Sunday, 20 February 2011

Civil Liberty and Criminal Investigation

There has been a lot in the news recently about freedom and civil liberty e.g reducing pre charge detention time in terrorist cases, prisoner's freedom to vote, sex offenders being able to appeal, the policing of protests and so on. There are many other issues such as the police use of CCTV and the retention of samples on the DNA Database.
Where do the police fit with these issues? No, I'm not going into politics but I will go into the duty of the police to protect.
Many people see the police as the disputable authority who takes away people's liberties by for example, kettling protesters, arresting people, taking DNA samples and so on. In my view, we should aspire to be the protector of liberties i.e. only invading the freedom and liberty of citizens when absolutely necessary to ensure safety.
Some of my views have been formed by practical experience. My blog below about Operation Kanab  describes one experience. This was a case where we made a breakthrough because we used DNA profiles.
What I did not say in this case study was the real reason why we succeeded. The key DNA profile was from the son of the offender. The son had been arrested some years previously for burglary - he was subsequently acquitted but his DNA profile retained.
In terms of civil liberties, should his DNA profile a/been taken from him and b/retained on the database.
There is a strong argument to say that yes it was taken on arrest but should have been removed when acquitted.
However, I think that there is stronger argument. That argument is that if the retention of DNA profiles can assist in tracking serious offenders who are capable of such serious offences then we should keep them. I believe that we all have a joint responsibility to save future victims. If this particular sample had not been taken, then the offender would have attacked again and quite possibly have killed. That would simply be wrong if it had been allowed to happen.
Benjamin Franklin once said that he who sacrifices liberty for security, deserves neither. I do not advocate randomly sacrificing liberty but I do believe in doing what is necessary to provide security and protecting the public from the most dangerous people. So when people form their views, account needs to be taken of the power that certain tools have in maintaining public safety. Those tools include the DNA Database, CCTV, Control orders etc.
The balance between security and liberty is a fine one and is no easy argument.

Operation Kanab

I was the senior detective on call when on a summer's evening I was called to the report of an attack on Ilkley moor, not far from Leeds. It transpired that a woman had been out walking her dog at tea time when she was randomly attacked. The attack was severe. She was beaten unconscious and  left for dead - It was  every woman's nightmare. If you don't know it, Ilkely is an affluent area with a low crime rate and the scene of the attack, a beauty spot.
We were able to obtain a DNA profile of the attacker - from the victim's fingernails. We immediately checked the DNA Database but there was no match.
The following day, I went to visit the victim in hospital. She was black and blue but lucky to be alive - and she knew it.
This became a major investigation for obvious reasons. I was immediately aware that we were hunting a dangerous man.
Within a few days my concerns shot through the roof. The DNA profile from the Ilkley Moor attack was matched with another serious crime. The linked crime was the rape of a 16 year old girl, nine years earlier. She was raped at knife point whilst in the company of her 11 year old brother at a remote spot, just outside of Leeds.
This was now a high profile investigation. I was desperate to crack the case but it was tough. Over the following weeks and months we hit brick wall after brick wall as each line of enquiry failed to give a clue. During that time I built an open and trusting relationship with the two victims and I knew how important it was for them to know who the attacker was. The truth is that every time they went out they were trying to spot him whilst also living in fear.
I then turned to a specific line of enquiry called Familial DNA Research - we knew that the attacker was not on the DNA database but that did not stop us looking for a close relative who would have a similar profile.
I worked closely with forensic scientists from all over the country to find a way of tracking down the relative. In the end we trialled a new technique which analysed the DNA profiles of potential relatives in more detail.
Two years after the Ilkley Moor attack - bingo. We located a person with a close DNA profile who tuned out to be the son of the attacker. Within days we found our man. We arrested him and some months later he was convicted and given a life sentence.
Without question we would not have cracked this case if not for the National DNA Database and the pioneering forensic techniques we used.
Most importantly of all, two very special women were each able to get their life back.
The investigation was called Operation Kanab and 'job satisfaction' does not get any better.
I'll say more about DNA in my next blog.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Duty of Care

