Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Enfield Crime Squad. Allegedly.

Allegedly. Was the word really even in common use before Have I Got News For You? I'm not sure it was, and I am equally sure that it is not one I have regularly had recourse to. But that was then, and this is now. One of the difficulties in commenting from afar rather than knowing from the thick of it is that I have to rely on information which I cannot completely verify. So all of this post is, as usual, what I think, but what I think in this case is based upon things I have heard and been told, but which I do not know for sure to be accurate. So just think 'allegedly' before you read each paragraph and we should be fine.

It was only a few years ago, maybe 10 or 15 at most, when Enfield, the Borough of my birth and childhood, was treated with a little disdain within the Police. Those of us fortunate (!) enough to work in the tougher neighbouring Borough of Haringey thought they had it easy there. No real crime, no real public order, nice people who made you cups of tea. Didn't the main radio set in Yankee 5 have a snooze button?

As inner London's problems migrated ever-outwards, after the turn of the century it became obvious that there were no soft Boroughs in the Met any more, and Enfield was no exception. What had been a cosy posting for years suddenly became populated by gangs, robbery and violence. As the Borough rose to the top of the Met's murder charts Edmonton became known as 'Shank Town', while one street earlier this year was still rejoicing in the nickname 'Stab Alley'.

Somebody within the local police presumably thought enough was enough, that the growing gangs and rising crime rates were unacceptable and that tough action was required. How this was devised and 'operationalised' (see - I learnt some spectacular made-up words in the Met) I am not sure, and is pretty much irrelevant. The outcome was that the Borough Crime Squad was, by 2009, the most successful in the capital. Its arrest and conviction rates were high, crime rates were falling. Robust and effective enforcement, combined with practical cooperation with the local authority to prevent crime, was slowly turning the tide and making the Borough a palpably better place to live and work in.

The senior officers in Enfield were apparently aware of the Crime Squad's methods and gave at least tacit approval to them. And why wouldn't they, given the successful results? There was no question of anything illegal taking place, and certainly no question of personal enrichment or gain for the officers involved. They were, it has been suggested to me, a bunch of good young coppers, working hard to put away criminals and make their Borough a safer place.

One of their more unusual practices was to use property seized from their criminals. There is no suggestion this was for any purpose other than to make their jobs easier - for example, seized vehicles may have been used to conduct observations from, mobile phones used within the office to make covert or unattributable calls, TV sets to view CCTV recordings. Essentially, goods which might ordinarily have sat in a storeroom or compound pending a trial were used to help the fight against those who had stolen them, or bought them with illicit funds.

Now somebody took exception to this. Reports have described her or him as a 'whistleblower'. I think this is unfair and misleading. Most of us will understand that term as a co-worker reporting malpractice. That is far from what happened in Enfield; it seems that to a man and woman the operational officers and staff within the Borough were supportive of the Crime Squad - and why wouldn't they have been, given the real benefits the community was deriving from them. The so-called whistleblower in this case was, it seems, a support-worker from a central department outside of the Borough, who decided to tell their own boss about it, for either personal or professional reasons.

This led to an investigation which found very little evidence of wrongdoing, and was petering out when it was decided to search the Crime Squad's base (as well as the homes of 14 officers). It was this search, in February 2009, which uncovered the now infamous 'hard-stop' video from some 8 months previously. An incident about which, I believe, no complaint of malpractice was made at the time by the young criminal who was the subject of the arrest. With renewed vigour the honorary Detectives of the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards set about building a case, and went to interview a number of criminals who the Crime Squad had convicted. One of these alleged that his head had been held over a sink of water during his arrest, though video footage of the arrest seems to show him completely dry throughout. This allegation, somehow, was leaked to the media - possibly through somebody connected with the Metropolitan Police Authority - as 'waterboarding' and the whole thing gained an unexpected and unwarranted momentum.

Around this time also the Crime Squad received an anonymous tip-off that a lock-up garage had a stash of stolen goods. They rightly got a warrant and indeed discovered a veritable Aladdin's Cave. All the electrical gear was properly seized, and enquiries to trace its owners began. This proved pretty simple, as there were serial numbers and other markings which quickly led the officers to a hire company, who were as bemused by the enquiry as the officers were by their reply. The equipment wasn't stolen, indeed it was all being leased by the Metropolitan Police - from an address where many of the D.P.S. teams are based. Presumably this ham-fisted attempt at a sting had been intended to prove the corruption of the Crime Squad officers. Instead, I am told, since they had properly recorded all the goods and then proceeded to try to trace their owners, it just proved their honesty.

I have no idea how much the lease of this stash of electric gear cost, but it is presumably a drop in the ocean in the context of the overall cost of the investigation into the Enfield Crime Squad. Figures bandied in the press today range between £5 million to more then £12 million. And while we may not have heard the last of it, all it seems to have uncovered is a few officers whacking a car - which had been stolen in an aggravated (that is, with weapons and/or violence) burglary, in order to arrest the driver who had at least dishonestly handled the car, and was driving whilst disqualified.

Which they shouldn't have done with baseball bats - though presumably if they had used officially-issued batons or asps would have been OK. I say that because one has only to watch one of the plethora of 'PoliceCameraActionTrafficCopsWithCameras' programmes on any number of Freeview channels any evening of the week to understand that it is a common tactic used by officers at the end of pursuits. And perfectly lawful and justified, we are told, because of the need to shock the driver into instant submission before the car, or indeed any other object, can be used as a weapon. Which is presumably what one might expect an aggravated burglar to do, that being the sort of person the officers had every reason to suspect to be driving the car.

So, a little 'over-aggressive' (the Met's own words) policing is discovered at this huge cost. I have enough family and friends, outside of the police, who still reside in Enfield to gauge the feeling there. They were mightily glad that such robust and decisive policing was going on in their community. I imagine the practices have been changed somewhat; I don't know how Enfield's crime and detection figures are looking as a result.

But what I do know is that we are staring, pan-London and indeed nationally, at a reduction in police numbers due to budgetary constraints. It is a reasonable approximation to call the annual cost of a new Constable £50,000 when one adds up salary, training and equipment. Which means we could get 100 PCs for £5 million or 240 PCs for £12 million. Makes you think, doesn't it? Allegedly.