Thursday, 29 May 2008

Target profiling

No matter what the Police do, someone somewhere is going to be offended, aggrieved, persecuted, upset or discriminated against in some way. In short, we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t, so most of the time we crack on anyway after lots of checks and rechecks to make sure that the action to be taken is proportionate, legal, accountable and necessary. We then take the flack later and deal with it. One of the extremely hot political potatoes of late has been concerning the use of target profiling to identify and deter suspected terrorists or criminals.

My view on the subject is this – if we have an identified threat from a specific group or gang then we should target them with aggressive intelligence gathering, stop checks and arrests in order to disrupt their activities and identify and prosecute where criminal offences have become apparent. This way the vast majority of the public will not be harassed and they will see that we are tackling problems that affect everyone. By making an environment too hostile to operate in, the targets (or potential targets who see a benefit in crime/terrorism) will then move onto a softer option elsewhere. The better result is they hopefully decide that they cannot comfortably work anywhere and that the risk of capture is too high to justify the act, so they quit and do something else instead, like become a politician.

Take for example, a group of criminals using mopeds in order to quickly enter and exit a given area to commit burglaries at specific types of premises. This tactic is by no means new, as most Police pursuits of mopeds will be cancelled if there is an element of danger. You only have to watch Road Wars or Traffic Cops to learn that riding on footpaths, no helmets, lots of pedestrians etc fulfil this criteria, then that particular form of transport becomes desirable for committing crime as you can use the things virtually anywhere.

In order to deter criminals from using mopeds to commit the types of crime that we KNOW they are being used for, we could do one of three things. 1) stop everyone from using mopeds, 2) randomly check any moped rider whether or not we believe that they could be a suspect or 3) target specific riders based on intelligence such as age, clothing, behaviour, time of day or other known elements of their MO (modus operandi or method of operating)

The first option is unfair, disproportionate to the problem and will alienate not only those who do use mopeds and don’t commit crime but those who think it’s unfair to target everyone to eradicate an extremely small minority even though most people will never ride a moped in their life.

The second option is equally unfair and could be considered a complete and utter waste of time as it would appear you are merely stopping people who you don’t suspect to be a target in order to balance the books, they will also generate plenty of responses from innocent parties along the lines of “do I look like a 15 year old burglar?”

The third option is the preferred choice as it gives a higher potential hit rate for stops, it is fair and proportionate to the threat, it also has a higher potential for success as it narrows down the target profile significantly.

I think most will agree that sending police officers out in high visibility jackets and vehicles to randomly stop vehicles and people who they don’t even suspect are related to the crime, in randomly picked areas, is an absurd waste of time. The people and vehicles stopped would be searched and personal details gathered for no reason other than it is believed that random checks have at some point deterred a suspect from committing a crime and it is therefore a valid tactical option.

The Police officers will be well aware that they are doing nothing but filling out forms for forms sake as well as getting on peoples nerves for making them late for work/college/pub needlessly. Even if the senior management maintain that doing random checks on random people could possibly maybe perhaps deter someone from committing burglary in the area, everyone feels that resources would be better used in specifically targeting the actual suspects instead of everyone else.

This is what currently happens with stop searches under Section 44(1 & 2) of the Terrorism Act as we are told “no one knows what a terrorist looks like, they could be anywhere and everywhere so don’t stereotype people and check anyone and everything” The Police officers cannot refuse a lawful order as the legislation is designed to be used to stop anyone and everything in a given (large) area and time frame, so legally there is nothing wrong with the order, as rediculous as the action may be.

During the IRA/RIRA/PIRA campaigns in the 80’s and 90’s, if you were a white male or female in your early to mid 20’s, had an Irish accent and people didn’t recognise you then suspicions would have been raised. If you were in an area where no Irish people lived or gathered then the chances are that you would have been stopped and searched. When I was a kid we used to have TV broadcasts on the BFBS (British forces Broadcasting Service) telling everyone to look out for exactly that profile and to report them to the Royal Military Police, because that is where the threat came from at the time. If you were black, Chinese, Asian, Fijian or Arabic, not many people would have suspected you of being a member of the IRA, again because people from those ethnic groups were not at the time considered to be involved in the threat.

