Today I tried – not for the first time – to tell people who work in Policing and some who used to work in Policing, how things can be for a member of the public who has nothing to do with the Criminal Justice System unless they are unfortunate in some way. Unfortunate. Yes. Not just unfortunate if they become a victim. Simply unfortunate if they come into contact with our antiquated, eternally added to but never properly changed, Criminal Justice System.
After Soham, Police Forces began to keep local databases. Quite right too. Had there been such a database prior to Soham, two little girls would likely not have lost their lives and certainly not in the circumsances that unfolded there. Databases are not just for keeping record of sexual impropriety that does not warrant arrest. They keep information on all manner of things, including all out of court settlements – accepted Cautions to get a horrible experience over with, Formal Warnings and the like. They all go onto local databases. Then the person is told “Its ok, its not a CRO (even those who accepted Cautions, who do actually have a CRO) and it wont effect your future.” “It falls off the system in 6 years” “It wont ever be disclosed anyway.”
I really think most Police actually believe these things too. Thats because they are not part of the process beyond that point. Support staff and frequently Force Solicitors know the rest of the story though. All records involvoing sex/indecency or violence (a child throwing something and the Police being called – thats violence) will be brought up if a person later applies for a job and there is any level of vetting required. Today it was suggested to me that the onus should be on employers to understand the low level nature of such information. Incredible. Today’s highly competitve job market uses anything it can to cut down the number of applicants. The truth is, it never leaves you and in many ways can be more insidious than a conviction at Court because the individual has been told it will never effect them. Its simply not true.
That well intentioned processes have unintentional consequences is no suprise to anyone working in the Criminal Justice System. That so many people think what ‘they’ do doesnt contribute to those unintentional consequences constantly suprises me. That some Police officers and many vocal retired Officers will argue against the experiences of some members of the Public is both sad and incredible. If you care about processes, you have to listen to what you are being told. Today I was asked forceful questions, pushed to justify my stance, repeatedly asked for evidence. I am confident and knowledgeable. To an extent I am part of the Policing world.
Imagine yourself – unlikely if you are reading this, I realise – but try to imagine yourself a member of the public who knows nothing directly of the Criminal Justice System. Imagine you found yourself in a bad situation as a young teen. Imagine you discover the world isnt very fair and imagine you end up being dealt with by the Police. Whether you are arrested, held in a cell, ‘chatted’ to in an interview room or in your home matters far less to you when you are 14 yrs old. What matters is you have done something silly. No one seems to care about the circumstances that led to you doing something silly. You are part of a process now. Imagine.
Then fast forward. You are lucky. Life changed. You pulled yourself together and you worked hard at school. You are going to take your A levels next year and you want to go to university and eventually teach. You decide to volunteer at your local youth group and want to apply for a summer job at a kids camp. Thats when it all comes crumbling down. Actually, you cant do those things. Any of those things. Well, there are ways that you can, but none are easy, all are time consuming and unless you are lucky enough to be given good advice, how would you ever know what to do? Most people accept it as their fate, their lot in life. Those who do try to rectify it are left behind their peers whilst they go through yet another process. No work experience for you. And try not to worry while you study for A levels youre now uncertain will be enough for you to become a teacher.
Thats an unintended consequence and it happens a lot. I cant give figures as my chief inquisitor demanded today. Of course I cant. The public dont mobilise and count their injustices. They quietly go away and get on with life, feeling pretty negative about the Police. And here is my point. Some of you who have read this far have just rankled more at that last sentence than you have about all the difficulties Ive outlined above. As long as databases are there to protect Forces from criticism instead of to provide information, people will feel negative about them.
To criticise a process is not to criticise the people working with that process. Until Police can listen more than they talk, such processes will continue to have such consequences. How pompous do you have to be to refuse to accept someone’s personal experience or insist that it is rare? Even if it was rare, the fact that it happens is unacceptable.
I am heartened that there are people at all levels of Policing who do listen to the experience of others. They are the future and I celebrate each of them. What is really sad is that I know they exist because of my contacts and/or my knowledge of Policing. If I was a normal member of the public who only watched the odd episode of Interceptors, I wouldnt know such people existed. I would only hear the loud, angry, self protecting types. Thats a real shame.
Roll on change.