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Pre-crime and proactive policing
Police Checkpoints, stop and search, curfews and ASBO's becoming the norm

Steve Watson | January 19 2006

Last night I was driving near my home in London when i encountered a huge police checkpoint with around fifty police officers stopping every car that passed by and questioning the drivers.

Wanting to avoid the traffic, I simply turned around and took a different route. A friend who passed through the checkpoint informed me however that the police were asking every driver what they had been doing exactly one year ago and if they were in the same area at that time.

Apparently there had been a murder committed there exactly a year ago.

Now correct me if I am wrong but is this the way the police conduct murder investigations now? Stopping every vehicle that passes through the same area and questioning the drivers, demanding to know what they have been doing? And one year later? I don't have the worst memory in the world but I'm struggling to remember exactly where I was a year ago.

A google search led me to a story which tied in to the same local area and last night's checkpoint events.

Of course, this activity is all within the law but it is highly questionable and more than a little unusual. Under section 4, subsection 1 of the UK Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984,

A road check involves the stopping of all vehicles or particular vehicles in a location for the purpose of ascertaining whether a vehicle is carrying:

  • a person who has committed an offence other than a road traffic or vehicle excise offence
  • a person who is a witness to such an offence
  • a person intending to commit such an offence
  • a person unlawfully at large

A recent London Guardian article highlighted a similar story. The reporter was stopped on the street in London by police officers and asked if she knew anything about or was aware of knife crime in the area:

In the ongoing fight against prejudice, it is axiomatic that all of us, especially the policeman, empty our minds of the people we expect to be carrying lethal weapons, approaching everyone as equally likely to be innocent or guilty until the evidence of our own five senses convinces us one way or the other. What a ludicrous waste of the world's time, making me "aware" of knives. It is not the return to first principles that I object to, or the implied political correctness. It is the voguish concentration on the weapons, as opposed to the criminals. - commented the reporter, who was incidentally a middle class woman.

This is precisely the point, it is now the norm to consider everybody equally likely to be guilty of something than innocent. This is proactive policing, not preventative or reactive policing. And the worrying thing is that this kind of policing is more widely indicative of a society that is NOT free.

The prevention of crime through making areas safer and the bringing to justice those who have committed crimes have seemingly taken a back seat to seeking out pre-crime and pre-criminals, that is stopping and detaining individuals that the authorities deem to be a possible threat sometime in the future. Due to our obsession with political correctness and a reaction to the government stereotyping hype this means that EVERYBODY must be treated as a suspect.

Indeed, in 2004 the British Government attempted to pass this very policy into official law.

Pre-crime is the key theme in Philip K Dick's futuristic nightmare dystopian story "Minority report" first published in 1956 and made into a Hollywood movie in 2002. Once again the dystopian authors' nightmare vision is coming to pass.

Since the beefing up of anti-terror laws in 2000 and 2004 and since the July London attacks, police stop and searches, under the anti-terrorism act, have sky-rocketed. There are even special units that are solely focused on stop and search and include among their number elite sniper squads who have been specifically told to watch for women and children. Such units have nothing to do with terrorism, it simply provides the police with the right to stop anyone without reasonable suspicion and more often they seem to focus their efforts on searching for kids with hooded tops.

"Usually there is a restriction on the police's power to stop and search because they need to have a reasonable suspicion that somebody is carrying a stolen item or has a weapon, or something along those lines," solicitor Alex Gask said.

The Met Police even provide a handy guide to stop and search on their website.

Stop and search is not the only proactive policing measure being used. Under the 2004 Anti-social behaviour act child curfew zones have been introduced, how long before they are just "curfew zones"? How long before the ID card is introduced and much like Nazi Germany we have to show it in order NOT TO GET STOPPED AND SEARCHED?

Under Tony Blair's recent "RESPECT" agenda he wants to see more and higher on the spot fines, WITHOUT CHARGES, for behaviour deemed to be anti-social, that involves dropping litter and spitting. Now I'm not condoning those things but what is issuing massive fines to underprivileged kids who spit, (along with telling them they cannot be somewhere after a certain time) going to teach them about respect? It's going to make them violently hate the authorities and the community surrounding them. It is also going to shift them out of the poorer areas, where they are targeted, and into more well-to-do areas, which will immediately bring down the quality of life there as well.

Under the Respect program, Blair also wants to see families evicted and have all benefits cut if they are deemed to be "a nuisance".

Police are increasingly relying on the use of Anti Social Behaviour orders (ASBO) to target their pre-criminals. So wide is the legal definition of this term that they are being issued in droves to absolutely anyone. It seems that real policing is much tougher than simply issuing an ASBO and forgetting about it.

For example, an ASBO was issued to a woman who tried to drown herself to stop her going to the beach. Get her a councilor maybe? Some psychological help? Try to bring her family in and assess the situation? No no no, just slap an ASBO on her and move on to the next case.

Another ASBO case involved a boy playing football in the street. After all, today's street footballer could be tomorrow's terrorist. And another case saw an ASBO and subsequent jail time given to a woman for playing music too loud.

Another proactive policing tactic is to turn the general public into the police. We have recently seen many examples of how blatant and open STASI like tactics are being employed by the government and the police in the UK. You are more likely to now be stopped by "Community support officers", volunteer police, rather than the real thing.

Civil rights campaigners have voiced concern about a new channel allowing households in east London to monitor local CCTV cameras, dubbed "Asbo TV". The project will enable Shoreditch residents to compare suspicious characters with an on-screen "rogue's gallery" from their living-room.

The government is also encouraging Londoners to report their neighbors for any suspicious activity, terrorism related or otherwise, which they think seems to include owning a car and using a garage lock up.

In what sense is this kind of behaviour supposed to encourage respect and communal living within our society? All it does is break up the community, encourage distance and suspicion between neighbours and stresses to everyone that if you step out of line in any minor way, you're going down.

Is it any wonder that the natural reaction to all of this amongst young people in the UK is to isolate themselves and gang together in the streets and lash out at anyone different who happens to get in their way. They hide their faces behind hooded tops because everywhere around them they are being watched and suspected by CCTV, by the police, by "community officers", even by their own neighbours.

As form of rebellion they even embrace the status of "ASBO suspect" that they have been given and attempt to make it their own. in this sense they are adopting the image that is being given to them by the government and the police and the problem is perpetuated.

Does a free society consist of police checkpoints, curfews, on the spot fines, civillian spys, wall to wall surveillance cameras and the ability to stop and search anyone with no due cause?

Proactive policing/ pre-crime is a phenomena indicative of a once free state rapidly declining into a authoritarian police state. In many years to come we will look back on such things and either be proud we stood up and did something about them, or we may think quietly to ourselves, how could we be so blind to all the warnings of the early 21st century?

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