Searches under the ‘Sus’ Laws and later S.1 of PACE still happened because they could however I very much doubt that anyone of those ethnic groups would have been told that they were being searched because the Police officer thought that they were members or supporters of the IRA, unless the police officer was conducting a questionable search and used that as an excuse for it.

In the UK the current threat from Al Qaeda and affiliated groups is real, there are literally thousands of known or suspected members or supporters. On the news a few weeks ago Sir Ian Blair stated that several credible plots have been stopped and hundreds of cells are being tracked by the security services which is causing a nightmare for resourcing personnel. Using all of the current intelligence, the Security services are able to build up a profile based on background, beliefs, hobbies, friends, activities, web browsing, habits etc which give indications as to whether or not a person who fits that specific profile is deemed a threat and worth investigating.

Profiling has been used extensively by countries such as Israel on their national airline El Al. Along with increased security such as covert and overt air marshals, it has been used to good effect. They use profiling at borders and stop checks and have stopped attacks by doing so. The fact that they continue to be attacked and that the terrorists change tactics shows that profiling works as the enemy has to change continuously. This takes time, and subsequently gives their security services a chance to gather intelligence and reassess the threat.

Given the current threat I do not believe that it is proportionate sending officers to tube stations, bus stops or crowded places to search randomly selected people, just because some believe that using profiling could be seen as stereotyping or discriminating. Searches under S.44/43 are extremely random and virtually pointless, I have only known of a couple of arrests for specific terrorism offences while doing S.44 stops in groups or as tasking. There have been plenty of arrests, however they have been for other criminal or traffic offences after hundreds of random stops.

There have been many instances where the people stopped and searched have been so far removed from the known terrorist threat that is has been laughable, and yet we are still told that randomly stopping vehicles and people is a valid tactic as it “keeps them on their toes” and that we should not use any form of target profiling.



Anonymous said...

The problem arises from a misunderstanding of "profiling". A very blunt racial profiling of "young asian males" is dangerous, because it would not have picked out, Richard Reid, Osman Hussain,David Hicks,or a white suspectin Exeter. If your profiles are genuinely "intelligent" then they should be used. If not, they are simply discrimation and antagonistic.

Metcountymounty said...

Anon above, completely agreed, I did actually have a couple of paragraphs about Hussain Osman and Richard Reid but took them out as the post was too long. Simplistic racial profiling is obviously wrong but there are lots of other similar background histories, habits and activities that contribute to a proper profile that is usable. Same goes for use in crime, simply targetting young black or white males for knife crime is again a poor and disproportionate response, but targeting males from a block of flats on an estate or who wear gang colours or hang out in the same areas and are known to be related to criminal activity would be considerably more fruitful than just stopping anyone and everyone based on one or two elements of the known target profile.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago when living in SE London I was repeatedly stopped by the police, often more than once a week. In a six week period I was stopped eight times, three of them by the same officer. The reasons given varied from the predictable, as in we have had a report of a man matching our description, to the seemingly strange, you crossed the road when we turned the corner (I was waiting for a break in the traffic). The real reason I was stopped. I was a male aged between 14 and 25 (19) walking late at night (I worked in a pub) Although I did realise that I fitted the profile of someone likely to be involved in criminal activity, the repeated stops did begin to great, especially the repeated stops by the same officer when we went through all the same questions and answers (I am walking home, I was at work in the ----, I live at ----, ect) night after night.
The stops themselves did not alienate me, although I did start to feel victimised. The main damage was caused by the confrontational and rude attitude of the police, not helped that not one of the stop and searches was conducted in accordance with PACE, (I had studied law) the questions often went along the lines of, name, address, what are you doing, turn out your pockets, with little else.
While I agree that profiling is useful and may well save police time, and that this is probably a very useful tool and a way of controlling the streets, and I am not saying that you should never stop anyone but scum (anyone can make a mistake) but the way in which the whole process is conducted will be vital in not turning the very people that should give you support away from the police.

