Monday, 22 October 2012
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Or, updating the adage for the 21st century, the computer is mightier than the gun.
Arming every officer, even if it were logistically possible, even if they were all suitable (which it isn't, and they aren't) would not prevent tragedies such as we saw yesterday. Policing is a risky business at the sharp end, and where a madman does things so far off the scale of reasonableness and predictability the risks are impossible to eradicate. And to alter the essential character of our policing to such an extent in the hope that it might help is, sadly, simply not worth it.
But what we must do, what the leaders of our Police Service are duty-bound to do, is to take every possible step to make sure that our policing of our communities by consent is safe. In this context that means making sure that every single piece of information and intelligence which might help inform officers attending every call for help is available to them and those who direct them.
There is a long-standing issue with the dissemination of information gleaned from major investigations, which few forces, if any, have come to terms with. Typically, a force will have three computer systems relevant to this issue - Command and Control, which logs calls for help, who is responding, how the incident is dealt with and the result; an intelligence database where information, graded for reliability, is kept in cross-referenced indices with entries relating to persons, vehicles, premises and locations; and the HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) database upon which every piece of information relating to major investigations is kept in discrete accounts.
The Command and Control system has a facility whereby as an incident log is created any flags attached to the address entered will be displayed. These may relate to the occupiers or the location and are essential for the dispatching officer to make an informed decision as to the risk to officer safety. In some forces these flags still have to be entered manually whilst in others information will be copied across from the intelligence system automatically. But of course even in the latter cases, manual entry on to the intelligence system is required, so there is a dependence on somebody, somewhere, deciding that the information is worth recording. The ultimate systems might be where the Command and Control logs themselves automatically write back to the intelligence system, but the issues of duplication and data standardisation here are proving difficult to overcome.
At a divisional level intelligence staff are pretty good at updating the Command and Control database. But it all becomes a bit murky when you start to try to include HOLMES. Culturally it has taken some years to arrive at the position where detectives investigating the most serious of crimes have accepted the necessity to put everything they do, see, hear and take possession of on to 'The System', that is, to record it on the HOLMES database. The additional burden of separately submitting an intelligence report for the different database seems to have been taken on only by the more conscientious and far-sighted officers. Despite repeated efforts it has not been possible, to my knowledge, to arrive at a reliable means of achieving the automatic transfer of information from HOLMES to an intelligence database, certainly not in a foolproof and operationally sound way. So we are left to rely upon the judgment of individual intelligence officers attached to major enquiry teams, who have as a priority the gathering of information for dissemination to their team and perhaps understandably therefore are frequently too busy to push information out from the team to the wider force in any comprehensive or reliable manner. I doubt there is a Senior Investigating Officer past or present who has not wrestled with this problem, tried to address it but ended up uneasy that it has never really been solved.
Why is all this relevant? Because the fact that there is a vast mass of useful intelligence lying dormant in HOLMES accounts across the country means, generally, that opportunities to solve or prevent crime, and to mitigate risks to officers, are not available to those who would like to take advantage of them. Because, I fear, it is very likely that despite the huge external and internal publicity generated by Greater Manchester Police in the hunt for Cregan, there will be information in the HOLMES account that would have led to his capture had it been available to a wider audience. Or, more devastatingly perhaps, which would have linked Cregan somehow, maybe through a few degrees of separation, with the house in Abbey Gardens.
This piece is written not to criticize nor carp, but rather to offer a suggestion at a time when all of us, especially those who have worn the uniform, are hurting. It is extremely difficult, extremely unpalatable. But it would be some additional respect to the memories of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes if their painful loss were to inspire each and every police officer and staff member to ensure that every conceivable snippet of information they acquire is shared as widely as it can be. Computers, not guns, ought to be giving our dedicated frontline officers the increased safety they deserve, but as ever, they can only be as good as the information they are fed.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Thursday, 11 August 2011
- Restoring the right of a Custody Officer to authorise charges - saving thousands in CPS lawyers' wages and ensuring that many more of the guilty actually face a court
- Strict guidelines on when a criminal can be cautioned - and how often
- Repeal or wholesale modification of the our Human Rights Act - not, as promised by the Government, trying to get it changed at source by amending the ECHR - to prevent some of its perverse effects
- Removing all targets for detections, which skew activity away from what might be needed
- Exempting Police Forces from the provisions of the Health & Safety legislation, reversing the dreadfully paralysing effects of the Met's corporate conviction
Monday, 8 August 2011
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
'More resources' for the hacking enquiry were recommmended by the Select Committee, has this translated into 15 more detectives? Probably not, it is much more likely this is a Met decision in light of the increased number of enquiries being made of the Weeting team, and would probably have happened whatever the committee report had said. So can we expect to see more?
To investigate the whole hacking business properly is an immense task; and properly is how it must now be done. That means exploring lines of enquiry which would not normally be followed. The difficulty is that, in normal circumstances, large investigations will often be constrained by what is practicable. Where many offences are disclosed a management decision will regularly be taken to restrict the enquiries (and hence the resources needed) to just enough necessary to prove the scope of offending, and to attract a suitable punishment. There is no other way, normally, to manage the investigation and also the ensuing trial. An indictment can become simply too large and complicated for a jury to consider. Were it not for such sensible decisions serial offenders like Levi Bellfield and Delroy Grant would be on trial for most of the next ten years - assuming the investigations were completed in their lifetimes.
