Pointless Punishments

gavel picIf there’s one thing that irritates police officers across the board, it is manifestly inadequate sentencing of offenders put before the court. I don’t think there’s a copper in the state who hasn’t said ‘what’s the point?’ when someone they worked hard to charge, gets let off with the proverbial ‘slap over the wrist’. The last couple of weeks have seen a few crass examples:

  • A football player charged with four counts of possession of cocaine is fined $2500 by the courts – and no conviction recorded (He paid the fine with spare change he found down the the back of the couch).
  • A police sergeant charged with possessing drugs (ice/steroids) and a pipe was fined $600 and no conviction recorded (You swear to serve and protect, you especially should be held to that standard).
  • An American involved with importing 85kg of cocaine and 192kg of methamphetamine and caught with $154,550 in cash had his charges negotiated and ended up getting just 12 months jail and then a tax-payer funded flight back home when his visa was cancelled. (Explain that one to Chan and Sukumaran).
  • And the one that made me gobsmacked enough to write this blog – a man successfully fled from police who tried to pull him over when they observed him driving erratically. He was not meant to be driving at the time. The law that the court is meant to be upholding states people who evade police, potentially causing a pursuit and potentially putting the lives of any other road user at risk must be charged $5500 and lose their licence for two years. This law is designed to deter people from considering running from police due to the very real dangers to everyone involved in a pursuit. This offender received an absolute discharge – no fine, no loss of licence, NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. It makes a mockery of the law when people entrusted with enforcing it completely ignore it.

So often, police are just chasing their tails. Especially in smaller communities, it is often the same idiots doing the same things, with no punishment, or punishment that has no effect on them. A $2500 fine for a football player who earns millions? Pointless. Granted, he has had the public embarrassment of having this go through the courts, but that is a side-effect rather than a punishment levelled by the courts.

I don’t think I can truly express my disgust for these types of decisions without using some of the expletives on the tip of my tongue. And these are just the ones that have popped into my field of view in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t go hunting for them. I suggest it happens on a daily basis at a courthouse near you. I’m going to assume magistrates are getting some sort of pressure from further up the chain – the jails are full after all. And I’m not saying everyone who makes an error deserves to go to jail. But there has to be another option.

Whilst I personally do not agree with capital punishment, I am all for a little corporal punishment. A lot can be learnt from a little hardship and suffering. I’d like to see punishments that have an impact on the offender. I’m thinking along the lines of graffiti offenders who have to remove their handiwork – some sort of system is apparently already in place for this. But although I have seen many people convicted of graffiti offences but I am yet to see anybody doing any actual scrubbing.

Actually, I’d like to see more cleaning in general.

How about traffic offenders spending time picking up rubbish on the side of the highway? It would give them a better appreciation for how fast 100km/h actually is and how small the margin for error.

How about drug offenders having to clean out the morgue after the autopsy of a person who died of a drug overdose? There’s a wake-up call.

I’d even settle for a slap over the wrist, as long as it was an actual slap over the actual offender’s wrist, possibly with a rubber thong or similar.

I know, I’m being silly now. But my point is it’s time to think outside of the square. There has to be another way to deter criminals. Because the system we’ve got now? It’s just not working.

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Are police ‘trigger happy’?

It's not just target practice for police.

It’s not just target practice for police.

Queensland has had three fatal shootings by police in the last week. Scary figures. Cue the media headlines, distraught family members and training reviews.

So, are police trigger happy? No. Resoundingly NO. Let me explain.

Imagine the most stressful situation you’ve ever been in. Your heart is pounding so loudly that it nearly drowns out all the other sounds around you. Time feels like it has been sped up, except for you, you feel like the air is as thick as custard, weighing you down and making you move in slow motion. You gulp at the air, you can’t afford to pass out. Then you need to make a decision. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Chances are, it won’t be a well-considered thoughtful decision. It will be a gut reaction, an instinct. It will most likely be based on your training, movements that have been repeated often enough that NOW when your brain is not capable of conscious reasoning, this training will kick in and hopefully save your life. Possibly at the cost of someone else’s but that is the nature of the job. Police are trained to draw their guns for certain situations. If someone has the potential to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on you, shoot them. Protect yourself. Stop the threat. Protect others. Don’t believe a person with a knife can’t kill you with one strike.