Joseph K.

Anonymous said...

MCM, another really good post. I've been here since you started, and it's nice to hear a police blogger write a post that is good in length (no short and simple posts), talking about serious issues and doing so intelligently. Full credit to you - please don't change.

Martin said...

I have a PhD and I am a scientist and I am based at Imperial College.

Yet, at least one a month I get stopped while I go about my lawful business.

Is this profiling?

Yes, I am black.

blueknight said...

It depends on what you are looking for. A Sec 60 search order for a football match does not create too many problems as there is always intelligence as to who the troublemakers are.
Drugs and knives, again fairly easy. There is no typical suspect, but you know it when you see it.
Terrorism on the other hand is a lot more difficult. Stopping a terrorist is one thing, but the chances are that you would not realise (unless he/she was carrying explosives or some other terror related item.)
Years ago I kept on having to serve summonses on a Chinese man who lived in a council flat. It was nothing spectacular, Speeding, unpaid parking fines, no insurance. I must have gone ther at least five times. He never said much but he was quite polite.
It was only when there was an investigation into Triad extortion and blackmail in the town that I found out that the Triads knew him as 'Crazy Mong' and he was their 'enforcer'
That being said, it is not so much a case of who actually is a terrorist, druggie, knife holder or football hooligan, but who do you THINK is.
And the hardest thing is explaining a coppers intuition.

Anonymous said...

Stick with option three even though a senior Officer came in for some stick when, following the London bombings, he said that he would not be targetting white haired elderly ladies.

The fact that the Plymouth group ( of presumably Islamic extremists ) felt the need to use a mentally ill ( not PC, sorry ) white person as their Exeter suicide bomber might suggest that profiling has indeed got them on the run ( as well as showing them to be cowards, not prepared to die in their own 'cause' ).

Anonymous said...

Another point is why are unarmed officers stopping, what could be an armed terrorist, and where is the risk assesment written for that one. Another Knee jerk reaction, do enough stops and the borough commander can get his bonus, sorry thats for sanctioned detections

For The People said...

Wow, a well thought out post. If the group that an officer is targeting can be proved to be the twenty percent that are most responsible for the crime in the area. Is that profiling?

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece that for me highlights the sensible approach to dealing with general criminal issues (by which i dont mean terroriusm , serious organised crime etc) it seems to me that those at the top would benefit a great deal from asking and heeding advice form the man on the ground.

James said...

Would it be fair to say that you have been a police officer for some time?

Metcountymounty said...

james - less than 10, more than 2. any reason?

james said...

because you still seem to have a few shards of idealism - but now utterly swamped by the true reality of your job

you also seem highly disaffected with what you do.

james said...

MCM less than 10 more than 2 gives a median of six years in.

So you joined the Job probably about 2002 and not earlier than 2000.

You do talk with great authority about how policing was in the old days but you have no personal exerience of it.

Do you not think that you might be suffering from the good old days syndrome? Where as the reality was that policing and controlling criminals in the old days was just as bad, if not worse, than today?

Metcountymounty said...

James, close. By that token though, anyone who has experienced less than a decade of a given subject and the remainder of their knowledge comes from having researched it's history and speaking to those who have experience considerably more, shouldn't be allowed to talk or discuss anything that has happened outside of their own realm of experience or anything that they have experienced a few years of?

That's all the history teachers stuck then. thanks for your comments.

james said...

Hang on, there's no need to be so rude!

I think you mean historians rather than history teachers and as any decent historian knows, emotional detachment and objectivity is essential.

You seem very emotionally involved in your theory and don't seem to have any objectivity.

Good historians (as good police) also know that word of mouth evidence is the most unreliable of all.

So, proper evidence? rather than chit chat in the canteen about the good old days?

Steve_Roberts said...

Great post. The problem is that the people who take the most important decisions are usually the furthest removed from reality. Solutions ? Obvious, but unlikely, as long as politicians' careers depend on being seen to 'do something' on the one hand, and not offend the canons of 'non-discrimination' on the other

Anonymous said...

