There's no such thing as a caution
One of the greatest calamities brought on by the National Crime Recording Standards is that it has utterly deprived police of discretion, especially in cases involving children. This week I was standing in custody looking at the "whiteboard" (the board showing prisoners details) and was amazed to discover that ten of the twenty prisoners were juveniles, most aged 13-14. Custody was swamped with crying/shouting/sullen teenagers and their crying/shouting/sullen parents. Most of them had never been arrested before and were there for shoplifting or criminal damage.
As the kids and parents paraded past me, variously claiming their angel wouldn't hurt a fly/their little rascal was going to get it when he got home, they had to duck out of the way of Kenneth Wilkins, a nasty convicted rapist here on suspicion of trying to kidnap a woman and having to be taken everywhere in the company of two gaolers. In the holding area were four coke-ridden burglars demanding to see the doctor, and from the cell-block a variety of screams, howls and crashes as the who's who of Blandmore's under-class performed their weekly cabaret-in-search-of-acquittal. Not surprisingly, a lot of the kids were pretty scared.
Don't get me wrong, Jason Rogers and Luke Durning were in custody too - they're 15, require Social Services to represent them because their parents are sick of spending the entire evening in custody, and this is their fourth arrest this month for theft from motor vehicle. They weren't scared.
But the regular kids probably shouldn't be here, their parents and the custody sergeants know it. They get interviewed, admit their various crimes, and get bailed off to receive youth reprimands or warnings (ie they have to return to the station another day to get a lecture from someone qualified in telling off kids). Rogers and Durning deny everything, and the case is dropped because a granule of glass was seized from the wrong part of the window they broke into.
Never mind the farce that is adult cautions. NCRS has meant that we can no longer attend a crime and write it off with the words "advice has been given to all parties". * If there is a suspect, for any offence no matter how minuscule, we are expected to arrest them, log their fingerprints and DNA, and "dispose" of them in such a manner that it causes a detection for the superintendent's monthly figures. Many adults unused to the criminal justice system believe that if they cooperate, everything will be all right. In fact if they cooperate they receive a Caution, supposedly a warning that drops straight off your record and has no effect on your life.
Wrong. A police caution can and will stop you getting jobs, travelling abroad or being involved with children. Even a common assault where you've had a scuffle with your adult brother can preclude you from a job as a teacher, police officer, or even taxi driver.
The result, the criminalisation of a vast tract of society who should never have seen the inside of a police cell. While the real crooks play the system with their entourage of Mr and Mrs Loopholes, and walk out laughing.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.