It takes about 1.5 to 2 seconds for a police officer to draw their gun and fire. That doesn’t sound like much, but a person can run about seven metres in that time. The action of the offender will always be faster than the officer’s reaction – the officer has to see the movement, choose a course of action, and put that course of action into motion, such as removing their weapon from its holster, and firing. So applying this theory, if a threat is closer than seven metres to them, forget about trying to shoot. Start running backwards to buy some time, or get ready to fight. Police are taught all of this, and it is all whirling around your brain, along with the stresses of the situation itself.

A police officer who is forced into that corner and does shoot someone then has their own crisis to deal with. Firstly, they’ve shot someone. They’ve killed a person. That have taken someone else’s life. Often the deceased’s family or friends may have witnessed the shooting. Imagine for a minute this tsunami of grief, anger and confusion crashing over the top of them, while they themselves are trying to come to terms with what has just happened. Police are not psychopaths (psychometric testing precludes them). This directly affects them too. It may horrify, disturb, and shock them – the same normal human reactions as anyone else involved. Then the bosses start to swarm. Whichever police officer was involved is removed, interviewed, photographed, swabbed and bombarded with questions. If the answers are wrong, then they may find themselves on trial. The whole experience can be and often is career ending.

Always, the cry goes up – why didn’t the police TASER the person instead of shooting them? Police are not taught to draw their TASER in most situations involving weapons because of the risk it involves. If one of the probes misses, they’re stuffed. If one of the probes does not ‘stick’ (hits a zipper or a doesn’t pierce a thick coat), they’re stuffed. They don’t have a second shot. Reloading takes 2 or 3 seconds. The aggressor will be on top of them and they’ll be fighting for your life. Yes, tasering a person may save their life, but it might cost the police officer theirs.

A high proportion of people shot by police are suffering from mental illness. It’s tragic but not something police can control. The person may have reached crisis point for reasons unknown to the attending police. They might not have followed through – no one will know. They were in the grips of psychosis and didn’t mean it. They’re misunderstood. They wouldn’t hurt a fly. You hear all these things in the aftermath.

Police just can’t afford the speculation. They can’t take that chance. Because police want to go home at the end of the shift. Because police have their families waiting at home. Because police are doing their jobs.

You pull a knife on a cop – you’re going to get shot. End of story. When the offenders can grasp that, that’s when these shootings will end.

The prank with the lizard

lizard pic

It was lying in wait under a chair – big and green and spiky. Photo credit to http://www.animalpictures123.org

Who doesn’t love a good office prank? It’s almost like a competition, to see who can come up with the most elaborate or cunning idea to trick or amuse their workmates.

Most of them are harmless. We have an internal email system. I doubt there is an officer in the state who has not accidentally left their email open and had a prank email sent out on their behalf. Most popular targets are new officers to the station, who tend to invite every one at the station to their house for a togs-optional pool party or a lingerie party where they will do all the modelling.

One of the most memorable pranks which I have had the dubious pleasure of witnessing involved a very large lizard. The mastermind behind it had put some thought into the prank, elevating it beyond the usual slapstick. At the back of the station were a couple of low wide chairs. Coppers would hang out here for smoko or a chat. There were about five or six of us chatting at shift change one afternoon. I was the first one to spot it – there was an enormous lizard laying under one of the chairs. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was like a komodo dragon. I know, you don’t find these in the Australian countryside, but you get the idea. It was quite clearly dead, evidenced by the fact that it had some of its insides hanging out of its mouth. Someone had placed road-kill under the chair. Ha-dee-ha-ha. I moved backwards as I drew everyone’s attention to it. The woman sitting in the chair jumped, shrieked and ran. Everyone put a safe distance between themselves and the lizard, just because of the sheer size of it. So that in itself was a crude but effective prank. People got a fright, there was a little bit of yelling. But that was just the set-up. The best was yet to come. After we all decided it definitely was dead, we moved back into the area again. One of the blokes decided to do the right thing and get rid of the creature. So he grabbed a broom, which happened to be leaning up against the chair. All of a sudden, the dead lizard sprang to life. Everyone jumped and ran. And the lizard jumped and ran. It chased the guy with the broom. He ran backwards, trying to push back at the lizard with the broom. Lots more shrieking from lots more people this time. The lizard was moving like lightning. Until the broom was dropped. Yes, the wag who had placed the lizard under the chair, had tied a piece of fishing line from the creature to the broom. It was inevitable that someone would grab the handy broom to poke at the lizard. And that’s when the real prank kicked in.

Are pranks workplace harassment or good-natured bonding? Depends on your mood really. And whether you are the target. But I am glad that the scheming genius who came up with the lizard prank was on the right side of the law…

Anyone care to share a prank they have been the target for? Or the mastermind behind?

Is ignorance bliss?

