The Texan experience of "all offences are now arrestable"

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For those people wondering what the practical effect of making all offences into arrestable ones, as of midnight tonight, will be, the experience of the State of Texas in the USA is a worrying one. The ever informative Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast writes:

Bad idea from Texas exported to Britain: Arresting litterers and seat belt violators


So to any English readers out there, let me fill you in on what you're in for, since we've been living with this situation in Texas for awhile now: Soon your local jails will be completely full of low-level arrestees at a huge cost to the taxpayers and with little benefit to public safety

Welcome to the Texas criminal justice model. Enjoy


I think we should get a bit of perspective on this.

The new powers mean that each arrest has to be justified. You can be sure that any competent defence solicitor will thoroughly explore the reasons for arrest. I think any arrest for littering or not wearing a seatbelt for the purposes 'of an effective investigation' would be challenged. For a start these are 'absolute' offences, that is you have either committed them or not, further investigation is not required. Currently these would be dealt with by summons or a penalty notice. Issuing a penalty notice or doing a process report takes about 30 minutes. Arresting someone is about 4 hours worth of paperwork and procedure, possibly longer. I think people are overestimating the British Policemans love of paperwork.

When the new powers come in there will be a period of uncertainty until a body of case law is developed which will clarify the limits of these powers. Like any law the words themselves are half the story.

Surprisingly SOCPA schedule 7 also limits powers of arrest. For example there is no longer any the automatic power of arrest for TDA (taking and driving away) or S5 Public Order. Also the power of entry (S17 PACE) has been amended so as to be available only for indictable offences. For example this removes the power of entry for TDA and S163 Road Traffic Act 1988 (failure to stop vehicle).

I agree that these powers have the capacity for abuse but I would hope that a rigorous judicial system will root these out. I also think that they are poorly thought out and will need clarification. However having talked to serving officers there is a body of opinion that in some cases this will make arrest harder not easier. Unfortunately this is now the law and all we can do is try and ensure that it is applied fairly.

@ Karlos - thanks for your interesting comment.

You can be sure that any competent defence solicitor will thoroughly explore the reasons for arrest. I think any arrest for littering or not wearing a seatbelt for the purposes 'of an effective investigation' would be challenged

Unfortunately, by the time a solicitor has been called, the bureaucratic punishment of the "one size fits all" arrest process will have already been applied disproportionately to people accused of minor offences.

Surely, for minor crimes, such as these, the whole intrusive arrest process and the indefinate retention of DNA tissue samples, fingerprints, photgraphs, entries on Police and Intelligence databases, even if no charges are ever brought or even if a person is found not guilty, is actually more of a punishment than the "fixed penalty notice" or fine for a minor formerely "non-arrestable" offence ?

As to whether the Police prefer to "waste" 4 hours per arrest on paperwork, that rather depends on what arrest or detection or other action targets or statistics they have been set to achieve by their managers.

With these increased powers of arrest, where are the increased safeguards and checks and balances to protect the public from overzealous, or jobsworth or racist individuals, who exercise these powers ?

PACE Code G waffles on about proportionality etc. but seems rather vague when it comes to actual safeguards.

Following the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Independent Police Complaints Commission hardly inspires public confidence that complaints will be investigated swiftly, especially for minor offences.

The other aspect of the Section 110 powers of arrest which will be worth watching out for will be the "24A Arrest without warrant: other persons" i.e. non-police constable "citizens arrests".

How are members of the public meant to work out whether an indictable offence i.e. a serious one which would be tried in a Crown Court rather than a Magistrates Court might have been committed or not, if, say, they apprehend someone being chased by private security guards from a shopping centre etc. ?

What about the Community Support Officers and Wardens etc. who already have different powers of arrest depending on which part of the country they operate in, at the discretion of the local Chief Constable, and general powers under the Anti-Social Behavior Act etc. ?

We all miss the point of this fiasco. Its to obtain as many dna samples as they can and as covertly as they can. Remember, any arrest entitles them to take a dna sample. These new powers enables them to to do this and I redict that most people will be given fines.

I agree with John. The police will use these new powers as an excuse to add as many records as possible to the national DNA database. It's no secret that the average policeman, especially the senior officers, believe that the entire population should be compelled to provide samples. The government - even this one - is unlikely to agree to this, so now the police have a superb workaround. Just wait and see. It won't be too long before the abuse cases start to be reported: someone drops a fag end on the street and is arrested and DNA'd. What ACPO will now be pushing for is a streamlined arrest procedure that allows them to take DNA with the minimum of fuss and paperwork. It would not surprise me that in the near future every officer will be provided with DNA kits (like railway staff now have) to be used extensively for minor offences - someone drops litter and they are arrested, DNA'd on the spot and released with a penalty notice.

I find it facinating that people believe that the police want to run around arresting anybody for absolutely nothing. From what I have seen of the police they barely have time to arrest "proper criminals" and investigate "proper crime" as it is, let alone dragging Mrs Miggins in for failing to display her disabled parking badge properly. I doubt very much will change at all in the real world, Joe Public certainly wont notice any difference. As for the retention of DNA samples, depending on what the database is used for, i.e. soley for the detection of crime, then someone who isn't a criminal, and has had the misfortune to be arrested incorrectly, should have nothing to worry about as their DNA wont be turning up at crime scenes if they aren't criminals, will it? That staement is made on the proviso that the database is properly maitined and monitored, obviously.

