Saturday 28 April 2012

Taser Gun Submission

Readers will recall that on 17th February I published a Blog in which I raised a number of questions relating to the possible issue of Taser guns to the States of Jersey Police. Matters have now moved on and the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel has sensibly decided to review the possible introduction. My Blog has been added to the very long list of submissions which has been submitted to the Scrutiny Panel.

I am a founder member of the Jersey Human Rights Group ://  and we had been invited to submit our views and to appear before the Panel. Along with our Secretary Nick Le Cornu we did so this yesterday morning. Prior to our appearance, on behalf of our Group I compiled a report based on our Member's comments and was submitted to the Panel's Clerk, Mike Haden and is published below. 

Dear Mr Haden,

On behalf of the Jersey Human Rights Group I thank the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel for asking our Group to consider making a formal submission in relation to the proposed importation of Taser Guns.

The following report has been compiled from Member’s comments.

Having discussed the matter among ourselves we felt it would have been helpful for the States Police to meet our Group to discuss the matter and to justify its desire to add Taser Guns to its armoury. To this end an invitation was submitted to the Police Chief asking that he or a representative attend our next meeting which is scheduled for Monday 30th April. To assist members the following additional information was requested.

If you are able to attend I believe it would be helpful if whoever could cover the following issues:

Given the excellent work being carried not only in crime prevention but also in gaining the public's confidence it would be helpful to know whether equipping the police with Tasers would have a detrimental impact. Given that Jersey is a low crime area how can the use of Tasers be justified? Could you provide details of the number of occasions in the past ten years when the Police have been called to deal with incidents in which armed police have been deployed? Also how often have police fired their weapons and what injury was occasioned. 

Again during the past ten years please could you provide details of the number of occasions police have used hand cuffs, drawn their batons and/or used gas or any other objects?

I am sure that there may be other matters that you would wish to impart in support of Tasers and we would look forward to hearing of them and hopefully you will be able to attend on the 30th. 

Although our initial request was acknowledged it took a further two enquiries before it was rejected on the grounds that the Police Chief thought our request should have been addressed to the Home Affairs Minister rather than the Chief Officer direct. We were however advised that the Police Chief and the Home Affairs Minister would be appearing before your Scrutiny Panel on 27th April and it may be helpful if our members attended to hear what was said. The answers to the questions posed in our initial request were not supplied.

We understand that the request for Taser guns is based on the assumption that they are a “less lethal” weapon when dealing with serious violent incidents. However our Group has not been provided with any examples as to what is meant by serious violent incidents.

It is noted that in the latest edition (9) of Scrutiny Matters the Home Affairs Minister is quoted as follows; “I want the States Police to be able to deploy the lowest possible level of response to serious threats to public safety. At present there are situations in which firearms are being deployed where the lower level of Tasers would be much better.” The Minister did not define what he meant by serious threats to public safety.

By coincidence only last week the States Police provided the public with an example of how it responds to an alleged “serious threat to public safety.” It has been reported that an argument broke out among a small group of men which resulted in one man stabbing another man in the face with a screwdriver. Regretfully people have been assaulting each other since the beginning of time and have used a variety of methods to do so. Also for a great many years a variety of forms of police officers have been trained and employed to prevent crime and detect those who break the law.

There will always be threats to public safety but police officers receive training in conflict management and under normal circumstances responding to allegations of assaults should not require a posse of armed police smashing down doors to question a suspect believed to have stabbed someone with a screwdriver. So why was it necessary for an armed police response?

What is worrying is that it was reported that the Police Chief was present and the Home Affairs Minister is on record as saying that the incident justified the need for Taser guns as it would not have required an armed response by the police. The Minister should be asking for evidence of the serious threat to public safety that justified armed officers breaking into a private residence in the first place?

He should also be asking why the armed response was carried out in the presence of the media and were they “tipped off” because it is apparent that the police actions were being witnessed almost at the outset? Also if they were “tipped off” what was the purpose, was it to justify the use of Taser guns?