Have I been in long enough to comment? This country has gone to the dogs no matter how long you have been in whatever job you do, anyone can see it.

James said...

MCM, where our conversation left off, do you have any rational justification for your theories other than the fact that a few of the old-timers told you that in the old days you could hassle anybody you liked just because they looked a bit dodgy?

And in line with your earlier post about vigilantes, presumably beat them up as well.

XTP said...

Guv / Ma'am / Whatever - don't know! How long have you got in?

I have nearly 24 years in and I can tell you that it was WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT better then. So there.

Anonymous said...

James 31 May 2008 12:11

Exactly what are your qualifications that allow you to comment on policing in 'The good old days?'

blueknight said...

I worked in industry from 1970 to 1975, when I joined the Police. I was in the job for the full 30 years, then I worked as a Police 'civilian' for another 18 months.
I have worked in rural and city settings and did Vice Squad twice. I was a PSU Officer from 1982 onwards and later EGT. I was also a trained CBRN responder, but I never wore the kit in anger.
I was there and MCM is right in what he says. Quite simply Policing has always been hard and getting punched in the face in 1988is as painful as it is now in 2008. What has changed in the last 10 years is the Govt making things even more diificult for the Police by increasing paperwork,inventing meaningless targets and hoops for the Police to jump through, not providing enough prison places, and generally being soft on the type of crime that matters.
Policing has got much harder.The situation in the country has also got worse, compared with how it was in the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
We lived through some bad times in the 1970s, no sugar toilet rolls or bread at various times. Power cuts and strikes were the norm and factories were only allowed to run for three days a week to save energy. It has not become as bad as that, yet, but crime, terrorism, drugs and murder is far more prevalent than it ever was.
MCM did make one mistake when he confused the so called 'sus laws' with stop and search.
It is a common mistake and one I have heard made on the radio and television.
For the 'anoraks', pre-PACE there were no general stop and search powers, but The Firerms Act, Prevention of Crime, (Offensive weapons) and the Misuse of Drugs Act had stop and search built into them. There was a commonlaw power to search any arrested person and a PC (or Magistrate) could search a pedlar's pack.
In a nutshell, the Sus law made it an offence for a 'suspected person' or reputed thief to loiter with intent to commit an indictable offence.
The usual scenario was for a person to be seen walking along a road trying car door handles, which made him a suspected person, then for the same male to be seen lurking about in a car park.
It was superceded in 1981 by the Criminal Attempts Act.

Metcountymounty said...

posted by Stuart MacIntyre - I've deleted the email address though due to a number of trolls that regularly read and would no doubt take the piss and spam you.

Stuart mcintyre said...

I've been reading this blog for some time. Its excellent! In fact its so good that I've been reluctant to post!

I can't see a link to E-mail you. I'm interested to know your option on the government use of CCTV? You haven't made any comment on it. I'm not going to here because I can't comment on it with out ranting!

If I'm going to take this topic the wrong way!

Metcountymounty said...

james - Other than speaking to officers with considerably more service (all of whom say the same thing with regard to effectiveness of policing 10-20 years ago compared to now) the rafts of legislation and enquiries brought in with Pace, POTA, CJA, Sheehy, MacPherson and the updates to caselaw and other legislative acts all carry with them evidence presented as reasons and justifications for and against the amendments which were debated in parliament. Having read news stories, historical articles and factually verified accounts from current and ex officers as well as government approved training packages that present reasons for and against different practices, I'm happy that my view of how policing has evolved is pretty accurate. Politicians and lobbyists have always tried to change Policing and criminal justice into a body that they would like to be dealt with, the irony is that if they were afraid of how they might be treated if they did wrong, then the vast majority of other people who would prefer to take the easy option and turn to crime would too.

Same goes for sentencing.

Stuart, I'm not going to be putting an email address up to contact me directly, feel free to post through the comments section if you want.

