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Tying the police up in red tape

August 29th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

Over at the Ministry of Truth, Unity has some typically interesting things to say about the Tories’ “mini manifesto” on crime. Its a short (for him) post about that old chestnut – the way the police are being hampered by supposedly spending more time filling in forms than pounding the beat.

Some very good points as usual, but I think there is one point which could be expanded on:

One of the frequent complaints we hear about ‘failures’ in policing is when they, or other security forces, are accused of not making connections. Examples would be how records of accusations against Ian Huntley in one area were not available to another force when they carried out criminal record checks on him, or about the bomb plotters who had been linked to members of another bomb plot a couple of years earlier.

OK there are lots of other considerations in those cases, but one thing is for certain: if you don’t collect information in the first place there is nothing to pass on, or otherwise use. If there is a problem it is not that police officers are required to collect too much information but that that nobody has managed to implement a decent system for holding, collating and cross-referencing that information.

The debate we should be having is whether we want that capability. The ability to properly cross-reference all possible relevant information depends on various systems talking to each other, which they are not allowed to do. Proper data-sharing has implications for potential civil liberties abuse. Somehow we have to look at the balance between having an effective police intelligence system and preserving civil liberties and decide what our priorities are – and one or other of them, or both, has to be compromised to some degree: you can’t just have both.

Its a difficult debate and a serious one, in which the whole ID cards issue is also involved, and which has strong opinions on each side. Its also an emotive one which is difficult to discuss objectively.

What is not helpful is ‘dog whistle’ policies and calls for less information-gathering and better intelligence. Its hardly joined-up thinking, but what you would expect from a party who also talk about lower taxes and better services.

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