Jersey can be justly proud of being a low crime area which requires low profile policing by officers who are presumably highly trained which includes conflict management training. We are also aware that some officers are even more highly trained in conflict management to deal with extra ordinary problems. Where was that evidence last week?

It is apparent that the Minister supports an armed response when allegations of assaults are received but is of the belief that it is better for police officers to be armed with Tasers guns because it reduces the potential for someone being shot dead with a bullet than shot dead via electrical voltage.

Such logic is not only nonsense but potentially harmful to any member of the public who might have the misfortune of being mistakenly suspected of carrying out an assault.

Policing is an art and police officers who over re-act to incidents do untold harm to their image and esteem and to public confidence. Policing is also a risk business and from time to time police officers will be confronted with difficult people who challenge their authority. However it is how they overcome those difficulties that will earn the public’s respect.  

As mentioned above the Police Chief rejected the opportunity of discussing the Taser gun issue and given the police action last week it does little for public confidence or for arming police officers with Taser guns. Whilst it is arguable whether Taser guns are less lethal, one must question whether they should form part of the police weaponry in the first place. If there is a belief that Tasers are less harmful than a firearm than are they more likely to be used at the outset of a conflict than as a last resort?

Whilst it is not denied that Taser guns are used by some police forces it should also be noted that some countries do not permit their use and those who do have stringent controls on their use but are often abused.

It is noted that the Scrutiny Panel is reviewing the Human Rights implications of the use of Taser Guns. The Jersey Human Rights Group like Amnesty and other similar organisations have their own views as to possible violations but it would seem that any possible violation may occur following the misuse of the Taser gun rather than its possession.

The Jersey Human Rights Group (JHRG) is concerned about the introduction of Tasers into Jersey because:

·         Tasers clearly weaken the concept that “the police are the public and the public are the police”.

·         The JHRG has no knowledge of the frequency of events in which their use would have been justified, but perceive this to be very low. They would like to see a detailed review of, say, 6 incidents in Jersey in which Tasers could have been used with benefit.

·       The JHRG regards peaceful conflict resolution as the first priority and is concerned that the police may, quite quickly, see Tasers as a quick and easy alternative.

·       The cost of the Tasers and of the training in their use will be material and the JHRG would like to see the business case for that expenditure.

·         The JHRG thinks that it is likely that more training in peaceful conflict resolution might well generate a higher return.

Yours sincerely,

F. J. (Bob) Hill, BEM
Member of the Jersey Human Rights Group.
26th April 2012

As one can see that last week armed police had turned out in a manner which might be a regular occurrence in New Jersey, USA but hopefully not so in Jersey in the Channel Isles. 

I am not aware of the information received by the Police before taking what appeared to be a heavy handed response but hopefully we shall learn more when an answer is given to a question being asked by Deputy Gerard Baudains at the States Sitting next Tuesday when he asks the following question of the Minister for Home Affairs – 

"Does the Minister believe that the recent deployment by the States of Jersey Police of semi-automatic rifles on the streets of St. Helier was an appropriate reaction to the incident and does he stand by his statement that this incident reinforced the need for the Police to be provided with Tasers?”

As a former police officer I am well aware of the difficulties and challenges that police officers have to face. I am also aware that they are servants and guardians of the general public and the origins of modern policing has its roots in Robert Peel's belief that police officers should be unarmed custodians of the peace.

As mentioned in my previous Blog every article of armoury that the police possess is a step away from the public, is the issue of Taser guns just another such step? What is now known is that the States of Jersey Police has never fired a shot in an authorised firearms deployment but incidents have involved the pointing of the firearms at suspects. That is a proud record and the Police are to be congratulated. However it is argued that a Taser guns should be issued as they are "less lethal" (but they are still lethal). If the police have never fired a shot in anger will that proud record stand if officers are armed with Taser Guns who may be of the belief that they are less lethal?

