Archive for category law

Policing by quota

This isn’t going to be a particularly long post, it’s just going to outline an issue that has affected me recently and I’d be interested to know if it has affected anyone else or if it hasn’t what you think about it.

I live in London and I own a bike. The reason I own a bike is because it is cheaper and faster than other forms of transport over short (>5 mile) distances. This is relevant because in the past month I’ve been stopped twice by police because of how I was riding my bike, the first time I was cycling through Camden and I noticed that four cyclists on the side of the road were being given tickets by four police officers (there were two police cars parked around them). Naturally I wondered what was going on, ten minutes and half a mile later I found out. As I was cycling a police car turned on its sirens and sped in front of the cyclist who was ten or twenty metres ahead of me, as I tried to cycle round they shouted for me to stop to. It transpired that we had apparently both gone through a red light on a crossing. Now I’m not going to dispute that I did this because to be honest I don’t know if I did or didn’t. It was a crossing not on a junction, no one was on it, when I rode up to it I looked right and saw that the crossing man was red and two seconds after I went through all the cars did as well. The police officer agreed that all of this was true and that she did indeed see me go through under these conditions. However she then said that I was unlucky because that particular week was “Camden Safer Cycling” week and they were cracking down on cyclists, she then produced a fist full of fines and gave me one. I’m not complaining about her, she was polite and fair and I probably did go through when the light was red. What was unsettling about it was that instead of exercising due discretion as she normally would for such a minor event she had to give me a ticket to get rid of the pile that by policy had to be gone by the end of the week.

"Sorry mate but I have to give out twenty before I clock off, tell your friends yeah?"

Last night this worrying type of policing was shown on the BBC’s traffic cops program. This show follows traffic police throughout Bedfordshire (my home county) as they fine people for tinted windows, number plate font etc before showing gory pictures of traffic accidents so that we can all learn what should be obvious. Again I don’t think the police did a bad job on this program, I’ve got nothing against the officers. However at one point they revealed that Bedfordshire police have implemented a “credit” system. Under this system police officers have a quota of credits that they must reach each month, activities like handing out fines are worth a small number of credits and arresting someone awards an officer a higher amount. This to me seems nuts and here’s why, it’s not because I think there shouldn’t be a system of monitoring policing and encouraging crime fighting, it’s that a credit system doesn’t address specific crimes. What it does do is, as one officer complained on the show, take away an officers discretion. An offence that usually would get a warning (perhaps because the person is unaware of their crime e.g. tinted windows) now get’s a fine because the officer needs to rack up their credits. This one credit system is bad in my opinion. Rather than taking types of crime such as knife crime and setting a goal such as “10% reduction in a month” officers can simply supplement their credit score by tacking strings of minor and even trivial offences.

This may all seem like a personal rant, its not but it is inspired by something that happened to me. Author Charles Stross has an interesting take on this over on his blog, we all commit minor crimes now and then (often without knowing it) but as surveillance increases the opportunity for us to be caught increases.

But what do you think? Is a quota the right way to police? Have you experienced something you feel is pedantic? Leave a comment!


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Watch out it’s the fashion police!

I didn’t intend to write about politics when I started this blog, I fully intended to stick to topics revolving around science. However this weeks activity in France where the burqa has now been banned have incensed me. For those of you who haven’t heard the French ban on wearing the burqa came into force today, now any woman found wearing the burqa will be subjected to a 150 Euro fine and mandatory attendance at a “re-education” meeting. I despise this law; it’s invasive, immoral and totally misguided at best. But what I despise more than this is the reaction some people have had. Here is some of the worst…

“If people want to live in our country they should abide by our culture!”

This statement strongly implies that all burqa wearing muslim women are immigrants who want nothing more than to segregate themselves from the rest of the country. Aside from this being spurious at best whose culture are we talking about? And is this about culture or fashion? I lived in Brighton for many years and have seen people wearing everything and often, nothing. In fact during my first week in Brighton I witnessed a very old man wearing an old man cap, shirt and tie, waistcoat, hot pants, red tights and knee length leather boots. This is not an anomaly! It is common in Brighton to witness odd clashes of fashion and style completely at odds with other norms in Britain such as hoodies and jeans, is this an example of Brighton not abiding by “our” culture? Why is it that if something is different or not native in origin that it should be shunned until it integrates (an Orwellian word that actually means conforms)? One news article went so far as to suggest that all muslim women who do not wear burqas are ‘moderates’ implying that those who do wear the burqa are extremist. At what point did it become acceptable in Europe to consider anyone who dresses or acts differently as extremest? If a selection of Europeans started painting their faces because of cultural reasons why should that not also be banned?

“You shouldn’t be allowed to cover your face in public”

Once a year this child is oppressed into covering it's face. Ban Ghosts

So we are going to ban hoodies, masks and helmets now are we? I accept that in some cases you should have to show your face (i.e. when engaging in an activity which requires ID) but why the hell is it the governments business if I show my face or not? As a matter of fact why is it anyone’s business what I wear?  When celebs are hounded by paparazzi and cover their face should we arrest them? Should faces no longer be blurred out on TV?

“Muslim women are oppressed”

The issue of women being oppressed is a strong one however ordering women not to wear a burqa is hardly a step forward especially as I have yet to see any evidence that the majority of burqa wearers do so under male instruction. I have a friend whose girlfriend tells him what and what not to wear. It’s ridiculous that a man of 22 can be ordered around and told which shirt he is allowed and not allowed to buy, should we ban shirts then? Tackling one small symptom is never going to get rid of the disease.

In addition I find it hard to see why there is a belief that here in Europe our culture doesn’t oppress women by demanding what they can and cannot wear. Our TV bombards us with programs featuring normal women who are then taken by some Guri, told they are doing it wrong and reborn with make-up, surgery and new clothes. Are you any more liberated if going out in jeans and a jumper results in sneers and odd looks from those dressed in less fabric than a small hanky? Anyone who believes that women in Europe can walk down the street wearing whatever they like without fear of judgement needs to get their head checked.

There’s a lot more to be said on this issue that I’m not going into now. All the arguments for banning the burqa are veiled attempts at forcing out Islam under the guise of liberation and integration. I can’t help feel that this is a bad time for our free world when the liberties that we fought to obtain are the ones we are now invoking to justify interference and oppression of our citizens. I, as a free European citizen should be allowed to wear whatever the hell I please and that freedom should be universal. What kind of world are we creating when we say it’s ok for government to pass laws over specific people like this? Is this not another example of what Niemöller warned against?

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