Ferguson

No one wanted to live next door to Dennis Ferguson.

There is nothing quite like going to the shops with your kids and seeing one of the local pedophiles. And then the pedophile gives you a friendly smile and wave because he recognises you from the police station. Maybe your face just looks familiar to him or maybe he remembers your full name and registered number. Either way, how do you react? Aside from grabbing your children by the hand and pulling them closer. Do you ignore him and keep walking? Do you give him the evil eye? Do you point and yell “pedophile!”? Do you walk up to him, maintaining eye contact and tell him in a soft dangerous voice to take a good look at these children because if he ever touches them, you will rip off his testicles and feed them to him? Is it better to know who the evil menaces in your neighbourhood are, or to move through your community in blissful ignorance? Because – regardless of where you live – there are predators in your town. And due to privacy laws, no one can tell you who they are. Is it better to not know and give your children some freedom? Or will the knowledge drive you to become an over-protective helicopter parent?

It’s not just the peds. In my division I also know – who is most likely to sell your son drugs at high school, who will try and talk your teenage daughter into bed, who might try and king-hit your husband in the pub. In every community, there are people like them. Police officers deal with these types on a regular basis and although it may seem to us that the place is crawling with them, there are really not that many. They won’t touch the lives of most regular citizens. The chances of you or your loved ones being offended against by them are low. Your kids are more likely to be involved in a car accident or an act of self-inflicted stupidity. But criminals are out there. Do you want to know?

The case of pedophile Dennis Ferguson made the news on several occasions. Upon being released from jail after doing time for heinous crimes against the most vulnerable, he was the target of several vigilante mobs. Every time he moved somewhere, he was recognised and run out of town. This was eventually resolved by his death. I think part of the problem was the way he looked – once you’d seen him twitching and licking his lips on the news, you couldn’t forget him. He seemed instantly recognisable and completely repulsive. Was it fair though? He’d done his time. He has to live somewhere. Doesn’t he? Just not in my neighbourhood.

Rolf Harris offended for decades with impunity. There are people who don’t believe he is guilty (try googling ‘Rolf Harris innocent’), who believe he is a victim of a malicious witch hunt. These are people whose lives have been touched by the smiling entertainer rather than the calculating predator. How many people knew what he was up to? How many people guessed it but ignored it, not wanting to believe it was true because then it tainted every bright happy thing he had ever done?

I only have questions for you. No answers. I don’t believe there are any definitive solutions, only opinions. So what’s yours? Is ignorance easier?

Lies and details

justiceIs anyone else following the Baden-Clay murder trial? An apparently loving husband and family man murdering his depressed wife? It is unimaginable and yet, here he is on trial, his future in the hands of 12 strangers. I’m just following it through newspapers and TV like everyone else – I have no extra information. But I think it offers some interesting insights into the way police go about constructing a case.

‘The devil is in the detail’ or so the saying goes, and I believe this is true here. Every incident is made up of masses of details. When people start lying, they generally come up with a lie that applies to one particular part or aspect of the story. They rarely conjure up the entire story in their mind, from start to finish. Police are trained to nail a suspect down to little details in all aspects of the incident, then go about trying to verify or disprove their version through these details.

The scratches on Baden-Clay’s cheek are an excellent example of this. They are very obvious – he could never hide them so he had to be able to explain them. He has claimed that he cut himself shaving because his razor was blunt. Possible? Yes. But then you start looking at the detail. Show me your razor? Is it blunt? Is there blood on it? Is there a tissue with your blood on it in the bin? Why did you continue to scrape away at your face with a blunt razor after you had cut yourself the first time? Is there anything else that backs up or supports this story? If the details don’t fit, not only is the lie itself exposed but the suspect’s integrity has been compromised. If he lied about that, what else has he lied about? Why did he choose to lie?

If a story is true, a person will be able to explain each small part, and it will match up with other details without any effort, because that was the way it happened. In the course of a police interview, a liar will often say things that contradict each other, because they have not thought through the whole story. Sometimes they have forgotten what they initially said, sometimes they change details because they think they’ve come up with a better story. This happens only when they are making it up as they go along. The details are not cemented in their mind as they would be in reality. Then in order to try and explain a small lie, they often weave a bigger or more implausible lie. “I can’t remember” is much more plausible than false details. It takes a skilled storyteller with an excellent memory to construct a watertight lie where all of the details line up when checked.

As in the Baden-Clay case – “I went to bed at about 10pm,” he says. But then his phone was shown to have been plugged in at his bedside table at 1.48am. More explaining, more detail, more possibility for lies to be exposed.

