Thursday, 29 July 2010

Egg Throwing

I have just seen on the news that a man who threw an egg an Baroness Warsi has been sentenced to 6 weeks in prison. What!!? It's OK though, he wont go to prison, because he has already served time on remand. On remand!! For throwing an egg??

You know why I'm lost on this and where it is ultimately going obviously. The offence is completely stupid and I guess I don't really have any sympathy with the idiot who threw the egg. Warsi dealt with the event in a dignified way at the time. But where on earth do we get a custodial sentence out of this? And it is clear it didn't require him being remanded, but he was and so many actually dangerous people seem not to be.

Then of course we have to remember John Prescott. If you are an idiot for throwing an egg and it warrants 6 weeks in prison, what does punching someone in the face deserve? Two Jags did prove, if any proof was necessary that he is nothing more than a thug. But, after spending a month 'investigating' if a crime had been committed (it was filmed of course and repeatedly shown on television) the police in Wales then decided that no, nothing much had happened. Please tell me what the difference is? Am I at risk of being assaulted by a politician, at no risk to themselves from the law, every time I walk the streets, or just New Labour politicians? Or is it just John Prescott who is above the law?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Speed Cameras

Yes, speed cameras (or safety cameras if dishonesty is your remit) are back in the news. Having ditched them, Swindon now reports that there has been no difference. The BBC spoke to the Taxpayers Alliance who point out that the steady decline in road deaths slowed, or stopped when speed cameras were introduced and they make, nationally about £100 million pounds. Cynical? You may thinks so, but the real cynicism lies elsewhere, we'll come back to that.

A police officer from another force was interviewed and declared that speed cameras do save lives and he can cite places where they have saved lives, definitely. Naturally, the BBC wouldn't be so crass as to ask him to carry on and do so, not least because even if he did name a location you would know that he couldn't prove the cameras involvement. You see, they deploy a bit of a stunt to make their claims. If, over a couple of decades a stretch of road, on average, sees one death per year and then one day a 'big one' occurs, up goes a camera. This accident of course may not have had speed as a causative factor, but means that deaths for that year leaped to 4. This accident everyone will recognise, is rare and unusual and so no-one is surprised that next year there is just one death (regression to the mean as it is known). However, as a camera was put up at the site of the accident (here's the cynicism) the authorities claim they have reduced accidents at that location. Yep, they are as low as that.

Drivers tend to have an artificially heightened awareness of their speed on seeing a camera and may brake or constantly watch their speedometer, rather than the natural practice of watching the road, looking for hazards and driving to the conditions. Due to this tendency, cameras are more likely to cause accidents and there is some evidence that this is actually the case. Government investigation has also turned up 'unhelpful' evidence but the report, when published suffered a useful accident itself. The identity of the report (TRL327 or whatever) was 'mistyped' when it was put on the website and so very difficult to find. Average speed cameras are even greater proof that the intention is to find a way to 'catch' you as opposed to anything else. No clearer evidence exists than where these are used for roadworks 'to protect the workforce' and are left running when no work is taking place. The other tactic is the one where speed limits are deliberately altered so that the chance of you 'speeding' is greatly increased. In this situation the essence of safe driving is interfered with quite significantly. We used to have simple rules, 30 in a built up area, 60 on main routes and 70 on motorways. It meant that you intuitively knew what the limit was, even though it had been somewhat arbitrarily arrived at. Now you don't. It is like the current vogue for assigning some roundabouts a priority turning left lane. Here you can make a left turn at the roundabout without stopping and straight over is no longer permitted from the left hand lane. Drivers coming round, but exiting there need to keep to the right. If you don't know the locale you may be a bit taken aback by the sudden changed from established 'rules of the road' which we should now perhaps refer to as 'rules of the road that may not always apply'.

Motorways always have their own driving quirks and we all know that a small braking action becomes exaggerated down the line and eventually the traffic comes to a halt. This is artificially created with variable limits in places like the M25 near Heathrow and causes exactly that problem, not least due to the pressure of traffic, the exact problem they claim to be addressing.