Did you follow the recent news about the reported poor standard of care for the elderly? It made grim reading and like others I felt disappointed that elderly people in our modern world could receive a standard of care which fell below what we would expect for ourselves.
By spooky coincidence a friend of mine was in hospital recently. She had high praise for the surgeon who was fantastic both before and after her operation. She had less praise for the bedside care which followed. She described to me how there was no conversation, no eye contact, a passive approach to her needs, patroning comments and so on. Again, a duty of basic care that fell short.
My thinking went further and rather than being critical about health care, what about my police service, the one I am in charge of for South Cumbria? You can replace the 'standard of medical care' with the 'quality of police service'. Are there times when my officers fail to meet the standard that most expect?
I think that there is something about apathy and that people in public service sometimes lose sight of how important and impactive their role is whether that's a nurse giving bed-side care or a police officer dealing with yet another report of anti social behaviour.
Last year I welcomed a group of new probationer police officers and my key message to them was public servant first, police officer second.
I refuse to accept an average police service as being good enough as much as I refuse to accept that poor bedside health care as my friend experienced is acceptable. If any officer under my command feels apathy and does not feel a sense of public duty then please, go elsewhere.
I'm hugely proud to work in public service and equally proud to work alongside many others who share that sense of vocation.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Crime is down

In respose to my very mini poll in the side column: Crime is down across South Cumbria by over 7% comparing April to January this year to last year. That means over 500 less victims of crime. Thanks to my officers and our partners for making this happen. Thanks also for public support.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A week in the life of...

The last week has been really busy and seen me span the spectrum of responsibilities for a Chief Superintendent. Last Friday I was in Wales on the Strategic Firearm Commanders Course. This is where senior officers between Superintendent and Deputy Chief Constables undergo training to command firearm incidents. The high profile shootings in West Cumbria and Northumbria last year had Strategic Firearm Commanders in overall charge of the police operation. My role last week was to assess candidates on the last day of their course. As with most courses, some pass and some fail. It's always very intensive in the assessment as it is in real life.

The weekend was good because I stayed in Wales and watched the rugby. England won - sorry boys.

On Monday and Tuesday I was in Derbyshire with the Northern District meeting of the Superintendents Association. I was there representing Cumbria. There are some really big issues on the horizon. The numbers of officers and staff are falling across Forces as are the numbers of Superintendents. That's raising issues about command resilience for police forces. There is also change due towards Spring in the Tom Windsor review on pay and conditions which I think will have a big impact on my staff who will see less pay in their pay packets. We will soon see the details.

On Wednesday I was back in the BCU where I had meetings with my management team and a focus group with sergeants. All really useful and we are currently managing a lot of reorganisation with our new Neighbourhood Policing Structure which went live this week. I also made my Going the Extra Mile Award to our two duities managers, Claire O'Hare and Cyril Patterson who have a done a fantastic job in managing the changes to officer duties.

Today, Thursday I have been at Force HQ, speak with the Assistant Chief Constable and other commanders. Because Cumbria is a small police force the other two Area Commanders and I are involved in Force level change programmes.

In amongst that, we have seen more good results including a number of burglaries which were cracked by Barrow CID.

I'm looking forward to the weekend!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"Doing what it says on the tin"

February is renowned as a dull month - not this one. There is still a lot of change as we move towards our new structure of Neighbourhood Policing Teams ( on 7th Feb )  and I have asked my staff to focus on a few things.

The first is that we carry on "doing what it says on the tin" - to maintain our good performance in cutting crime and anti social behaviour - down by 7% and 9% respectively on last year.

In working to that objective I want my officers and staff to think about:

Pride - taking pride in themselves and their teams.

Standards - operating to the highest standards - in how we present to the public and how we operate.

Visibility - being as visible and responsive as possible.

My management team and I will be visiting all of our deployment centres over the month support this focus. We have first class officers and staff in South Cumbria and I'm looking forward to more face to face over this month.