thames valley police

Rape attitude problems aren’t limited to India

TVP anti-alcohol poster

At the moment in India, attitudes towards rape and its victims have been dragged unceremoniously into the public forum after the death of a young woman who was gang-raped on a bus. There’s plenty of discussion and philosophising about it in all corners of the internet, and not without a somewhat sanctimonious air of moral superiority from some quarters in the first world.

But, sadly, such problems are not confined to poorer parts of the world. Granted, they are undoubtedly worse there, magnified and amplified by an absence of routine human rights and properly enforced criminal laws. But before we in the UK get on our high horse, it’s worth remembering that we aren’t speaking from a perfect position.

The New Statesman‘s Laurie Penny (someone with whom I have much history of disagreement) has written a blindingly good article in which she neatly sums up the state of British society, in which:

“…women should take responsibility for “protecting” themselves from sexual assault because sexual assault is just a fact of life.”

Take the above photo, for example. It depicts, so far as I can tell, a public information poster from Thames Valley Police. I have been unable to verify it, but equally have seen nothing to cast doubt on it, and it feels genuine.

At first glance it’s just a warning for parents not to give their children alcohol. Very noble, and hard to disagree with. But looking closer, the message is a lot closer to “if you give your daughter alcohol, she will get raped”. And from there, the obvious corollary is “a girl gets raped because she’s drunk”.

Erm…no. She gets raped because someone rapes her.

In fact, there is only one person to blame for rape, and that is the rapist. Enlightened though we may consider ourselves, our society still contains the same latent prejudices which until recently made rape a fact of life on the streets of India.

It’s doubly worrying to see these attitudes shown by the police. My local police. Rape prosecution and conviction rates in the UK are still woefully low, with many cases going unreported. I can’t help but feel that messages like this will only damage the faith of victims in the police.

I wonder what our newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner thinks of this?


“Rural crime”: will Cllr Stansfeld crack down on fox hunts?

As the Police Commissioner elections grow closer, interest still doesn’t seem to be exactly buzzing sadly. The Finchampstead hustings were well attended, but I’m still not anticipating a gloriously high turnout at the polling stations.

With that said, I was very interested to have my attention drawn by Damien Clarkson to this campaign site: No Cop Out For Wildlife. It’s a campaign website run by Lush (yes, the cosmetics company) and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, aimed at pressuring Police & Crime Commissioner candidates to deal with “wildlife crime”.

From what I can tell, this means fox hunting.

I know that for some people the Hunting Act 2004 isn’t an altogether popular piece of legislation, but I will always regard it as one of the last Labour government’s finest moves. Illegal hunting does still go on, however, and the Hunt Saboteurs Association and others do a great job of combating that.

So why am I bringing it up now? Well, for one think there are numerous (probably legal, potentially not) hunts which take place within the area covered by Thames Valley Police. So there’s a natural interest there.

But look for a moment at the Conservative candidate Cllr Anthony Stansfeld. I have previously criticised his lightness on policy, but one thing which has consistently appeared in his literature is this:

“[Cllr Stansfeld] said he would focus on reducing rural crime

Rural crime. What is that, exactly? Apple scrumping? Tractor thefts? I’m being serious, it’s vague to the  point of uselessness. But what it could mean, if you look at it in the light of everything I said above, it’s feasible that it could mean a fresh and reinvigorated focus on illegal fox hunts.

The Conservatives steadfastly opposed the ban, when it was going through the commons. David Cameron has specifically said he’d like the ban to be rescinded. But that’s not to say that all Tories agree with him, as an estimated 75% of British people want the ban to stay.

So what do you say then, Cllr Stansfeld? If elected Police & Crime Commissioner, will you translate your rural crime pledge into a concerted crackdown on illegal fox hunting?

Anthony Stansfeld’s first policy

With the general lack of awareness of the Police Commissioner elections, hopes of a high turnout are slim to non-existent. But there’s still a certain arrogance in anyone presuming victory weeks before votes are even cast.