The police are fond of putting up facetious 'it's 30 for a reason' signs. Next time to see a policeman by one, or have this gobby remark thrown at you by some pleased as punch twit who 'caught' you doing 52 in a 50 ask him what the reason is. He wont know. The nearest he can get is that it is necessary to have some kind of limit and 30, 60 and 70 were chosen. It was a blanket decision. In many situations 30 may not be particularly safe, but because you have this 'we know best' rammed down your throat, people who now believe that you don't have to think for yourself any more (or perhaps that you are not allowed to) will be doing 30. And above reproach they will be too, because the authorities approved it. If Mr. Plod accepts this point though, he creates a problem for his authoritarian approach. If he says, yes it was an overall approach, he then has to agree that individual circumstances and individual situations must be taken into consideration. and so maybe doing 86mph on an empty motorway in the middle of a clear fine night just isn't likely to be a problem. But the limit is 70, so out comes the book and the fines jar gets a little fuller. No good to society has been evoked but at least you have been reminded who is in charge and that is what sped cameras are all about. Happy motoring.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Another IPCC

I have just been reading reports on the website of the Independent Police Complaints Commission of shootings. Firstly the accidental shooting of a civilian worker by a Thames Valley Police Firearms Instructor and then the shooting by the Met of a man carrying a chair leg in a bag. The reports are, in general, self-serving claptrap and quite obviously so.

Firearms Instructor PC Micklethwaite was to take a firearms awareness course and for this he needed weapons and inert ammunition. He was told that the 'demonstration ammunition' was in a clearly marked box in the armoury at Milton Keynes. When he went there he couldn't find it, but he did see a Quality Street tin that contained a mix of ammunition, which he assumed to be inert, because of the lackadaisical method of storage and that mixing live with inert was a 'sin, a no-no'. So he took the tin home and left it in his porch overnight, as you do. Next day, he loaded a weapon during a classroom session and eventually discharged the gun, hitting a member of the class. It becomes beyond satire when you find out that PC Micklethwaite attended a Firearms Instructors course as is required and failed it. And what pray tell did he fail on? Safety and weapons handling. The course Instructor recommended that TVP conduct a documented review of these aspects. Naturally, this never happened.

The IPCC felt that there was a case to answer and passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service who decided not to proceed. The IPCC also passed a file to the Health and Safety Executive who did prosecute and extracted a fine for both the PC and Thames Valley Police. Much to their credit the IPCC carried on and now recommended a disciplinary hearing for misconduct, at which point PC Micklethwaite announced his intention to retire. Because they have to give notice of proceedings against an officer, TVP said that they wouldn't be able to proceed until after his retirement, so abandoned it. This decision was accepted by the IPCC, case closed.

Whilst scathing about PC Micklethwaite's assumptions, they were perfectly happy that ammunition was kept in a Quality Street tin as training requirements were not the same as operational. That Micklethwaite was an accident waiting to happen seems clear, but the IPCC doesn't exactly come across as balanced and fair.

The IPCC report into the shooting of Mr Stanley was a little less, um, searching. Admittedly it is subsequent to the old PCC investigation, the organisation that preceded the IPCC. This report agrees that the death of Mr Stanley was due to the use of force by police officers, which wasn't really an issue in so much that he was shot in the head by them. The document is defensive in tone and outcomes relevant to the police officers involved.

The background. Harry Stanley was drinking in a pub, whilst having with him a chair leg wrapped in a plastic bag. A member of the public (for whom no claims of firearms experience has been made) reported a suspicion that it may be a sawn-off shotgun. Firearms officers were despatched and Harry Stanley was challenged in the street, from behind with shouts from the armed officers. Not unnaturally Harry would not have known they were shouting at him and turned to see what was going on. This aggressive movement by an armed man caused the officers to open fire, hitting him in the hand and head.

