August 18th, 2009

Police are incompetent – fact

Posted in The Job - General by 200

They are according the Magistrates’ Association today.

Chris Hunt Cooke, chair of the Association’s road traffic committee spoke out regarding new powers which may see police officers able to dish out £60 fixed penalty tickets & 3 points for careless driving.

Proposed new powers will allow officers to decide between sending a bad driver to court or handing them an ‘on-the-spot’ fine. Officers have had the powers to hand out fines for traffic offences such as no seatbelt, for many years, latterly they have also been able to fine people for low-level drunkenness & disorder.

Police chiefs argue that the new fixed penalty system will free officers from having to spend time preparing court files when they report drivers for careless driving.

Mr Hunt Cooke said: “Regrettably, recent experience with out-of-court disposals shows that the police cannot be relied on to use them appropriately or as intended. Once they have been given these powers, the police will misuse them, that is a certainty, and careless driving will be generally treated as a minor offence, unless serious injury is involved.

“This is a proposal that places the convenience of the police above what is right in principle, may coerce innocent drivers into accepting a fixed penalty, and is certain generally to downgrade careless driving in terms of offence seriousness.”

Hunt Cooke further says that only magistrates are truly capable of deciding how serious a bad piece of driving can be, presumably because these unpaid people usually with no skills or knowledge of any particular aspect of the law, will be truly versed in what is good, bad & terrible on the roads of the UK, while police officers, many of whom are experts in the field of driving are not. Strangely, when I was handing out speeding tickets I was quite capable of deciding who should be cautioned, who should have a ticket & who should go to court based purely on the evidence I had seen first-hand with a lifetime of policing the country’s roads. They used to call it discretion (OK I know the government did away with this when they brought in the target culture).

The Department of Transport is currently considering whether to extend police powers to hand out tickets for Careless Driving & will report back later this year.

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15 comments

  1. Same Old Faces says:

    I can see the idea behind this, in that it is another procedure which will hopefully reduce the time police officers spend waiting around in courts, at the beckon call of the defence/CPS/defendants.

    I do not think however that the police should become an arm of the judiciary in being the judge, jury and executioner at the roadside for offences such as Careless Driving. That said, are the magistrates any better qualified to make such decisions?

    The problem with this is that Careless Driving covers such a broad spectrum of driving standards. It would be correct in certain instances to issue a FPN whilst in others in would be a very lienient dsiposal. This is were we are relying on officers judgements as to whether the individual cases are suitable for an FPN or need to go before a court. That said, are the police not already doing this effectively with FPN’s for offences such as Drunk and Disorderly?

    August 18th, 2009 at 22:35

  2. Jabadaw says:

    Although I was in Traffic patrol for a few years before moving on I would not like to see this piece of legislation come into being. Although I had occasion to report someone for careless driving (and never lost a case at court) it can still be construed by some people as a matter of conjecture and opinion and thus always open to debate. However, I assume that any FPN issued would have the same inbuilt ‘safeguard’ in that any recipient of such a ticket would be able to apply for a court hearing before a magistrate and have the standard of evidence subjected to scrutiny. But the allegation that Police cannot be trusted to issue these FPNs correctly is frankly an outrageous slur on our honesty.

    August 18th, 2009 at 23:15

  3. copper bottom says:

    Most traffic law is based on the concept of the ‘absolute’ offense.

    Like double yellows- you commit the offence by parking on them- you may have have a good mitigation (you broke down, stopped to help someone that was collapsed etc..)

    Speeding… when the Police officer has a radar/vascar system etc

    In those cases- its OK IMHO to give people the option of a Fixed Penalty.

    Careless driving is different… its based on a subjective opinion that the person is guilty- that is NOT the role of a Police officer…

    Our job is to gather evidence and give to a court…

    Its not about trust.

    its about law and procedure.

    August 18th, 2009 at 23:57

  4. Blueknight says:

    Fine if the ‘offence’ is captured on video as per ‘Road Wars’. Not quite so good if it is not.
    Of course the real danger is that it will become yet another target from the Ivory Towers and Officers will be issuing tickets for ‘mistakes’ that previously would have got advice or a warning.
    The Police need the public on side and through the fault of this meddling Govt, they are not

    August 19th, 2009 at 00:37

  5. 200 says:

    CB,

    what about offences of drunkenness, surely similar in what one officer constitutes as unacceptable behaviour, another will see as Saturday Night high jinx, or speeding where one officer will give a ticket at 36mph while another won’t give a ticket below 40 (in a 30)?

    Aren’t subjective opinions being used in these cases?

    August 19th, 2009 at 01:12

  6. ian c says:

    I agree with the Magistrates’ Association on this one.

    My brother was offered a an FPN by an officer that worked in the same station as me.

    There was no offence based on the allegation of the officer, passed to him by a PCSO, following a complaint from a MOP.

    I am afraid that a ‘minority’ of officers see an FPN as an ouput, that meets a need. Sometimes, that minority of officers, fail to meet the need of the public and their drive to get the FPN accepted, can lead unfairly to peoples lives being made more difficult because they accepted the FPN

    I Emphasis a minority

    I

    August 19th, 2009 at 03:05

  7. copper bottom says:

    yes- that is… but our statutory expertise is drunken behaviour…

    Also, may I remind ALL that we DO not GIVE people fixed pens… we OFFER them as an alternative to court…

    Re speeding… that is a strict liability offence – so you commit the offence or not… no subjective thinking required…

    Choosing to arrest or start prosecution is a discretionary power that a lot of senior officers seem to have forgot we have …

    We are not talking about discretion though are we? We are talking about a slippery slope – what next? FP for shoplifting? For minor assault?

