Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ten facts you might not know - Inside Intel on the UK Police

CSI Portsmouth: The 'Crime Scene'
I attended CSI Portsmouth on Sat, 2nd November, an annual event organised by Crime Author, Pauline Rowson, to bring together crime fiction and crime fact. On the day, experts representing local police answered questions and gave their views on various aspects of policing. 

Here are ten interesting facts you might not know:

1.    There are around 2,000 different computer systems in operation by different police forces in England. Very few are compatible, so that Dorset Police, for example, cannot simply cross-reference files from Hampshire Police, without going through time-consuming official channels.
CSI Portsmouth, L-R: crime writers NJ Cooper, SJ Watson, Sgt Tony Birr, Brian Chappell MBE
2.       Spiking of drinks is much lower than people think, according to Michael Ellis, Hampshire Police. ‘Most of the time – it’s Snakebites,’ he said (mixing cider with beer). 

3.       Convictions for rape are low, often due to CCTV footage, explained Mr Ellis.  He told us that if a woman claiming rape is caught falling over drunk, laughing and enjoying herself on camera, it undermines her case and the prosecution often have a problem getting a conviction. Amnesia is a common symptom of alcohol abuse and a victim will often black out and not know whether she consented to sex or not.

4.     Hair analysis is used for the detection of many therapeutic and recreational drugs, including cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. An inch of hair-growth takes around a month and toxicologists can discover a drug-taker’s history through this method.

5.        ‘Smart’ drugs are known as ‘legal highs’ and are available in places like tattoo parlours and booths selling rave tickets. They carry names such as ‘sparkle’ and ‘magic’ and many are killers, but as the name suggests they are not illegal and started out as research substances for medical purposes, often abroad, but were subsequently aborted.      

6.       Apart from tests for ‘magic mushrooms’ there are no standard post mortem toxicology tests for fungi. Following a suspicious death, alcohol is tested for first, then drugs of abuse, legitimate medication and then more obscure substances. Results can take up to two weeks (far slower than we see on TV CSI!).

7.    If you’re a writer wanting the answer to a police procedural question straight from the horse’s mouth instead of Wikipedia, contact ‘Corporate Communications’ at your local police force. Most forces are very helpful.

8.       According to Brian Chappell MBE, who worked with the Met for 30 years, there are 330 different languages spoken in London. He explained that this has far-reaching implications for policing, as each community has its own social structure and attitudes to the police force. 

9.       Hampshire police is apparently 60 detectives short due to funding cuts, but a new post is being introduced, that of ‘Civilian Investigator’. Tony Birr explained that the role of 'detective' is a dying profession and that with the wide range of cyber-related crimes, it makes sense to have people who are experts on hand. He suggested, for example, that bank fraud might be better investigated by a former bank manager, than a generic detective. (It’s also cheaper for the government). 

10.   Question: ‘Which TV crime series represents the police most accurately?’ Michael answered: ‘Life on Mars’ - but was that tongue in cheek?

Thanks to  Michael Ellis (Hampshire Police, Drugs expert witness), Dr Alex Allan (forensic toxicologist), Sergeant Tony Birr, (Hampshire Constabulary Marine Unit) and Brian Chappell MBE (Senior lecturer, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth).

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