As for my view on CCTV, just like anything else the government have brought in, they did it half arsed. Very good when it's used properly and to it's full potential but without sufficient resources to use it fully, or to store and use in court proceedings, it is almost worthless in many cases.

The CCTV can be very very good, especially in fast time incidents where the control room or an experienced operator can give the officers on the ground not only the information they actually need but a mental image of the scene prior to arrival. However as for trawling through hours and hours of cctv for incidents it has to be viewed and used in real time and costs hundreds of thousands in manhours, although some of the evidence that can be gleaned can be pivotal.

In courts they still demand the CCTV on VHS tape as they haven't got duplex (lots of camera shots recorded at once) or dvd players because of cost. Most council and private CCTV facilities now store onto disc or hard-drive (more cost effective than additional storage or tapes and quicker to access) the cost of transferring to a system that is nearly 30 years old is rediculous.

Added to all of this, the fact that most police computers have the CD drive locked out to stop people listening to music or uploading software (which they never could anyway as with the internet they blocked access before anyone ever got the chance to abuse it through fear of looking bad in the press or to the public) even viewing CCTV becomes a complete pain in the arse and cannot be done quickly or easily.

It's all well and good bringing in the cameras if you can use them properly and the infrastructure is behind them to actually use them effectively as evidence in court or investigation, but it isn't and in most cases it's worthless and is collected and stored as unused evidence. In many cases its collected for negative evidence as the cameras aren't actually that good, it is also collected to cover arses as it is almost certain that somewhere a CCTV camera has seen some part of an incident even if the footage is worthless, we can't be seen to ignore it.

I have no idea how many people think that CCTV is as good as on TV or in the movies, its not. In most cases such as shops or some old council cameras the image is shocking to the point of being worthless due to poor quality equipment and an unrealistic expectation of its value. It used to be a good deterrent (ie when it first became popular) but nowadays many criminals know that it is practically worthless and don't care if they are on camera.

There is also no such thing as digital enhancement that can be used for everyday investigations, the reason for this is a computer program is used to extrapolate the information in the image to enhance it digitally. An image only contains a certain number of pixels (just like a digital photo) and if you zoom in too much you just end up with a big pixel on the screen. The reason it is not admissible as evidence is because one computer program could give one result and another could give something else and so it becomes unreliable.

A perfect example of this is the photos that Police took at the 'Jack the Ripper' murders. They photographed they eyes of one of the victims in the hope that in the future the technology might exists to zoom in enough to get an image of the murderer. However due to the resolution of the film and prints, you can't blow up what isn't there in the first place and using a computer program to try to do so, is technically nothing more than an educated guess. The same goes for a digital image and a tape frame.

You can use a computer program to clean up an image (as used by the FBI labs in the Milly Dowler case to ID a car) but there is nothing usable in court today of the same level as the film bladerunner where they zoom in almost indefinitely to a photo to get a face image.

There has never been a conviction based solely on CCTV evidence, there has always been some other corroboration so as a tool it's not all its hyped up to be, and to be honest the fact that there is CCTV everywhere (and thanks to TV programs) it gives the public an extremely unrealistic view on it's value and potential.

It's a simple tool in the box, nothing more.

james said...

Hi Blueknight - thank you for your very in-depth and very well thought out response. I certainly appreciate the time and trouble that you went to, and yes, I remember the 1970's too!

As you said, I suppose a lot of the intake officers of MCM's generation picked up a few wrong ideas about "sus" laws and the like from television shows and were greatly disappointed when they joined the force and saw the reality of the job.

What's *your* suggested way out of the current mess?

Metcountymounty said...

just a tad patronising james.... Do you think the standard of people joining the police (those who get through selection anyway) are the same as the thick knucklehead who walks into an army recruitment centre saying they want to join the SAS but knowing nothing about it? Anyone who joined after pace (84) and Sheehy (93) would have been under no misapprehension as to what the job entailed, the ramifications of actions or the authorities under which they where working. It doesn't make them wrong to question the detrimental effect that those changes appear to have had. Anyone who does a bit more research than watch The Bill knows that certain changes to legislation, authorities and accountability have changed how we work, my argument is that some of those changes have been for the worse over all. And besides, what does my age or length of service have to do with target profiling anyway or are you just generalising about the blog?

