Monday, April 13, 2015

How the police waste our time, on a massive scale

<i>Illustration: Simon Bosch.</i>  
Illustration: Simon Bosch.

Court 4.4 at the Downing Centre was packed – standing room only  – when I paid a visit recently to observe the legal sausage factory process the prodigious amount of time-wasting that the police and the justice system impose on the public every year. The police, in particular, are running an enormous con job.

Only 21 per cent of police rostered hours are spent on criminal investigations, according to the last annual report of the NSW Police. The rest of their rostered hours are occupied with traffic matters (10 per cent), bureaucratic process (15 per cent), courts and custody (six per cent) and community support (45 per cent), which appears to mainly involve patrols and responding to calls.

About six million times a year NSW police stop people who are doing nothing wrong, or issue infringements for minor offences. Most people just pay the fine, which is what the police and court system count on. It's a growing revenue stream for the government.

This particular journey of discovery was triggered by the sound of a police siren outside my house a few days before Christmas. It was the middle of the afternoon, in a quiet suburban street, yet a police officer felt the need to give his siren a blast at a woman sitting in her car. She drove off.

It was poor policing but it got worse. Every year, millions of people are subject to pointless, pedantic, time-wasting in the name of public safety.

Two weeks after the siren incident, the woman, Jo, received a traffic infringement notice, a $242 fine for double parking. She was outraged, given that she had only stopped briefly, was not blocking the light flow of traffic and her driving record was excellent. She ticked the box on the form saying she would go to court.

She received a court attendance notice by mail. Her presence would be required at Downing Centre at 9.15 am on March 30. She was now a "defendant".

After receiving (free) legal advice she changed her mind and mailed back a form advising that she was pleading guilty and did not need to attend court. She filled in the space available to explain if there are circumstances that would mitigate the penalty.

She heard nothing. As the court date approached, she called the State Debt Recovery Office. All they knew was that she was due in court.

On March 30, Jo appeared in court 4.4 in the Downing Centre. The courtroom was packed. I counted 45 people, not counting lawyers at the bar table. Clearly, everyone had been told to turn up at 9.15 am. This says a lot about how the courts value the public's time.

The registrar began pushing through cases. After 40 minutes, and numerous cases, Jo's name was called. She was instructed to go to court 4.3, where a magistrate would handle her matter. The waiting thus started again.

This court was also packed, with a row of people standing at the back. The magistrate was Greg Grogan. Over the next two hours I watched him strike a balance between compassion and legal gravitas.

For the first time in this process, someone seemed to be exercising common sense. All morning, Grogan took the view that if someone was bothered to come to court, and could provide him with a plausible case for mitigation, he would waive the fine or reduce the suspension.

In this legal sausage machine, it was primarily the police prosecutions that were put through the grinder.
Then it was Jo's turn. She began describing the incident. "I was sitting in my car…"

Grogan interjected, incredulous: "You were in the car?"

Jo continued. "A police siren went off". Grogan looked even less impressed. After a few more sentences, he had heard enough. "This case is dismissed."

It took less than a minute of testimony but half a day in court. The police officer with the heavy hands on the police siren, whose judgement had not been vindicated by the court, had long ago moved on.

Multiply this example by about a million times a year and you get a sense of the scale of the make-work by the police and productivity lost by the public. Over the past 15 months, police have conducted more than 6.5 million random breath tests on motorists. Only about 0.35 per cent of these tests result in charges being laid.

As another way of increasing revenue, the state government has contracted a private company, Redflex, to operate a growing number of mobile speed traps, for profit. Not surprisingly, the number of people trapped and fined as a result of speed cameras is up by 50 per cent in the past year, according to the NRMA.

All these intrusions and this bureaucratic make-work is always justified in the name of "public safety" but the downward trend in fatalities over the past decade has come more from the introduction of air bags than from the four to five million random stops by police each year.

The government could achieve broadly the same impact by directing the police to conduct half the number of stoppages, at half the cost, and half the social disruption. I'd like to see a study which seeks to quantify the productivity lost by the hundreds of thousands of hours of the public's time wasted by inefficient and intrusive practices by the justice system.

Instead, both sides of politics, wanting to appear tough on law and order, are complicit in the giant con by the police, this bureaucratic make-work, this time-wasting and intrusion, all at our expense.

smh.com.au 12 Apr 2015

That's only half of it.

The police 'force' in Australia is a slave to the corporations and not for the people as commonly misconceived.

They are literally at the top of the criminal food chain.

the mainstream media is really reluctant to expose the police 'force' as a criminal organisation.

No comments: