I know of a highly productive hard-working officer, renowned for his success in taking drug dealers and burglars off the streets. Met commanders recently summoned him to Scotland Yard – not to thank him, or perhaps to request he spread his skills through a training package – but for a telling off.
They impressed upon him that he must reduce his search figures, explaining: “it's upsetting the community.”
That's fine, but how about a consistent story? Our sergeants and inspectors still push us for performance indicators: they demand arrests, penalty tickets and searches. They create naming-and-shaming lists.
Sir Bernard has introduced regular Met-wide operations purely for the purpose of generating statistics for the media – Op Cubo and Op Big Wing, for example – where the purpose is simply to arrest as many as possible, then send out a press release the next day, saying what a great job the Met's doing.
On the one hand, the Met tells the public and the media that it is striving to reduce the numbers of searches, whereas away from the public eye the team managers constantly harass the officers for ever more arrests and searches.
County forces and the Met have recently developed a number of clever strategies to reduce their stop-search figures. The background is that the senior officers – Sir Bernard primarily – are running scared after the most recent round of police-bashing, when media attention focused on claims of excessive stop-and-search.
As usual, senior officers have put no effort into finding a genuine solution – perhaps reducing the number of searches, or better targeting? – but into changing the way searches are counted.
If this doesn't feel like deja vu please read my posts about the figure-fiddling techniques commonly used by police management:
Meaningless UK Crime Statistics
Arbitrary Crime Recording
Part of a recent training session was used to indoctrinate us with senior management's latest idea for improving public satisfaction. Let me explain.
The most common search power is s.1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), used in searching for weapons, stolen items or equipment used for breaking into a property, or under s23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act for drugs.
Our new instructions from management are quite specific: we mustn't ever use our s.1 or s.23 search powers to search. Instead we should arrest the person then carry out a search. If we find nothing, we de-arrest the person. The key here is that the search while under arrest draws on the power of s.32 of PACE, (not s.1 or s.23) and therefore doesn't count as a 'stop-search'.
Clever eh? There might soon be a great deal of unlawful arresting, but at least the stop-search figures will come down. I'm sure the police bosses hope for a reprieve, before the fact of this latest trick leaks out. How stupid do they think the public and the media are?
It seems that Sir Bernard wants this trick used nationally, as county forces have recently introduced exactly the same fiddle.
Let's recap: officers are still given individual performance targets, and driven by these to search as many members of the public as possible. However, management is trying to not count them as 'searches' by having us arrest instead. Isn't this abusing our power of arrest, and treating people's liberty with contempt – using it to help management protect themselves from criticism?