Wednesday, 25 November 2009
CAUTION! Cautioning in progress.
I read a very interesting post today over on Inspector Leviathan Hobbes's blog. The blindingly obvious message being that too many cautions for too many serious offences can be baad medicine and how this message seems to have finally got through to some dark, dank department up Whitehall way. In my experience the opposite can also be true in certain circumstances and by that I mean that, very occasionally, cautioning for a minor offence may actually be the wrong course of action and inappropriate both for the offender and the wider community, but in a world where `micro` policing is often subjugated by the all powerful, all knowing buck-stopping `macro-judicial` CPS, the knowledge and judgment of the `poor bloody infantry` is disregarded out of hand. A good prosecutor really does need the heart and soul of a beat officer, or at the very least be able to listen to the practitioners. What the CPS practice is very different, but all the more reason to listen to the police fighting a very different battle. I can best explain this by way of a practical example (I was an old style police instructor - we used lots of practical examples to try and put wise heads quickly onto inexperienced shoulders): The local parade of shops is plagued by noisy, abusive, thieving, disruptive junior citizens. This has escalated over the months and has become a regular `run of the gauntlet` for local people trying to do their shopping and for the shop managers and their long suffering counter staff. The local beat officer knows lots of these feral youths by sight, knows where they live and has often arrested them and their lovely parents, so there is no problem in identifying any of them. But there is always a problem in prosecuting those who have committed a specific offence, because to give evidence against them requires a local person being prepared to step forward and give evidence against a person who is, is in effect, one of their neighbours. This can have the effect of turning their private lives into a living hell that will make the trouble in the shops seem like a pleasant walk in the park. Enter PC Plod, the law enforcer and professional witness. He wants to do something to fix the problem but is rarely there to witness the worst things for himself. He asks his sergeant for advice and the sergeant says, "When you are up there, book the oldest of the mob for something, anything.... obscene language would be a start but try and make it the most serious thing you can find, even if it happens to just be riding his bike on the pavement, no lights on the bike, no brakes etc. But whatever you find, book them for it and submit your file to me". PC Plod comes back with a few offences in his book, of the type previously mentioned. The sergeant then submits the file for prosecution but it comes flying back from the CPS with a note that says, `Don't you think a caution is more appropriate for these minor matters? A few years ago this would have been dealt with by a clip round the ear wouldn't it?` Sergeant replies and attaches reams of all the recorded complaints from the area of the shops, points out that `clips round the ear` sounds like his officers are being incited to commit an assault (a joke that the CPS solicitor nearly didn't get), but goes on to support the concept offered by the solicitor and suggests that by taking said `minor` cases to court, a judicial clip round the ear would be administered and, if accompanied by a painful punishment, the message might well be spread to the rest of the feral gang, that when PC Plod appears they'd best not fuck about. Case is eventually prosecuted with a covering explanation by the prosecuting solicitor to the court, of the background to the case and that this is but the tip of an iceberg, but the best that the police could come up with on the occasion they visited. Case was proved and a decent fine levied. Next time PC Plod appears he books another pisstaker and so it goes on until they realise that it is very inconvenient to keep getting nabbed and so scatter on sight. Actions repeated until the message Break law/misbehave=Pain; Conformity = No pain, is received and understood. They then twig that they don't have to scatter, just wind their necks in. So called `minor` offences often form part of a much bigger, more serious picture. There are occasions when by viewing them in isolation and treating them as worthy of nothing more serious than a caution, fuels a fire that a big bucket of water, early on, would have extinguished. The CPS and the current system, by acting in the way they do, are in my humble opinion the primary stokers. Pure fantasy I know. But this worked, once.