Legal Cops, Illegal Search
While we all bate our breath awaiting the outcome of Crouchergate, Kent Police have now admitted breaking the law by sending out a notice to officers policing Kingsnorth Climate Camp encouraging them to search people without lawful grounds.
As a police officer, you often rely on the policy decisions of your force to ensure you don't do something illegal. If I receive an email with a map, with the words "A s.44 Terrorism Act Authority is now in place in the attached area, you may stop and search anyone you come across", I will read it out to my team in briefing and they will go out and act upon it. If it later turns out the map is inaccurate, or that the s.44 power itself is illegal, a police officer may well end up carrying out an illegal search. Anything found in that search may well therefore be inadmissible in court, and any force used to complete the search will be excessive or even an assault. Which is why, when I receive emails of this type, I save them in a special folder called "IPCC".*
It is also why the officers who shot Jean-Charles de Menezes were exonerated of any guilt in the numerous enquiries that followed.
Which is confusing really, because it is hammered home in training that a police officer is responsible for the lawfulness or otherwise of his/her own actions. You can disobey an order from a senior officer, if obeying it would entail doing something unlawful. But police officers act on wrong information, or under a misapprehension of the law, on numerous occasions, and are rarely found individually guilty of offences because it's accepted that you have a right to trust your force's policy and guidelines. Who is actually held accountable for a policy or guideline that leads to a breach in law is another matter. It is often no simple feat just to identify who wrote it.
At present I receive a lot of emails to do with arresting people for 'race' crime and domestic abuse, keeping people in custody for their full twenty-four hours in the hope of a charge, 'turning over' baddies perpetually, plaguing offenders who have a curfew with 2-3 bail checks a night, etc. There's usually a clever "(justifiably!)" or "(within your powers!)" squeezed in brackets into the emails, but the messages are clear. I read the emails, I grasp the official motivation as well as the unofficial. I file them away and carry on policing as I see fit.
Policy is not the law. The law is not policy. Breaching either can get you fired, but breaching just one of them can put you in prison.
We ARE responsible for the lawfulness of our actions. We DO have the power to say no. Once you have stripes, it becomes easier to stand up for yourself, but the trade-off is the dwindling prospect of those stripes ever transmogrifying into pips. No one wants an inspector who knows the law too well.
* I don't really have a folder called that. But you get the gist.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.