James said...

Hey hang on MCM!,apologies if yu thought I was being patronizing. Which I wasn't!!

I don't know about you so much, but I get the impression that after the best part of 10 years in that you did not go to the Job straight from school but did something else first?

If so, why did you change.And are you regretting it now?

Anyway talk about patronizing what about bit more respect for people who become soldiers? They're not all knuckleheads you know.

As to get into the police? I don't know? You tell me, what are the pass marks now? I have heard people on these blogs complain about the lowering of the entry standards lately and now even OSPRE pass rates are only 55% for 2009

As for your age and length of service - not really an issue with me. All I did was ask how you knew what it was like in the old days.

As for my two bob's worth - profiling is only as good as intelligence. The trouble is with police intelligence these days is the same as everywhere else these days with computers . You have data, but you don't have INFORMATION

TheBinarySurfer said...

Some interesting points in there MCM - sadly the government doesn't have the backbone to order those kind of tactics (targeted, aggressive intelligence led etc).

Anonymous said...

Prior to PACE I could turn a prisoner around in 1 hour, all paperwork completed and the officer back on the street. [average shoplifter-bread and butter stuff]. Now the officer will still be doing his paperwork 5 hours later, that is one of the main differences to then and now.

Metcountymounty said...

James, it wasn't a dig a soldiers, both my parents were in the Army and I have nothing but respect for anyone who chooses to serve their country. It was a dig at thick people who go into something blind, know nothing about it and then regret the choice later, which is what your response sounded like you were suggesting I or anyone who had joined the Police in recent years had done. If not then fair enough! As for regrets, I have none whatsoever in the choices I've made having done a few different jobs prior to joining the Police. I've never gone into anything blind and although I didn't like some jobs, I loved others but sought something more. That doesn't mean I can't suggest how the system could be run more effectively by looking back at the last 170 years of Policing and criminal justice, as they say there is nothing new under the sun.

Binarysurfer, very good point, the government don't have any backbone and individual MP's are even more hesitant top put their head up and make a decision. I (along with every copper in the country) will be watching with interest how Surrey and the other 3 forces get on with running themselves for the people they serve instead of some clueless suit in whitehall. Maybe the tide is finally turning back to how everyone but some MP trying to justify their expenses wants it?

anon 2007, custody does take longer now than it did even 5 years ago however things like NSPIS (which I was extremely sceptical about when it came in) has actually proved to reduce the procedure by an hour or so on average - as long as you have lots of Sgt's available to book in, skippers who don't type with one finger, know the system inside out and aren't plagued by computer gremlins!!

For The People said...

I agree whole heartedly. It goes back to the 80/20 Rule. I get so frustrated at times. We are very short-handed and getting raked over the coals by the criminals lately. Thus admin is raising Cain. Keep your head up.

blueknight said...

Independance from the Govt. - The Govt should be making the laws and the Police should be applying them.
The Govt should not be leaning over the Chiefs Constables' shoulders and telling them how to run their Forces.
The individual Forces should know what works in their own area. It is not a case of one size fits all, as what works in Penzanze does not necessarily work in Peckham. Forces should be far more independant and therefore more accountable and responsible to the local people.
Less paperwork. - There is far too much. A couple of simple shoplifters will tie up an Officer for the whole 8 hour shift.
Decent sentences. - The hot topic at the moment is knife crime. How many youths would carry a knife if they knew the penalty would not be a supervision order or a CSO, but a year or more inside. Not many would need to be jailed before the word went round. The same goes for any of the other anti social activities.
Can we try all that and see how it goes?

For The People said...

Hey freind,

Stop by my blog early. I started something new!!!

James said...

Blue knight - I quite agree, the consequences for breaking the law must be enormously more detrimental than the consequences of observing the law.

Any law.

You're right. Society is going to Hell in a handcart.

PCs at the coalface should be given far more autonomy and freedom of action in enforcing the law