Having listened to the States Police when they appeared before the Scrutiny Panel yesterday afternoon it is apparent that now that the bar has been lowered therefore it is likely that there will be more occasions when armed police are deployed in Jersey; such a prospect is depressing for Island which is prides itself as a low crime area.

Along with fellow Human Rights Members I have no wish to put police officers at risk, but I will have to be convinced that arming them with Taser guns will reduce that risk or enhance their image.

Last week I flew to London to attend a re-union for former officers who served at Leman Street Police Station which was situated in what was Stepney E1.Our "patch” included Whitechapel, Wapping, Shadwell, the Pool of London and the Tower of London. I served there from April 1961 to July 1969. Prior to my posting I had attended Hendon Policing Training School where on our first night we had to read the following extracts from the Police Training Instruction Book. The wise words were intended to remain to the forefront of our thinking for the rest of our careers.

The Primary Objects;
 "The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained." (Sir Richard Mayne, 1829.)

Attitude to public;
In attaining these objects, much depends on the approval and co-operation of the public, and these have always been determined by the degree of esteem and respect in which the police are held. Therefore every member of the Force must remember that it is his duty to protect and help members of the public, no less than to bring offenders to justice. Consequently, while prompt to prevent crime and arrest criminals, he must look on himself as the servant and guardian of the general public and treat all law-abiding citizens, irrespective of their race, colour, creed or social position, with unfailing patience and courtesy.

Tact and good humour;
 By the use of tact and good humour the public can normally be induced to comply with directions and thus the necessity for using force, with its possible public disapproval, is avoided. He who in this way secures the object he has in view is a more useful police officer than his comrade who, relying too much on the assertion of his authority, runs the risk of seeing that authority challenged and possibly, for the time being, overborne. If, however, persuasion, advice or warning is found to be ineffective, a resort to force may become necessary, as it is imperative that a police officer being required to take action shall act with the firmness necessary to render it effective.

The words above were written many years ago, but I bet the author did not envisage that police officers would require Taser Guns to be effective? But then again I suppose we call that progress.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

You don't know what you have lost, 'til it's gone!!!!!

On 16th March I published a Blog about the proposals to rebuild St Martin's School on the School Field and as one can see from the Blog, I am not enamoured.

At the time of posting the Blog I was still waiting for answers to a number of questions I had asked of the Education Department. Unfortunately not only has it taken a long time to receive them but what has been received is incomplete.

We are told that £7.7 million pounds has been set aside to build a single form entry on the existing school field. I do not have a problem with replacing the current school if a case can be made, but one needs to be convinced that all the boxes have been ticked and all the relevant evidence is to hand.

One supporter for the rebuild is claiming that as there will be more homes being built in St Martin then it is necessary to build a new school to accommodate the perceived increase in population. If that is the case why is a single form entry school being proposed?

It is suggested that the size of some of the existing classrooms are below the UK new build guidelines,but the guidelines are for new build not for existing buildings, if that was the case then how many other Schools have classrooms which are smaller than the new build guidelines and will they have to be replaced? I did ask that question but did not receive an answer, I wonder why, surely the information is to hand.

I was told that within the last ten years three schools have received major funding but were redeveloped rather than rebuilt on another site. It would have been helpful to know if classrooms in those schools are within the new build guidelines, but perhaps that is why I did not receive an answer to that question. Is it because some of the classrooms are smaller than the new build guidelines?

My other concern is that the decision to build a new school on the school field which defies logic because St Martin's like the other three could be redeveloped on site and the school field retained. In answer to my question regarding the financial difference between the new build as opposed to redevelopment, I was told that it will only cost £107k more to build a new school. Very conveniently I never received a breakdown of the cost but was amused that the word only preceded the £107k, I thought we were short of money? I also find it hard to believe that the rebuild will be over £7.5million, however it appears that considerable funding will be required for temporary classrooms, unfortunately no figures have been supplied to substantiate that claim, I wonder why?