In their investigation they claim to be impressed that the officers gave almost identical accounts of events despite also noting that the officers wrote up their notes together at 1:30am. I would have been amazed if they differed! This strange self-satisfaction continued into the reason the officers fired. Although the report warns against using hindsight let us allow ourselves to use that facility, to remind ourselves of the real situation as opposed to the reality invoked by the police and backed up by the IPCC. Harry Stanley was a painter and decorator by trade, I guess the officers confronting him didn't know that, rather than someone experienced in the use of guns and in a tactical manner or combat situation. He wasn't carrying a gun, but a chair leg and the officers certainty that he was carrying a firearm comes solely from a report by a member of the public. This certainty still doesn't explain why the officers said of Mr Stanley turning to them that he did so with a “fluid deliberate movement”, adopting a “classic firing position, boxer
stance”. I think, with hindsight, the police would have been more aware of that than he was. However, puffing themselves up, the IPCC in their report say that they asked several firearms experts and they agreed that the officers actions were reasonable, in the circumstances. It might, you would have thought, have been 'reasonable' to ask people who were specifically not firearms officers. The problem here is one of reinforcing. Having been told the man has a gun, police officers able to use lethal force and trained in weapons handling will read way more into innocent situations than anyone else. It is almost a guaranteed way of making a mistake. If I had a gun and an armed policeman came up behind me and shouted 'stop! Armed police' I would stop, stand still and do whatever else they wanted, because I know, pretty well that it is me they are after. However, if I didn't have a gun, I'm sure I would turn around, with a fluid movement or not, to see what was going on. In the situation in which Harry Stanley found himself, this thought never occurred to the police officers. If you ask why, there is no satisfactory answer, so the IPCC don't ask that question.

Too many incidents involving armed police prove that they are deployed in a very controlled manner and I don't mean in a good way. Senior officers are always quick to let you know that no-one can tell an armed officer to pull the trigger, it is their decision alone. That is not a comforting comment and it is not intended to be supportive or reassuring. The statement is designed to remove blame from the operational commanders. Yet these all too often hopeless 'leaders' send armed police to incidents wound up, with their finger on the trigger ready to pull it.

I remember a bomb threat to a disco, which was in a room on stilts. On checking the area we saw a car parked under the building stuffed with all sorts of paraphernalia, so we called for the owner to come forward. When no-one did, this 'likely hoax' suddenly started to look a little scary. Then someone sidled up and asked why we wanted the owner, was he in trouble. Panic over. When the idea of a problem is planted, your thinking can become conditioned. I cannot believe the police still do not seem to have addressed this with common sense approaches to even deadly situations, rather than their preferred certainty and paramilitary stance. They would say they cannot put police officers lives in danger. We have no evidence of that, but rather too much evidence of the current thinking putting the public in danger. The IPCC don't seem to have spotted that.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Drama in Northumbria

I can only comment on what I have seen from afar, so this is a piece including questions, based on images that were projected. Northumbria Police, in the form of Temporary Chief Constable (didn't it used to be 'acting'?) Sue Sim, her of the strange hair and chummy demeanour, seemed positively delighted to be in the limelight recently. Ms Sim was keen to appear before the media and did so in shirt order, making herself seem a more casual police officer, though it was very hot weather. Most of the time a senior officer alongside did the talking, but when she felt like it, she would butt in. If you listened carefully to their answers, but particularly hers, you came to realise she was mainly waffling. The words sounded reassuring, but were mainly meaningless. At one point she excused not answering a question for operational reasons, adding 'I wouldn't want to disclose that and you wouldn't want me to'. What? Why this need to assume what the reporters were thinking. She didn't come across as terribly on-the-ball. She walked the streets, still in shirt order, to reassure the public and to praise 'my officers' (did you get that? She is in charge). Unfortunately it seems, Raoul Moat was also walking the same streets without notice. Someone somewhere it seems was fixated with a preconceived notion that he was living rough in the woods. Then of course, after a long stand-off and with some confusion (because the police won't be clear) over how he died, Sim appeared at another news conference and now was wearing a jacket (though it was still hot) and much more clipped and to the point. She walked out when her bit was done and ignored the continuing questions, adopting a stony face and seeming just rude. Her ability to conduct herself correctly and deal with people is zero.

In this latter press briefing her language was mealy-mouthed; she mentioned that 'Taser had been deployed'. This was quite a stretch, as she deliberately mentioned the product, Taser, instead of accurately saying that two were fired. She instead claimed they were 'deployed', an action that had occurred when the first officer so equipped began the search for Moat.

I don't know if anything untoward will emerge from this police action, but the poor quality of control from senior officers appears, once again to be a prime factor. Often it is said, and was during the seven day manhunt that firearms officers cannot be ordered to shoot. Well, I bet that was not the case with the Taser incident; I bet they were ordered as part of a plan and that, for once puts a senior officer at risk of being held accountable. Normally of course, they blame those below them and seek promotion as justification.