    Dont get me wrong- I can see a need for US-type police issued SUMMONS…

    That could work… but again… its down to evidence- we are not trusted to assess it – not as some people (lol magistrates saying Police make odd decisions -Kettle, Pot…)

    But because we WOULD COST THEM millions!!! in failed court action…

    Most officers would love to arrest and see the cases go through – but ITS SO HARD to get people convicted these days… I had a bloke get off with sexual assault because the Judge said the witness wasnt upset by it!!!!L!!I!O!O!

    when you have fuck-wits like that in charge what hope do you have,,?

    August 19th, 2009 at 12:07

  8. 200 says:

    CB,

    I understand the difference between ‘giving’ and ‘offering’ but I think it is a purely semantic one, in the offering of a ticket in most cases what you are doing is offering someone the lesser of two evils. I’m sure there are many cases where they are far happier to take the ticket than go to court, but others when they don’t really accept blame but will take the ticket to avoid a higher penalty in case they get convicted at court, which is not really in the spirit of the scheme.

    I know we discussed differences in procedures between forces recently, but doesn’t your force already give tickets for shoplifters? (not serial ones, obviously, but those not convicted of shoplifting previously) We’ve had this power since 2004!

    I note the irony between the magistrates criticising police decisions when they have so much to answer for.

    August 19th, 2009 at 12:52

  9. ExchangeandMart says:

    I read about this in the car news over at Exchange and Mart http://tiny.cc/wh7yr – Personally I agree with the magistrates, that the police (well some of them anyway) will misuse this; I find it pretty worrying; its not the sort of thing that can be left to opinion and I am certain that some police will abuse this power if granted.

    August 19th, 2009 at 13:44

  10. R/T says:

    I heard this chap on the radio the other morning. He said, among other things, that Section 3 RTA offences would be downgraded and that magistrates have the power to fine £5,000 and give 9 points for it. I thought “Shoe me a mag who’s fined even half that and I’ll eat my hat!” I have never stuck anyone on for Section 3, I’m afraid. Been to court, of course, following RTC prosecutions, though. Has anyone else ever done it?

    Also – I could foresee probs created by officer’s experience. With 25 in I reckon I could opinionate in court but I’m not sure where you’d draw the line for less-experienced officers.

    Still – as others have said, the right to a court hearing is retained so all’s well, huh?!!

    August 19th, 2009 at 16:25

  11. copper bottom says:

    R/T is SOOO right… in 20-years of seeing all manner of offences – esp on CID – I have NEVER seen anyone:

    get a maximum sentence.

    seen anyone SERVE their actual sentence.

    our justice system has gone TOO far on the side of the villan…

    August 20th, 2009 at 10:27

  12. Civ_In_The_City says:

    The government will say they have withdrawn officer discretion in order to ensure that there is consistency, so a less experienced officer will produce the same result as a more experienced one.

    Naturally I think that`s crap. This idea that there has to be guaranteed consistency in everything is nonsense. What one officer sees as drunken high-jinx and another sees as breach of the peace is just your bad luck if you`re the drunken bloke/girl.

    The real reason for cutting out police discretion, and putting the CPS in charge of charging people is so the government can control it all. They can take the credit for successes, they can manipulate what is given priority in response to public outcry/latest fads.

    In what other professional field are the trained experts not allowed to exercise their professional skill and judgement in how they execute their job?

    What a complete waste of time, effort and money training them up if they can`t use the skills they develop.

    Why pay them so much if they aren`t doing a professional job, if they are just responding to orders/guidelines from above and filling in boxes and forms so someone else can make the real decisions.

    Wouldn`t we save an awful lot of money if we just privatised the whole thing and then….

    …aaaahhhh….

    It all becomes clear.

    Successive governments may be appear to be completely clueless on everyday issues, but they can play a hell of a ‘long’ game.

    August 20th, 2009 at 16:04

  13. copper bottom says:

    they cant withdraw it… they dont own it…

    its part of the warrant…

    August 20th, 2009 at 18:41

  14. Civ_In_The_City says:

    copper bottom,

    Maybe so, but they own the whip that punishes officers who don`t toe the line. The strength of the warrant, the fact that an officer doesn`t simply fill a ‘post’, is being undermined. Too many senior officers seem to think that rubbing shoulders with politicians is the height of sophistication, and they`ll sacrifice anything to get there. More of the ‘I`m all right Jack’ attitude prevalent today. There`s a constant approach that if something hasn`t been buggered about with for years then it`s time to bugger about with it because somehow it has to be faulty.

    There is a lot of short-term-ism, and a refusal to admit when changes haven`t actually made things better. The new FPN`s, may work fine, but if they don`t will we ever know, will they be withdrawn, and will they be trotted out 10 years from now when most of us have forgotten.

    You can`t run a police force, or a government, like they run supermarkets.

    August 20th, 2009 at 20:22

  15. copper bottom says:

    i could not agree more…

    I have always lived by the creed- if it’s not broke- don’t fix it…

    August 21st, 2009 at 03:01

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