Sunday, April 04, 2010

Robbin' Plod

Photo by Simon de Bruxelles from The Times

An intriguing initiative from the UK Department of Pre-crime involves police in Exeter burgling people's houses to teach them a lesson about home security. In an innovative 'asking for it' sting, police officers scoured a student area of the city looking for unlocked doors and windows. They entered about fifty houses, even if they could hear residents in other rooms, snatched up any visible valuables and left them in a purpose-made 'swag bag' along with a stern note ordering the irresponsible householders to take better care of their belongings.

It's the sort of event that makes you wish you could have been around for the strategy briefings that made it real. Did it start out as a joke? You know, 'wouldn't it just serve those spoilt students right if we went in and hoovered up all their laptops and iPods?' Did some zealot whose life is devoted to the protection of personal property and owning a full collection of The Wire shrug and say, 'why not?' Is it possible that no one said, 'er, isn't it like illegal to go into people's houses and mess with their stuff, guv?' Is it further possible that 'Guv' invoked a variation of the Nixon justification - something along the lines of, 'it isn't illegal if the police do it?'

I have written many times before about the British police and their peculiar focus on 'things that might never happen', a non-phenomenon they like to call 'crime prevention'. What frustration it must be when the police find they actually have to carry out crimes themselves in order to alert people to the possibility that they might one day become a victim. People might go on in blissful ignorance for ever otherwise and that would surely never do.

Of course, once you actually have been burgled or mugged in the street, they couldn't be more disinterested. You will get a crime number to claim on your insurance and a visit from the crime prevention officer who will tell you what you must do to avoid becoming 'a target' in the future. You will be left with the feeling that the whole thing is somehow your fault for not trying hard enough to protect yourself and your things and for having such tempting things in the first place and you will be assured that no effort whatever will be put into recovering your stolen valuables.

Sergeant Andy Nordqvist of Devon and Cornwall Police told The Times that "officers were 'very careful' to ensure that no criminal offences were committed' during this operation. Okay, so the risk management officer was savvy enough to ascertain that trespass is a civil rather than criminal offence. But that still leaves the problem that police aren't allowed to enter private property without a warrant unless they believe there's a crime taking place in there. Oh, hang on a minute, there was! All very confusing.