Artillery Row

What are the police good for?

British cops have to focus on actual crimes

Yorkshire. It’s a lovely place. The land of the Howgills, and Yorkshire puds, and Dickie Bird. It’s steeped in history — some of it grim, perhaps, but all of it significant to our national tale.

Unfortunately, it’s also the home of West Yorkshire Police.

No offence to the diligent and hard-working individual cops who pound the streets of Leeds, Huddersfield et cetera — it’s a difficult and often thankless job — but the force as a whole is making an implicit argument in favour of the people who wanted to defund the police. In a country riddled with embarrassing institutions, it stands out for its chronic inadequacy. “Useless”, in many cases, would be too flattering because that which is useless is not actively malign. “Pernicious”, in such cases, might be more appropriate.

This is strong language, I accept, but amply justified. It was West Yorkshire Police which recorded the slight accidental scuffing of a copy of the Quran at a Wakefield secondary school as a “hate incident”. One of its officers subsequently attended a public meeting about the event — nodding along as representatives of local Muslims denounced the four schoolboys involved, who had been suspended and showered with threats. 

At one point, a Muslim councillor declared that “to her credit” the mother of one of the boys had decided not to press charges against people who had sent her son death threats. The nodding dog of a police officer said nothing. Bear that in mind as you see what kind of speech inspires his colleagues to leap into action.

Now, you see, West Yorkshire Police are in the news again after all but sending the firearms unit out to arrest a drunk autistic 16-year-old girl in Leeds who had been accused of a “homophobic public order offence”. Thankfully, the girl’s quick thinking mother videoed the incident, which saw her daughter screaming and self-harming in fear as she was manhandled by a squad of stone-faced officers, for apparently — and I hope you’re sitting down for this — saying that a policewoman looked like her lesbian nan. The horror! Perhaps she should have made death threats instead.

West Yorkshire police urged people to “avoid reaching conclusions solely on the basis of the social media video” which “only [provided] a very limited snapshot of the circumstances of this incident”. Now, though, they have announced that they won’t be taking further action. I guess those conclusions were the right ones after all.

Let’s have some more context. Just up the road from Leeds is Rotherham, where the neighbouring South Yorkshire Police completely failed to avert the horrendous systematic criminality of grooming gangs. Huddersfield had its own grooming gang, and South Yorkshire Police have been accused of failing to protect victims. As the Guardian reported in 2016, a review suggested that “West Yorkshire police held the belief that children … were “actively consenting and choosing to become involved” with the men”. 

West Yorkshire Police were even accused of failing to protect victims after their abusers had been arrested. “Lucy” told the Independent that the police had promised to “install protective measures” as a response to serious harassment but then did nothing. Where was the energy that the police had when it came to arresting a drunk autistic teenager who was being problematic?

It’s infuriating how common it is to see the police come down on harmless unfashionable behaviour — people silently praying outside abortion clinics, say, or mildly offering a traditional view on Christian sexual ethics — like ten tons of concrete as serious crimes go unhindered. 

Burglaries, for example, are not as serious as grooming gangs, of course, but they are still invasive and frightening, and lead to the grievous loss of property. In West Yorkshire, a whopping 83 per cent of burglaries go unsolved. Granted, sometimes a burglar will leave no trace and remain unidentifiable enough that even Sherlock Holmes couldn’t catch him. But with figures like that, the police shouldn’t be rampaging around menacing teenagers for using the word “lesbian”. How many homes were being broken into as the cops dragged an autistic kid off to the station for being vaguely un-PC?

Heads should roll for this. West Yorkshire Police have limply claimed to be developing their approach to “neurodiversity”, but while the girl’s condition makes her treatment especially appalling it would still have been appalling if she was a harmless 16-year-old without it. The problem was not that she was autistic — that just rubbed salt into the wounds.

Standards have to change so that the police will focus on actual crimes

Standards have to change so that the police will focus on actual crimes. Suella Braverman’s tightening of the definition of what counts as a “non-crime hate incident” was welcome but clearly insufficient. The Free Speech Union have plausibly argued that the girl’s words shouldn’t have amounted to an arrestable offence in a technical as well as moral sense, but as long as the police think they have the power to arrest people, people will be arrested.

Hopefully, the girl isn’t too traumatised. If she is suffering in the aftermath of the incident, she can be consoled with the thought that she didn’t face something really terrible, like being compared to someone’s lesbian nan.

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