Not Saussure

November 27, 2006

Cracking the crime before it’s even committed.

Filed under: civil liberties, junk science, Law, UK — notsaussure @ 7:23 pm

Blimey! First we have Jamie Oliver sorting out school meals. Then Blair sends in SuperNanny to sort out unruly children, and now, presumably on the assumption that this may not work in all cases, they’re thinking of sending in Fitz, from Cracker, to solve crimes before they get committed.

Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt.

The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence. Pilot projects to identify the highest-risk future offenders have been operating in five London boroughs for the past two months.

The Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the serial rapist Richard Baker have been used as examples of the type of man police will identify.

Well, Ian Huntley’s hardly the best example to use in this context, is he? As I recall, the problem wasn’t so much that Humberside and Cambridgeshire police didn’t have the services of a criminal profiler on which to draw; no, the problem there was that they lost, misfiled, failed to pass on and generally fouled up with the information they did have at their disposal. Nor did the school take up his references and the company the LEA employed to do background checks said they’d done them when they hadn’t. Oh, and let’s not forget North East Lincolnshire Social Services, who also fouled up pretty spectacularly by failing to understand the information they’d got —

A senior social worker failed to link three underage sex allegations made against Huntley within one month in 1996.

Phil Watters investigated each case, and also failed to connect them with an earlier incident in which Huntley admitted sleeping with a 15-year-old girl.

— and, for good measure,

Mr Watters also admitted a letter from a local deputy head teacher raising concerns about Huntley had not been passed on to police.

Garbage in, garbage out, as they say in the data processing business, and divs dealing with the data at each end doesn’t help very much either. Apparently, Cambridgeshire Police ‘more likely than not’ didn’t bother to ask Humberside, anyway, and

Two specific human errors were also made [by Cambridgeshire] during the vetting process.

One staff member entered Huntley’s date of birth incorrectly into the Child Access database, while another only looked on the national database under Huntley’s alias surname Nixon.

Checking under Huntley would at least have thrown up a burglary charge from 1995 – that factor alone would have prevented him getting the caretaker’s job, said the school’s head teacher Howard Gilbert.

That is, if only people had been doing their jobs properly in the first place, Huntley would never have got near the two little girls. No use installing brand new, high-tech stable doors after the horse has bolted if you can’t be sure your staff will remember to shut them, say I. Seems to me that the psychological profilers would be better employed advising the relevant Human Resources Directorates (as I’m sure they’ve paid a consultant vast amounts to tell them they should rename the Personnel Department) on how to chose half-way decent admin staff.

Furthermore,

The team is concentrating on reducing the risk of those with a history of domestic violence turning into murderers. About a quarter of murders are related to domestic violence.

Well, that’s all well and good, but what’s it got to do with either Ian Huntley — who doesn’t seem to have had any form for domestic violence (probably didn’t get time for any, what with all the other sexual assaults and burglaries he was apparently involved in) — or a serial rapist, I don’t know. Yes, everyone knows that you’re considerably more likely to be murdered by your partner than by anyone else, but you don’t need a psychological profiler to tell you that. Nor do you need her to tell you that if a man murders his wife then, more likely than not, it’s probably not the first time they’ve laid violent hands on each other, probably while one or both of them was in drink.

What you do with this knowledge, though, I do not know. Prosecute him for the domestic violence, certainly, and have a shot at sending him on anger management courses and the like, whether while he’s on probation or in prison. But what else?

Experts from the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit are creating psychological profiles of likely offenders to predict patterns of criminal behaviour. Statements from former partners, information from mental health workers and details of past complaints are being combined to identify the men considered most likely to commit serious violent crimes.

The list will draw comparisons with the Hollywood film Minority Report, in which suspects are locked up before they can commit a predicted crime.

Laura Richards, a senior criminal psychologist with the Homicide Prevention Unit, told The Times: “My vision is that we know across London who the top 100 people are. We need to know who we are targeting. […]

The team is concentrating on reducing the risk of those with a history of domestic violence turning into murderers. About a quarter of murders are related to domestic violence.

“There are some pretty dangerous people out there, so you need these risk models to wheedle them out, separate the wheat from the chaff,” she said. “If you add up all the information, it tells us which people are risky.”

Ms Richards said that once an individual had been identified, police would decide whether to make moves towards an arrest, or to alert the relevant social services who could steer those targeted into “management programmes.”

Sorry, but there’s normally this formality about finding something for which to arrest the chap, and then convicting him of it, though I realise that, for a time, David Blunkett dispensed with such outdated notions, at least for foreigners. But are they seriously talking about banging someone up on spec, because a psychiatrist thinks it’s a good idea? Let’s hope they don’t get in

Paul Britton, 56, often described as the real-life version of television’s Cracker, [who] faced seven charges of misconduct after the Metropolitan Police asked for his help in catching the killer of Rachel Nickell.

But after a two-day hearing, the British Psychological Society disciplinary committee concluded Mr Britton’s work on the 1992 murder inquiry could not be properly investigated.

The committee ruled he could not get a fair hearing.

Possibly this was because of what nasty people had said about him after the case the man he convinced himself had murder Ms Nickell collapsed;

During the committal Britton was called on to explain the operation. He claimed it was designed to present the subject with a series of “ladders” he would have to climb rather than a “slippery slope” down which a vulnerable person would slide if pushed. The defence argued that Britton’s evidence was speculative and supported only by his intuition.

When the case reached the Old Bailey the judge agreed. He said that the police had shown “excessive zeal” and had tried to incriminate a suspect by “deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”.

And let’s hope, too, they don’t get in Dr John Hale, director of the Portman Clinic in London, and psychotherapist Valerie Sinason, experts, or so it would seem, in the field of satanic ritual abuse. God knows, even experts in other forensic fields that are more based on hard evidence sometimes get it a bit wrong with less than satisfactory results.

Nothing wrong, of course, with the police keeping an eye on people whom they regard as dangerous, but let’s hope they go on more reliable evidence than that of people who may be no more accurate than phrenologists, for all their databases.


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3 Comments »

  1. Local authorities have been doing this kind of thing on children for quite a while. In a process called ‘ID50’, each area has to select the 50 children aged 13-16 thought most likely to become offenders. They are then put on a YIP (Youth Inclusion Programme). There are also ‘Junior YIPs’ for 8-12s.

    So many of the things that have been happening to children over the past 5 years are now being extended to adults – it seems that children are one big test-bed.

    Heads-up: ‘Joined-up’ health and social care records for all are on their way next. (See The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/11/24/health_social_record/ )

    Comment by Terri — November 28, 2006 @ 2:35 am

  2. There’s nothing new in such profiling. Iwould have thought it was a normal part of police procedure.

    Comment by jameshigham — November 28, 2006 @ 4:54 pm

  3. Nothing new, James? Do you have further and better particulars?

    Remember, they’re not talking about keeping an eye on known criminals and their associates, and nor are they talking about sending Clarice Starling to ask Dr Lector what sort of a man they should be looking for.

    Rather, they’re talking about asking Dr Lector who he thinks might go out and start committing such crimes in the future; armed with this information from their profiling (as opposed to hard evidence that can be tested in a court) they’ll ‘add up all the information, [because ]it tells us which people are risky’ and then, having concluded someone’s ‘risky’, the ‘police would decide whether to make moves towards an arrest, or to alert the relevant social services who could steer those targeted into “management programmes.”‘

    Where do you say that happens as part of normal police or judicial procedure?

    Comment by notsaussure — November 28, 2006 @ 5:35 pm


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