And yet, that seems to be exactly what the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley Anthony Stansfeld is doing.

Despite running a campaign apparently without any policy ideas, Stansfeld thinks he already has it in the bag. His website is a pretty clear indicator of his campaign: mostly empty, with a national news stream, and last updated over a month ago. Indeed, his primary selling point seems to be making a link between his sitting on the Performance Committee of Thames Valley Police Authority (which the Police Commissioner would replace) and an increase in crime detection.

Except, that the committee meets once every three months. Do we really believe that he is the sole driving force behind this?

But it goes further than that. The police are facing millions of pounds of budget cuts, cuts which are taking officers off the front line (in direct contravention of Conservative promises). Police pay is frozen and their morale is in the pits, and what is Cllr Stansfeld doing?

Brilliant. Anthony Stansfeld’s first actual policy of this election: a car and chauffeur, ready for when he is anointed Police Commissioner. He hasn’t even won the election yet, and he’s already spending police service money on himself — rather than fighting and preventing crime. Might I suggest, people of the Thames Valley, that you elect someone else? Someone who has ideas for how to improve policing? Someone whose ego isn’t the complete extent of their campaign?

Elect someone other than Anthony Stansfeld.

The Shape of Things to Come?

In the light of the mess G4S have made of Olympic security, this should be a worrying warning about the future of our policing.

It’s a said state of affairs, isn’t it? The army have been called in to the Olympic Games, to cover for a shortfall in the number of security staff provided by private security firm G4S.

They were to be paid £284million, to provide 10,000 staff, but apparently won’t be able to meet it in time due to problems with “scheduling and development”. It’s looking very much like they tried to do things on the cheap, and got caught out.

Which is embarrassing, but at least the army can bail them out. The more worrying thing is G4S’ involvement in the ongoing scandal of police privatisation. Not only are they one of the bidders in West Midlands and Surrey police forces plans to outsource some of their policing duties to the private sector. They’re also going to be building and running a police station for Lincolnshire Police.

Privatisation of the police force scares me, honestly. The idea of streets being patrolled by private security guards, of law and order functions being handed over to these companies, should be something that we’re all opposed to, and I think the majority of people would. Privatisation has done little good for the customer in areas where it has been rolled out historically — whether the train companies or water companies — as the “public service” ethos always seems to get lost in a blind dash for profits.

And G4S don’t exactly have a rosy history themselves:

Not a favourable record (and don’t think that the other parties interested in police privatisation are any cleaner…), and especially worrying about the problem we already have with deaths in custody.

Enter into this volatile mix, the elections of police commissioners in November. Here in the Thames Valley, the only candidates we have declared so far is Labour’s Tim Starkey, and the Conservatives’ (“TOTALLY OFFICIAL” apparently) Anthony Stansfeld. I have heard with my own ears Tim disavow police privatisation, and so can say without a doubt that he would not countenance it. I cannot, sadly, say anything similar about Mr Stansfeld.

The Conservatives have nothing to offer in these elections. They are cutting police budgets by 20%, are pathologically against all taxes regardless of justifications, and have no new ideas of how to improve policing. They do, however, have a track history and zeal for selling off public services to the private sector, to the benefit of businesses and detriment of the public.

I, for one, shudder at the possibility that publicly accountable police officers could be replaced by thugs hired on the cheap to make quotas and profits for the likes of G4S. They’ve cocked up Olympic security, and the army have stepped in — but the army won’t be able to do the same on Thames Valley streets.

Will Anthony Stansfeld pledge not to privatise police if elected as Police & Crime Commissioner?

UPDATE: Well, one good thing seems to have come of the G4S Olympic shambles (and yes, Theresa May, your private security company drastically under providing for a major international sports competition is the very definition of shambolic): the BBC are reporting that Surrey Police have dropped plans for privatisation. Very good news, but I can’t help but fear that the plans might be stealthily resurrected following November’s police commissioner elections.