The same principles can also be applied to the Oscar ‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius case in South Africa. This one is murkier – he has admitted to pulling the trigger. It is more of a psychological case than a circumstantial one such as Baden-Clay. But the interview principles remain the same. What happened? Did you have your prosthetic legs on or not? How many times did you fire? What did you see? What did you hear? Details like these may confirm his innocence or guilt.

The Baden-Clay case is also an interesting study in how the judicial system works. Every member of the jury must believe ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that Baden-Clay is guilty. Otherwise, they must declare him innocent. If one person on the jury thinks just maybe he didn’t do it, then they will let him walk free. That’s how our system works. Is it fair? You never know which way it might go with a jury. That is why the selection of juries is so crucial, with the defence and prosecution both trying to get jury members who will be sympathetic to their client. In South Africa, there are no juries – Pistorius’s fate will be decided by one Judge assisted by two assessors. Is this fair?

Also interesting to see the jury has been offered a third ‘softer’ option. If Baden-Clay is found innocent of murder, the jury can still consider finding him guilty of manslaughter – murder without intent. It is a huge burden for twelve ordinary citizens to convict someone of murder. So how about – he did it, but didn’t mean it?

I follow both cases with interest.

 

Scam alert – tips and tricks

Ohh, so easy. Pic credit to ACCC.

Don’t make it this easy. Pic credit to ACCC.

‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But every day, enormous numbers of people are being scammed out of their money by increasingly sophisticated scams. Scams are as much a part of our lives as the internet these days. The rise of online activities have provided a new forum for scammers. Although fraudsters have been around since the snake chatted with Eve, never before have they been able to reach so many people, with so much anonymity. There is very little chance of getting your money back once it has left our shores. Even crossing state borders makes things difficult.

Scamming is a job for some people. It is how they make their living. They might put in eight hours a day looking for victims. In the same way anyone learning a profession becomes better with experience, some of these people are extremely good at their ‘job’. There is nothing personal about them targeting a particular victim. They don’t care if you are a pensioner/ single mum/ disabled/ a police officer. There is no mercy – only money.

If you have been scammed, don’t be too embarrassed. These people are professionals. You weren’t the first, you won’t be the last. People often won’t talk about it because they are embarrassed that they got sucked in. But it is quite common – I have even had a police officer colleague lose several hundred dollars through fraud. Be sure to learn from your mistake. You may be targeted for a ‘follow-up scam’, where the scammers will have another crack at you.

One of the biggest problems is people want to believe what they are told. They want to strike it lucky in the lottery, they want to sell their car at asking price, they want to find love.

There are things to watch out for. The minute anyone asks you to pay by Western Union money transfer – run for the hills. They will have some plausible excuse as to why the destination address is India or Romania. It is a cash transaction – there is no comeback for the victim. That is why it is the payment method of choice for scammers. Beware of this particularly on Gumtree and eBay.

Don’t be scared to back out of a sale or transaction if you start getting a bad feeling about it. A fraudster will try and guilt you into following through, trying to use your morals and scruples against you, even though they themselves have none. Seek help. Google it. Strange message come in on your mobile phone? Tap the sender’s number into Google. Email you don’t know if you can trust? Tap it into Google. Very often, the same number or email address has been used to scam other people who kindly put it on the internet to warn others.

An email appeared in my junk mail today. Apparently the Accountant-General of the Central Bank in Nigeria has selected little old me to assist with the transfer of US$20 million in unclaimed funds. My share will be 35%. Yes, I would like to receive $7 million. Heck, I’d settle for $700. But I have taken my own advice and googled ‘Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla’, the gentleman who purportedly sent me the email. He has gone to the trouble of setting up a Linked-In account, a Facebook account and a fake bank listing. But then all the scam warnings start popping up. You might think no one would fall for something so blatant, but these ‘Nigerian 419’ scams have been around for years now, and still persist, so it’s clearly worth someone’s time and effort.

With anonymity, there is also security. These people make blatant and repeated attempts because it is likely nothing will happen to them. Once your money has disappeared into some third world country, it’s gone, and the person who took it will never be identified, caught or punished. These people have a complete lack of scruples or empathy. They will do whatever it takes to get money. Your money.

There are more scams than I could list and there are people who are right now dreaming up new ones. Have a look at www.scamwatch.gov.au or your local office of fair trade. If you are a victim of a scam, you can report if to Scamwatch or through a police website online reporting service. Your information may help stop someone else from falling victim.

Remember – ‘Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.’