Even though I have not received a breakdown of the redevelopment costs I bet “Honest Nev” would never take my bet that the value of the field as a site and a loss as an amenity was not taken into consideration. “Honest Nev” who apart from being a Bookie has been President of St Martin’s Football Club for far longer than the 30 years that the Club has used the school field as its home pitch which will no longer be the case if the new school is built on the field..

The field has been part of the School since 1947. There was a belief that a covenant existed which prohibited development, that was confirmed some 10 years ago when the Parish Football Club wanted to erect a changing Room on it. It now appears that there never was a covenant, so who has moved the proverbial goalposts?

One fact which can not be disputed is that field has been enjoyed by countless pupils since 1947. I have attached two photographs, the one at the bottom of this Blog is of the school's athletics and tug of war team of 1948/9 which was taken on the school field. You will note how rough the grass was and the age spread, I represented the school in the 8 year age group. The team also included another pupil who became a States Member, our team included a number of pupils from the Home for Boys who lived at Haut de La Garenne.

The photograph above was also taken on the field a little later and is of the school football team. By co-incidence three of the team including me joined UK Police Forces. Regretfully the one who was from the Home for Boys has died recently. The purpose of the photographs is to illustrate that three or possibly four generations have enjoyed the use of the field which was always intended for recreational purposes. The field is also enjoyed by countless members of the public of all ages who bring their children to play on the swings or for a kick about on the field or to watch whatever activity is taking place on it.

If the most logical decision is taken, that being to redevelop the school, the field could be enjoyed by future generations. As can be seen in my letter below which was published in the JEP on 4th April, if today's pupils were asked whether they would be prepared to endure a year's disruption by being accommodated in temporary classrooms to ensure that the field is saved for future generations, I bet they would go for the redevelopment option.

Please see the following letter referred to above and I welcome your comments but there are no prizes for identifying me or the other States Member.

Dear Sir,
With reference to my letter to the Editor regarding the proposed rebuild of St Martin’s School which the JEP kindly published on 16th March. At the time of writing I was still waiting for answers to questions asked of the Education Department in relation to cost of redevelopment compared with the rebuild for which £7.7 million pounds has been set aside. Although the information now received falls short of what I asked for it is sufficient to question why building on the School Field was the favoured option.

The Education Department was unable to inform me of the amount spent on the school since 1992 when in that year many hundreds of thousands of pounds was spent on major structural alterations which led to the Nursery unit being built. However since 1996 a further £654,000 has been spent upgrading the school.

With regard to the rebuild versus redevelopment question I have been informed that the option of redevelopment to a level comparable to the other parish schools had been given detailed consideration during the feasibility study. Detailed costing indicated that the cost of redeveloping the existing premises was closely comparable to the cost of a new building, with the total costs of the latter option being only £107,000 more than redevelopment.

I would have welcome a detailed breakdown of the costs because the redevelopment costs are very questionable, however I am told that the high cost is due partly to the difficulties associated with converting and remodelling existing buildings, together with the need to provide temporary accommodation for the duration of the project. A new school will not require temporary accommodation during the building phase, as students will simply move from the old to the new premises upon completion.

In answer to my question about work carried out at other schools apparently Trinity, St John’s and St Peter’s have all received significant attention in the last ten years or so. What is apparent is although temporary classrooms were used the pupils, staff and parents took the disruption in their stride and were none the worse for the experience.

Even if one accepts that the new build will (only???) cost £107,000 more than the redevelopment option, it is apparent that the value of the school field has not been brought into the equation. That omission greatly distorts the costing. In my view it is difficult to estimate its true value because as an amenity and a green lung it is priceless and once built on will be lost for ever.

