Recent revelations at the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in November 2013 regarding the reliability of Police recorded crime statistics have shaken public confidence. It is now clear that in many cases Police have failed to record some crimes at all, or alternatively recorded other crimes as less serious offences to assist in meeting crime reduction targets.
The issues described in this blog are also symptomatic of that same performance culture, but are even more damaging to individuals. This blog will illustrate how the discretion of officers has been eroded by a corrosive culture of meeting targets at the expense of unnecessarily criminalising ordinary members of the public. This can not only destroy a persons previous â€˜good characterâ€™ but can also prevent them from getting jobs, working as a volunteer or even adopting a child.
These are NOT administrative failures, but rather they are the result of a desire to meet targets at almost any cost. The Home Office were first made aware of these issues in 2006, and their own Task Force confirmed that these failures were evident in most forces in England and Wales. The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) â€“ now the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) were made aware, as were ACPO and Her Majestyâ€™s Inspector of Constabularies (HMIC). However, disclosures relying upon unsafe Out of Court Disposals were still made and indeed continue to be made.
To those of you who think that this blog is a guide to identifying some kind of technicality or loophole that will enable you to wipe clean a legitimate and accurate criminal recordâ€¦â€¦â€¦think again!
I have no sympathy for anyone who has broken the law and has been dealt with correctly. However, that is completely different from being the victim of a performance culture where your good name is the â€˜collateral damageâ€™ caused by an overwhelming desire to meet performance targets, and where corners are cut and rules are ignored. For the police officers reading this book whose initial reaction is one of outrage and indignation, I would invite you to pause and consider this; If it were your son or daughter who had an unsafe detection recorded against them claimed in the cause of meeting performance targets â€“ and they were competing in the employment market against those with an unblemished character â€“ how would you feel?
The vast majority of Police Officers are hard working, committed and scrupulously honest individuals who do a difficult job in sometimes impossible circumstances. Someone once said that it is worthy of note that when everyone else is running away from a bomb blast â€“ the cops are running towards it! This is a true reflection of their sense of duty. As a group, I have yet to meet any organisation, (civil or military) which comes close to having such a â€˜can-doâ€™ attitude. If something needs to be done then I would wager that the drive and energy of Police Officers would deliver on each and every occasion. This dedication and unremitting determination is largely why there have not been more terrorist outrages on the United Kingdom mainland.
However, like many things in life, this â€˜can-doâ€™ attitude is a double-edged sword. Whilst it consistently delivers the results asked of it, the temptation to cut corners to achieve those results is obvious. This is particularly true if those cutting the corners (a) honestly believe that they are doing so with the best of intentions (sometimes referred to as â€˜noble-cause corruptionâ€™) or (b) believe that the impact of their decisions will never make any real difference to those who have been named as responsible for committing a crime â€“ so they are doing no harm.
Those who are doing so with the best of intentions may be as simple as trying to impress their boss that they always deliver results against challenging targets and that this provides powerful evidence as to why they should be promoted to the next rank. It is no coincidence that achieving performance targets are an essential element of the annual appraisal of leaders within the Police. It is also true that achieving these targets (until recently) impacted significantly on the performance-related pay of very senior officers.
Those who have held named individuals as responsible for committing a crime may have done so in the belief that it would never make any real difference to the life of that person. If you are very generously minded, that might possibly be true prior to the horrific murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002. From that point onwards â€“ the necessity of accurate background information on everyone Police came into contact with in the course of their duties was brought home with a sickening thud.
This tragedy sparked huge change, including the setting up and subsequent findings of The Bichard Enquiry and the emergence of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB â€“ now DBS the Disclosure and Barring Service) dealing with the disclosure of personal information of those who work with children and vulnerable adults. More recently we have witnessed the introduction of â€˜Sarahâ€™s Lawâ€™ â€“ this has been brought about by another tragedy, the murder of Sarah Payne in 2000. The intention is to use â€˜known informationâ€™ to protect the vulnerable â€“ however, once again we are aware that a great deal of the information we depend upon to make these vitally important decisions is fundamentally flawed.
The Audit Commission and Her Majestyâ€™s Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) and indeed the individual Chief Officers to whom these results have been reported can confirm these assertions regarding the safety of these detections. The results of these audits should also be available to (and from) the Police & Crime Commissioners for each force. Even though forces were advised of the fact that many of their detections were evidentially and/or procedurally unsafe â€“ in the vast majority of cases nothing was done to emend those records. As a result those unsafe detections can (and are) still being disclosed or are waiting to be disclosed when an applicant applies for a job etc.
The current financial climate and the difficult job market makes your â€˜good characterâ€™ even more important, however, these detections have a much wider impact than when people simply apply for a job.
It is absolutely correct that we take all necessary steps to protect those in society who are vulnerable, and this includes children who are to be fostered or adopted. That is why not only the prospective parents are subjected to CRB/DBS checks-but also members of their wider family. The presence of detections for certain offences can prevent an applicant being considered as suitable to adopt a child. If a CRB/DBS check reveals a detection that upon examination turns out to be unsafe, the applicant can appeal to have the record emended and invite the fostering authority to review their decision regarding the applicantâ€™s fitness to adopt.
Police share information between UK forces and across the world, for example; you can be refused entry into the USA for committing certain offences even though you were never charged or appeared at court. Imagine being stopped at the gate before just before you board the aircraft for a detection you knew nothing about!
To those of who wonder if Iâ€™m scare-mongering or over-exaggeratingâ€¦â€¦â€¦.try this; Submit an FOIA request to your local force asking for the results of all internal and external inspections and examinations of â€˜detectionsâ€™. This should provide you will all the proof you need to verify that (a) what Iâ€™m saying is fact, and (b) this problem has been known about at VERY senior levels for many years and nothing has been done to correct things.