Down on the Swamp Estate at the edge of Ruraltown, people do not believe in the criminal justice system. Time after time, in complete contradiction to perceived wisdom, they see convicted offenders walk away from court with a meaningless ‘community sentence’, right back to the estate. I have been involved in cases which have taken months of preparation, cajoling witnesses to appear, making all kinds of promises about how ‘supporting the system’ is the right thing to do, only to face angry victims and their friends afterwards when they see a gleeful offender set free.
It is very soul-destroying and very stressful for everyone (except the offender).
The situation is exactly the same for us as police officers. I know personally of a man who suddenly punched an officer to the floor with no warning, then took a swing at his head with a kick which only failed because the man was drunk, and finally drag him along the road until the officer managed to fight himself free. The man then walked away from the court with a set of meaningless fines and community based conditions.
This happened in front of many people at a local bus stop, probably all of whom will have heard about the court disposal and learned the obvious message from it!
People do not want to be arrested or questioned themselves. If a person reports a crime and names a suspect on the Swamp, that suspect will usually immediately make ‘counter allegations’ against his accuser. The CPS will tell the investigating officer that these counter allegations will have to be fully investigated in order for any future court case to stand a chance. The police then have two choices. Arrest or call in the witness and threat them as a suspect or drop the case. If a suspect makes counter allegations against a single crewed police officer who has witnessed a crime, that officer can be suspended and investigated too.
People do not want to be targeted after a court case. Witness intimidation is rife because the additional sentencing for doing so is negligible. People are sick of being treated badly by the courts, having to miss work and endure endless adjournments just because the suspect has a sniffle, a new baby, child care issues, a sick mother, delete as appropriate.
Experienced police officers have court-fatigue. No investigating officer will ever make any suggestion to a victim or witness that anything other than complete disappointment will follow a court appearance. Our new PCC called this “being negative about the exciting possibility of making a difference in court”. Our senior managers call it “Managing expectations”.
With all but the most serious offences, the court system has ensured that reporting crime is a mostly pointless exercise for everyone concerned except the offender. The kind of street cred earned by defeating ‘the man’ even if you plead guilty, cannot be achieved in any other way on the Swamp. People on the Swamp tend not to be insured, so reporting crime isn’t even worth it for a crime number.
Crime has fallen over the last ten years largely because the courts have beaten reporting out of people, including assaults on police, in my experience only about 1/3 of which are reported. This is hardly something to crow about.