How to make police investigations more efficient

It is clear that the police service is struggling to deal with the vast load of "historic" sex abuse. As at September 2014, one quarter of Manchester's detectives are working on these cases. Not just in Manchester, officers working on "historic" cases are inundated with work as more and more victims come forward.

We need to consider how to make this detective work more efficient.

Amnesty for witnesses
Each victim interviewed will give names or descriptions of the perpetrators, and also names of care home staff who may have had knowledge of the event, or of the proclivities and character of the perpetrator. These front line staff may have knowledge of superior officers in their organisation who gave orders that an incident was to be covered up, or that a report should be "lost".

Now these witnesses will tend to be on the defensive if they believe that they could be incriminated as a result of telling everything that they know. They will be aware of the suggestion put forward by NSPCC and Labour that there should be a mandatory responsibility to report any case of abuse. Even though the legislation on mandatory reporting will not be retrospective, it could be perceived as such, and witnesses could fear that they could be caught up in legislation which was in force at the time, such as being an accessory to a crime.

These considerations will almost certainly have the effect of causing staff to be reluctant witnesses, admitting only what they are unable to deny. The effect of this is to make the work of the detectives significantly harder.

This defensiveness can be overturned by offering an amnesty to all witnesses who may have had knowledge of criminal events.

When all relevant inquiries are complete, the amnesty can be superseded by more rigorous laws and penalties for not reporting abuse, as suggested by the NSPCC.

This carrot-and-stick approach will encourage witnesses who would otherwise hold back out of fear for offending powerful people.

It is possible that this suggestion will initially be unpopular with survivors, who are reasonably and justifiably angry with everyone who connived at their abuse. Understandable though that position is, if the alternative is that the whole exercise is judged to be too costly in resources, seen as unfeasible and therefore ends up abandoned, the survivors may come to accept new suggestions.

The proposal will also not meet the approval of VIP abusers themselves, who would prefer that the police investigations grind slowly to a halt bogged down within an impossible mound of evidence, in chasing a few ageing paedophile care home managers.

It will also meet rejection from civil servants and politicians who have an intrinsic dislike of any proposal that has not come from within their own ranks.

Whatever the opposition, the amnesty for witnesses deserves to be debated.

Delegating the routine work
An second way of easing the load on detectives is to create a squad of non-professional police assistants to do the work of data collection. They can take names, dates, places and statements from survivors of abuse as they come forward. They can refer significant events direct to detectives. Detectives can scan the data for frequent names, and set about finding names that crop up frequently.

The model here is the NHS Direct approach to dealing with demand on the NHS, the teaching assistants that have been introduced in schools, and indeed the community support officers for the police. Again, all of these auxiliaries have been criticised by the professionals. It is agreed that auxiliaries are not as good as professionals, but when professionals are overwhelmed, it is irrational for them to refuse help.

A similar form of delegation applies to searching for images of children on computer hard drives. A hard drive taken from a suspected paedophile must first be filtered for images, and then these images, which may exist in huge numbers, must be viewed. This viewing must be time consuming, and also distressing for the officers involved. Is it not possible for this viewing operation to be done automatically by Image Recognition Software, which is now readily available for many tasks? Once the images have been filtered and counted by the software, the officers only have to briefly review and confirm the machine findings. This innovation would free up police time, and relieve stress.

Removing Corrupted Superiors
The main aim of these measures will free up detective investigators to work their way up the chain of command in order to identify the senior policemen and senior managers who set up the culture of denial and obfuscation that is detailed here and here.

The fish, it is said, rots from the head down. Whether or not that is scientifically true, it is true of the body politic. We cannot have a healthy democracy and society if the upper workings of the State includes criminals who abuse children.

Identification of these VIP abusers and their friends is not technically difficult.
It requires the detective to ask these questions of a front line worker,
"Who gave the order that this abuse story was to be set aside and ignored?"
"Who did you hand the lost file to?"
and even simply "Who was your superior officer?"
The detectives then move up the chain of command until they find the source of the order.

This process is simple and effective. The problem is not complexity; the problem is political and psychological. It means that junior officers will be closing in on their own superiors. In doing this, juniors will need courage, integrity, and support. The support will have to come from politicians, who similarly will need courage and integrity - qualities that many cynics will immediately say will be impossible to find.

In this case, cynicism actually helps to bring about the situation that the cynic believes in. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. There are decent MPs out there who really want to serve the people. They may not be perfect - nobody is perfect - but we must encourage them and bring them forward.

If we are to tackle the infection of child abuse in the body politic of our nation, it is imperative that we identify and remove from office the powerful paedophiles who are able to hide behind their positions of power, and their friends. If cynics do not want to help in this process, they should at least try not to hinder those that are motivated to get it done,

The sorry tale of Butler-Sloss, Michael Havers, Fiona Woolf and Leon Brittan demonstrates perfectly the mechanism that could be called the "establishment effect". The establishment would prefer that police detectives spend their time in a Sysiphan task of sifting through an ever growing mound of data, than that they should turn their attention to finding and eradicating the 20 or so powerful politicians, civil servants and establishment figures who have committed serious crimes.

It is up to us, the people, to make sure that we support a police effort which is directed efficiently at the top figures in the establishment of our nation.

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