner may be cautioned or fined and so not have to go to court.

A further option and the less desirable is that it is decided there’s insufficient evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a prisoner is guilty of an offence, hence no further action can be taken and the person released.

If officers have further enquiries to make which are likely to take them beyond a prisoner’s detention period a prisoner can be ‘bailed’ by which they are told to return to the station at a certain time and date, sometimes with conditions not to contact certain people or go to certain places.

The victim should be informed of bail conditions if they are set and a bailed person can be rearrested if they decide they don’t fancy complying with the conditions.

Of course as with anything legal, the above is really only a brief summary as there are all sorts of variations and subtle differences to the procedures depending on circumstances.

An arrest for a Breach of the Peace, an arrest of a drunken person, a juvenile or someone who does not speak English, as examples, will all take different forms and as such it’s important that officers know where the differences are likely to pop up as they can affect how a person will be dealt with post arrest.

I’m hoping that this post will have helped explain the process with a little more clarity and would encourage anyone geeky enough to check out the Police and Criminal Evidence Act itself as it goes into detail about the powers invested in police officers. Alternatively if you find that a little heavy going, I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have!

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