This past month I’ve really been thinking about the relationship between the actions of the police at every level, and the feelings that society in general has towards them.
Recently my nephew turned seventeen and the police gave him a very special present. They dropped a letter through the front door informing him that they believe he is a member of a gang (he isn’t) and that they will be targeting him for special attention. The sole reason for this? Because he lives on a rough estate and knows a few people there who are gang affiliated. Who doesn’t on such estates?
They said that any time he is seen by any police officer he will be stopped and searched and anything he has on him which he cannot prove is his property will be confiscated as suspected proceeds of crime.
So let’s just play that one out. The police intend to pay him special attention. They won’t just be waiting to stumble across him, they will be actively seeking him out to remind him how closely they have him under observation. They are most likely to do this by looking for him in the places he is most likely to be, such as at home or at work or on the route in between. If this is where they seek him out, it will also be when they stop and search him most often. This could well result in him being late to arrive for work.
Let’s say that they even search him just as he arrives for work or just as he is leaving. He will then be subjected to a highly humiliating search in front of his workmates and his boss – who no doubt will be sick of his arriving late because of this extra police attention anyway and might well let him go.
Meanwhile, my nephew is unlikely to keep receipts for his phone, his trainers, or any other property, and he certainly wouldn’t be carrying those receipts around with him from day to day. Since he won’t be able to prove that his phone and trainers are his, they will likely be confiscated as promised. These can only he replaced at full cost so many times before any normal person would get sick of paying out even though they’ve done nothing wrong. Not least if they have just been rendered unemployed by this police sanctioned campaign of bullying.
So how will he spend his time? Probably at home on the rough estate around the very people that the police were really concerned about. Instead of being at work, he’ll be kicking back with the lads off the estate, drinking and smoking. How long will it he until he tells them about the latest pair of brand new trainers and mobile phone which he has had taken off him and which he can’t afford to replace? And what will he say when one of them – fresh in from a street robbery – offers him a stolen phone for half the price he’d have to pay in the shops? With his pockets empty of cash and his heart full of resentment, all due to the action taken by the police, he’d be a lot more likely to accept.
And then let’s say he gets stopped again and this time, when the phone is taken, the police find that it is registered as stolen and they arrest him. Before you know it he’s standing in the dock or sitting in a cell.
At what point does common sense kick in? At what point do we say no? At what point do the police make a connection between the way they treat young kids, and the resentment and distrust those kids feel for the police themselves?
These kinds of police actions don’t cut crime, they cause it.