Smile, you’re on camera

camera1

This is an example of a body-worn camera, popular with police

Depending how much you have to do with police and how hard you look, you may have noticed that these days most operational police wear video cameras of some description. It might be a little black box clipped onto their tactical vest; it might be a small lens tucked in under their epaulette. There is no uniformity, because there are many different types on the market and police buy their own so choose them on the basis of price or features. The technology has developed quickly and the price has dropped dramatically, so most police have invested in one. I’ve been asked a few times why police wear these cameras. There’s usually an overtone that police are trying to catch people out or trick them somehow – that the camera is a tool of deception and subterfuge. Not true.

Police rarely hide the fact that they are wearing a camera. They are quite easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. If you ask police about it, under normal circumstances, they will point it out. If you can’t see a camera, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will at least have an audio recorder tucked in a pocket somewhere. There is pretty much only one reason for it. Police record you for their own protection.

The recorder is the independent witness. It can tell the truth when everyone else is lying. Or has forgotten. Or was too stressed/excited/drunk to remember properly. People lie to police on a regular basis. They say things then vehemently deny them later. They accuse police of all manner of corruption, to try and get themselves out of trouble. It is a magical moment when some crook tells his stories in court, and then the police get to play the video recording to the jury. Court cases have completely fallen over the moment police play their recording.

But it works both ways. It also holds police accountable. It’s for your protection as well as ours. Someone makes a complaint about police – I was sworn at, man-handled – it’s likely there will be video. I’m all for that. Police should be able to justify their actions. Yes, I know these things can be doctored. But to do it properly takes the right technology and know-how. I’ve never seen it even attempted in a law enforcement setting.

It is a fact of life that we are being recorded on a regular basis. You fuel up your car – wave for the cameras; you do your shopping – it’s all on CCTV; catch a train – someone’s watching you on a monitor. And these days, pretty much everyone has a camera in their pocket. Even my dodgy old Nokia phone takes a reasonable photo, let alone the latest iphones with crystal clear footage. If you have a barney with your neighbours, don’t be surprised if someone starts filming. If you have a bingle in a carpark, take some photos – of the damage, the other driver’s rego plate, their licence. Even the driver themselves if it starts getting hairy. It is not illegal. Your insurance company will thank you, and if push comes to shove (literally) police will thank you. Our job is so much more clear cut if there is something more than “he said, she said”.

This is the way things are now. I think it’s important to be aware of it. And I recommend you use it to your own advantage.

 

Confessing to Police

itsnotyours

Of course I believe you… (used with permission from Whole Truth Project)

Cop: “Is this your jacket?” (Removing drugs from the pocket)

Baddie: “Nah. That’s not mine.”

Cop: “Whose is it then?”

Baddie: “I dunno. Never seen it before.”

Cop: (Looking inside the jacket) “It’s got your name on the tag.”

Baddie: “Oh… ok, you got me.” (Scratches head) “Dunno why Mum does that.”

I love a good confession. There’s nothing quite like tying off every loose end in an investigation when the offender conveniently fills in all the blanks.

I love a confession in every form. There’s the oxygen thieves who confess because they’re not bright enough to come up with a plausible story. Then there’s the remorseful crook who hands himself in at the front counter after an attack of the guilts, or when they know they’re snared anyway. Or the self-righteous crook who tells you every detail of their stealing/fraud/assault because they fully believe they are somehow justified in doing it. Their disbelief and outrage when they get charged is not quite so much fun, but by then unabashed truth has already been laid bare.

Getting some confessions are like pulling teeth – some are wobbly milk teeth that fall out with the slightest pressure; others are wisdom teeth right at the back that you have to prise and tug and wrench before they are ripped out, leaving a painful hole.

But my favourite confessions are the ones that start out as blatant bare-faced lies. The criminal, all wide-eyed and earnest, builds his lies. And over the course of the interview, as the baddie tries to mould his story around each proven fact as it is presented for comment, eventually the rough ends are polished off to reveal the beautiful shining confession. Almost makes you feel like contentedly laying back and smoking a cigarette afterwards.

So, what’s going through the baddie’s mind on the cusp of a confession? “The truth shall set you free,” we like to say. But it will more likely get you locked up. (No, that’s not right – it will be 3 ½ hours community service and a good behaviour bond…) How do they feel though, when they have told the truth and there’s nothing left to hide? They can face the consequences and move on. The slate is clean. Is the punishment of the crime worse than the guilt of trying to hide it? Often – yes. So, I recommend: Cleanse your soul. Confess.

Trust me. I’m a copper.