You notice, though, that I keep using the word 'normally'. Very exceptionally the context of an investigation changes, and it becomes desirable not only to convict the guilty but also to prove publicly that enquiries have been thoroughly and completely carried out. While the original hacking enquiry might have started out as 'normal', the ever-increasing storm of the last two weeks means that Operation Weeting is now very firmly in the 'exceptional' category. It simply will not do for any stone to remain unturned, no possible offence to be missed. So every one of the 4000-odd names will be looked at to see if any attempt was made to hack their voicemail, and if so, each one will be investigated as a separate offence - undoubtedly many victims will have been hacked several times, each one a new offence. So the total number of crimes to investigate might well be into four figures, and it is hardly any wonder that 45 officers have so far managed only to speak to 170 or so victims. Franky that is quite good going . Never mind 8 hours, it will be amazing if this is wrapped up in 8 months.
So how might more resources be found? The Government could throw some money the Met's way, and as welcome as it might be in these straitened times, it won't be the complete answer. There is a limit to how much overtime officers can perform before becoming tired, stale and less effective. The answer must be more officers, but not just any old (or more accurately, young) cop will do. The expectation ought to be that experienced detectives are used, and the only two areas of the Met with those officers with numbers sufficient to be able to stand significant abstractions are the Murder Squads and Counter-terrorism. Of course the Murder squads already have an entire team struck off for the Madeline McCann review, and who knows what work is ongoing within Counter- terrorism? While both Commands may be relatively under-stretched at the moment, as we know all too well that situation can change virtually overnight. I am sure there is no greater priority in the Met at the moment than hacking - nor should there be, as a complete, transparent and successful resolution of that investigation is crucial to the process of rebuilding trust and confidence in the Met; essential if that wonderful but all too-often flawed organisation is to recover from what must be its lowest point for 40 years.
But in amongst all this, I wonder how fair it is on Londoners. The Met has traditionally taken on some national functions, notably protection of the Royal Family, as well as getting involved in other ad hoc issues in which it has no geographical interest - the McCann review, for example. Is the hacking investigation really a matter just for the Capital? Leaving aside the slightly esoteric and ultimately irrelevant debate as to where online or other telecoms-based offences actually take place, aren't the victims spread across the country and therefore several police boundaries? Isn't the whole thing anyway now one of national interest and importance? Perhaps the pain ought to be shared more widely, perhaps the additional resources the Select Committee called for should be drawn from other forces, so that other commitments in London are affected less and any that arise in future can be met without affecting the Weeting team.
It is perhaps an attractive solution, but one which the Met I knew and loved would resist on the basis it wanted to sort out its own mess. That attitude might be laudable, were it based upon a genuine desire to make amends rather than a degree of arrogance. But I think the current state of its reputation demands a new, more open and more humble, approach.
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
I know John Yates well enough to consider him shrewd, decent and honest. I would have thought him the last person to be unconvincing before a Select Committee, but for the first and quite probably last time in find myself in complete agreement with Keith Vaz. (Incidentally, do you agree that having Mr. Vaz in charge of an investigation into corruption is at the same time astounding and brilliant?)
I had expected AC Yates to have been firm, eloquent and impressive. What we saw and heard was none of these things, so I have tried to work out why. The alternatives posed by most as this incredible tale has unfolded have been the traditional choice of 'cock-up or conspiracy'. But finding the former out of the question and the latter very difficult to believe of him, I have looked for a third way, and it just might be - and I sincerely hope I am correct - that it is a combination of the man's decency and the current Met culture of apology without blame, to which I have alluded in past blog posts.
To understand this possibility one must take a realistic view of how these investigations, even the most high-profile ones, are conducted. Very few of the operational decisions are made by the figurehead ACPO officer, even 'Yates of the Yard'. Instead they are reported to by junior officers on all but the highest-level strategic issues. They must trust their officers, of course, and will question and probe to ensure they are happy with progress, but they cannot and do not look at every document, every statement, themselves. If they did, why have the junior officers anyway? Given the back-covering environment in which police officers are forced these days to operate it is inconceivable that the decisions and their supporting reasons are not documented. Every investigation has a policy log, and when the officers who surely advised John Yates that there was no further mileage in the hacking inquiry did so, their reasoning would have been there in black and white, or at least an email or several.
So when he said in his weekend interview that he shouldn't, as an Assistant Commissioner, be expected to sift through two binbags of evidence himself, he was quite correct. But somebody should have, and I suspect somebody else decided not to, or at least not to ask a few Detective Constables to do so.He or she then took a punt, and assured the Boss that there was nothing in there. If John Yates is to appear convincing - for his own sake and that of the Met he must – he will have to bite the bullet and explain, in detail, naming names and producing documents. However distasteful this may be to a man of integrity and who treats his juniors with the utmost respect, it is the only way forward; in such dirty fashion lies the only way properly to come clean.
Because the blame cannot be pushed to News International, no matter how obstructive or uncooperative they might have been. John Yates is good enough a copper to know that, surprise surprise, criminals tend not to cooperate, not to confess and not to hand over evidence on a plate. And never two binbags full. They lie, cheat, hide and destroy their tracks and it is up to the investigators, despite all this, to find the proof and make sure justice is served. The notion that somehow News International ought to be above that, particularly in the context of this whole affair, is, I am afraid, as naïve as it is unconvincing.