The field has been part of the school since 1947 and the pupils who first used it are now grandparents and whose children and their children have utilised it. If the current pupils were asked if they would be prepared to accept some disruption and being taught in temporary classrooms in exchange for the retention of the field for their grandchildren I am sure they would willingly accept the redevelopment option. 

Perhaps when they return from the Easter break their views could be sought?

With no apologies to Joni Mitchell and Big Yellow Taxi, but please heed the words
"I said.  Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got 'Til it's gone They paved paradise And put up a parking lot"
Please do not replace paradise with a school especially when it can be redeveloped.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Good Cops and Bad Cops???

“That was the week that was, its over, let it go.” Those words will be familiar to those of us who were around in the early 1960’s. They were the opening words to the song sung by Millicent Martin which opened the show and was broadcast live in glorious black and white.

Well, this past week is over and for some I am sure they are happy that is over and they will be hoping that the public will let it go. However for some people it has been a good week.

The abuse victims now have the Chief Minister’s assurance that they will be receiving financial compensation for the failings of previous administrations. Whilst the media were singing the praises of “the powers that be” for coming forward with the proposals it was disappointing that no one was asking why the process has taken so long. It also failed to recognise that the Council of Ministers had their backs to the wall and had no where else to run or hide. They were effectively shamed into submission by UK lawyers seeking Justice through the UK Courts. One may ask how much extra in financial and in emotional terms has the procrastination cost the tax payers and victims?

It has been a good week for Graham Power and Lenny Harper and it was good to see the BBC via both mediums interviewing Graham Power and asking him to comment on the compensation issue. It should never be forgotten that had it not been for those two officers the ball would never have got rolling. Years of cover ups have now been exposed or are coming to light. Given that there are over a hundred claimants and the number of arrests that followed there can only be the blinkered who will say that the Police investigation was a failure and unnecessary.

Whilst justice for some is still being denied, the Island’s young and vulnerable have much to be thankful for the Historic Abuse investigation. They have every right to believe they are safer because of the investigation and of the procedures now in place to prevent abuse. There has also been a climate change whereby there is now a belief that allegations will be in investigated irrespective of whom the suspect is. However there is still much more to be done and our Authorities must be ever vigilant.

It has not been a good week for a former Centenier who has been charged with abuse offences. For the benefit of readers who live in the far corners of the world, a Centenier is an unpaid police officer who does not have to pass any written and physical test to be recruited. It is a fact that should a Parish fail to elect a Centenier the Royal Court will levy a heavy fine on the offending Parish. It is therefore incumbent on the Parishes to ensure that vacancies are quickly filled.

Jersey still does not have an independent prosecution service and Centeniers decide whether to prosecute and then when necessary charge people brought before them. Apart from Connetables who also sit in our States Chamber, the decision to prosecute and to charge still rests with the Centeniers. Another of the Centenier’s roles is to conduct what is known as a Parish Hall Inquiry which was described by the late Sir Cecil Clothier as follows; “The Parish Hall Inquiry is an ancient Institution in Jersey, but it defies classification in a modern legal framework. Some of those who gave evidence to us would assert that, that is the charm and virtue of the Parish Hall Inquiry. But as a Body we are not easily charmed and we require evidence of virtue.”  

Given the lack of training and accountability it is not difficult to see how the system allowed for the proverbial “blind eye” approach to be conducted. During his BBC interview this week Graham Power made reference to people in high office who had a duty of care but failed to exercise it.

Although he did not name any individuals, no doubt he had in mind people like States Members, Crown Officers, Civil Servants and police officers both States and Honorary. Hopefully the long awaited Committee of Inquiry will shed some light on the short comings of those entrusted with the care of our young people.

However following the Centenier’s arrest it is to be hoped that all the cases he was involved with during his career will be investigated. If there was sufficient evidence to charge him with three cases of assault on young children than it would not have been difficult for him to have adopted a “blind eye” approach when called on to investigate or charge individuals who may have been the subject of allegations of abuse.