For those who don't read Mail on Sunday I have decided to put online a copy of an article which they published last week.
I put my hand into the rucksack and pulled out a metal object concealed in a sock. Before the thought “what’s this” had flashed through my mind I realised. “Gun” I yelled putting it down. I ran over to the youth who we had just pulled over for a ticket offence. My partner had already turned him around to face the wall and I grabbed him while the cuffs were snapped on. Police officers are taught to deal with finding guns and knives, but I hadn’t expected to be finding firearms just a week after completing initial training to be a Special Constable with the British Transport Police.
Shootings and stabbings on the streets of London have now become so commonplace that the press only bother to report the worst examples. Burglaries muggings and other violent crimes are simply a fact of life. I believe that the breakdown in law and order in Britain is one of the biggest issues to confront us.
Like most MPs I regularly call for something to be done but admit that I have been a little vague as to what the “something” should be. Debates rage about “red tape,” the need for more officers on the beat, and levels of arrests. Few MPs have ever been police officers so the level of debate has not always been as high as it should be.
Becoming a Special Constable has enabled me to see policing from a first hand perspective. I hope to use this knowledge to improve legislation and raise the level of awareness about policing matters amongst colleagues in Parliament. In return I have committed to doing two eight hour shifts each month as an officer. I have a busy life and a family and two young children, but I believe that eight hours is a small price in time to pay for the knowledge which can be obtained. After three months in uniform and a month on patrols I cannot pretend to have all the answers to dealing with crime but I can certainly offer some insights.
The first thing I have learned is to forget any notion that the justice system is “victim focused” as the jargon likes to put it. In reality the only people who appear to have rights are the criminals. One of my training days was spent in the custody unit of a busy London police station where my duties alternated between helping other officers to wrestle violent suspects into cells, without hurting them and answering their frequent demands for cups of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Of course the paper monster still had to be fed so each request was written up in a special book noting the beverage requested followed by another entry to confirm that it had been supplied.
On another occasion I arrived at Kings Cross to search and remove a family of East European bag snatchers. Until my arrival they had claimed to speak no English but as I began searching him, bag snatcher number one began to complain in fluent English that he had been hit by the lady whose handbag he had tried to grab, and that it “wasn’t fair” !! Back at the station his English was forgotten so an expensive translator was found for him, along with a lawyer who will doubtless ensure that he is not put to any inconvenience by the British justice system.
This leads me on to the next lesson learned. We could double or triple the number of officers on the streets but it will have no effect on crime unless the courts are prepared to deal with persistent offenders by locking them up.
A gang of robbers operating out of a London station were recently arrested and bailed. The police argued that one of their bail conditions should be that they could not enter a railway station. This was deemed to be far too onerous so the gang were released and the robberies continue.
We neither lock up nor deport foreign criminals. At present there are organised gangs of pickpockets from various countries working on the London Underground system. As a police officer I can log on to the force intranet and see their names addresses and long lists of previous convictions. The fact that it is possible to have so many convictions and still be free to walk the streets tells you all you need to know about justice. As for deportation forget it. Even those who commit the most heinous crimes are rarely sent home – too many public ally funded lawyers are readily available to argue that it would breach their “human rights.”
One of the insights I have gleaned is the shocking depravity which some are happy to live in. At quite a few stations you will be treated to the spectacle of able bodied youngsters, presumably on benefits, consuming alcohol day and night. In some areas where a by-law prohibits public drinking we remove their booze and pour it away. A few weeks ago I did just this to a particularly obnoxious group of punk rockers. As I poured their confiscated cider into the gutter one of them came over shouting wildly at me. But instead of the expected tussle followed by an arrest he got down on to his hands and knees, and with his tongue out he began licking cider up from the gutter of a street in one of the less salubrious parts of North London.
But what has shocked me a lot more than the actions of individuals like him is the realisation that the current wave of shootings and stabbings is a direct result of rules made by fellow MPs, which have made it all but impossible for the police to stop and search suspicious individuals.
Partly as a result of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry the police have to have “reasonable grounds” to search someone for drugs or weapons and the grounds have to seem reasonable to a court not the PC.
To give an idea as to how difficult it is to find “reasonable grounds” take the following example. A youth is stopped at a tube station for trying to push through the barriers without a ticket. We radio through his details and are warned that he has recent convictions for dealing drugs and carrying weapons.
You might think that there are reasonable grounds for searching this person, after all he has just broken the law, but as we have no evidence that he has a weapon or drugs on him we have no grounds to search. If the youth was arrested then a search could take place but these days, a growing number of crimes such as fare evasion and shop lifting are dealt with through “process” not arrest. This means that the offender is written to and asked to pay a fine or appear in court. (many don’t and little is done but that is another story) As there has been no arrest there can be no search.
The youth I stopped with the gun was only arrested because he refused to answer a few simple questions. Had he been a little savvier he would have been free to continue his journey through central London with two firearms
When a search does take place it has to be accompanied by a laborious process of form-filling, which I have described in detail on my blog.
As a result youths know that they can arm themselves with knives and guns with little risk of being caught. Black youths are being murdered at a horrendous rate on the streets of London, usually by other black youths and nothing can be done because we have made it almost impossible for the police to carry out searches in areas where knives are routinely carried.
We should trust those officers to carry out their duties properly. Scrapping the stop and search paperwork would be a good start. The police should be able to go into “no go” areas in large numbers to carry out stop checks of suspicious youths targeting those with any previous convictions.
However arresting criminals is pointless if the CPS fail to prosecute, or the courts are simply going to put them back onto the streets with some laughable community sentence.
The prison population urgently needs to be doubled to ensure that all persistent offenders are taken off the streets. Sentences should be served in full without any remission. This would allow the public some respite and give the police an opportunity to carry out preventative work rather than simply reacting to crimes. It would also enable the prison authorities the chance to spend time getting criminals off drink and drugs and helping those who want to gain useful qualifications.
The most important lesson I have learned is that the horror stories which one reads about the collapse in law and order on the streets of our major cities are, if anything, an under-exaggeration. Things are far worse than people realise and much of the blame can be laid at the door of politicians like me who have slowly been tying the hands of the police in bureaucratic red tape and preventing them from doing their job.
There is some good news. The vast majority of police officers want to be out on the streets catching criminals not tied to their desks. I want to help them achieve this by improving legislation which goes through Parliament. If the government don’t want to listen then I have learned one other very important lesson. Any fit and able person who can commit eight hours of spare time once a fortnight can do something to make their streets a little safer, by joining the Special constabulary.