@ Ricardo "their DNA wont be turning up at crime scenes if they aren't criminals, will it?"

Unfortunately, as more people get put onto the NDNAD, the chances of this happening will increase.

DNA "fingerprinting" is extremely sensitive - if you cough or sneeze in, say, the middle of a cinema, then your DNA can be detected on the walls. There is no way of determining if your DNA sample appeared on a crime scene before, during or after the crime was committed, within the parameters of the time it takes for DNA to be degraded by the environment.

How many innocent "suspects" DNA samples have been collected and stored from the July 7th bombings ?

Previous Palestinian and Iraqui suicide bombers have gone around in pairs, so everyone's DNA found in the Tube trains and the Bus must have been suspects for some period of time during the investigation.

Now that it is complete, this DNA and DNA "fingerprints" should be destroyed, but instead , they will be retained indefinately, with damning note for future investigators, or for those abroad who will not necessarily be familiar with the circumstances, of "collected at the scene of a terrorist crime".

Someone sneezing and leaving a small amount of DNA behind in a potential crime scene will hardly convict them of the crime will it? Other things such as, motive, supporting evidence or alibis might come into play there, dont you think? No-one claims that it's infalible, but that is hardly a reason to totally discount it. All of your arguments can be allocated to fingerprints already, yet I dont hear the same paranoid clamour about them. The point is that DNA database in an invaluble tool in assisting in the detection of crime, along with numerous others.

@ Ricardo - there is another recent posting and discussion thread on the National DNA Database

Nobody here is claiming that DNA evidence is not a useful technique, but the dangers of cross - contamination during the original forensic sample collection and subsequent handling and analysis, are potentially enormous, given the way in which small DNA samples are literally multiplied millions of times thtough successive rounds of the Polymerase Chain Reaction which is both a major strength and a major weakness of the technique in practice. There have been DNA labs in the USA which have had to be shutdown and all recent cases re-tested.

There are also stories of some criminals deliberately contaminating crime scenes with other random people's DNA e.g. used cigarette butts, obtained from public ashtrays.

Fingerprints are starting to be increasingly questioned. Certainly the "uniqueness" of them is being questioned after cases like that of the US lawyer Brandon Mayfield accused of involvement in the Madrid bombings on the basis of "absolutely postive" FBI fingerprint matching and re-matching, which proved to be entirely false.

Despite the century or more of criminal fingerprint records, there has not yet been the same level of large scale statistical and scientific study of the technique to the same level as that for DNA, but there probably will be, as more examples of "duplicate" fingerprints are found within the much larger non-criminal record population,
if the National Identity Register ever gets off the ground.

It is unlikley that this will cast sufficient "reasonable doubt" to affect many court cases, provided that people are properly informed, and if both DNA and conventional fingerprint database matching techniques are modified to user more points of reference than they do now.

People who know a bit about these techniques do not claim that they are infallible, but the press and politicians certainly give that impression, which is strengthed in the public's imagination ny the aooarent speed and infallibility depicted on very popular TV programmes likes CSI Las Vegas, CSI Miami, CSI NewYork etc.

On the CSI front I totally agree without question - those programmes have a lot to answer for, although CSI Las Vagas is easily my favourite. If I am honest I think we may be singing from the same hymn sheet to a certain extent. You seem vexed by peoples unshakable faith in DNA, whereas I am vexed by peoples unshakable dismissal of it, I think we would both agree the truth lies somewhere in between. At the risk of going on over already covered ground, I think like mentioned above, DNA databases are nothing to be afraid of - IF they are maintained and utilised properly. I totally accept that there are flaws, but to my mind the potential value as a detective tool far outweighs them. Something we have relied on in the past and will continue to do so for the forseeable future are eyewitness accounts - surely nothing is more subjective / potentially malicious or inaccurate even with good intent that a person who knows something because "they saw it happen", yet we still put great stock in them dont we? They like DNA evidence are there in open court to be cross examined. If forming part of a complete case then DNA is nothing to be feared. The chances of the samples being cross contaminated are remote to say the least, but that coupled with the fact the offender lives down the road, coupled with the fact a man matching his description was seen running away, coupled with the fact his car was parked nearby etc etc, you know where I'm going with this... reduces the likelyhood of a wrongful conviction to nothing.
Anyway, I think we have strayed off the original point, something about the police having powers to arrest people wasn't it???!

One point about the taking of DNA samples and their retention. Police can only take these samples when a person is arrested for a "recordable offence" - these are the more serious offences. So the dropping of a fag end or Mrs Miggins and her disabled disc wouldn't result in the taking of a sample - if they were taken in error there are procedures in place for their destruction (i.e. checks are made on the offence for which the sample was taken). In addition the individual could sue for assault.

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Recent Comments

  • James: One point about the taking of DNA samples and their read more
  • Ricardo: On the CSI front I totally agree without question - read more
  • wtwu: @ Ricardo - there is another recent posting and discussion read more
  • Ricardo: Someone sneezing and leaving a small amount of DNA behind read more
  • wtwu: @ Ricardo "their DNA wont be turning up at crime read more
  • Ricardo: I find it facinating that people believe that the police read more
  • A Tench: I agree with John. The police will use these new read more
  • john: We all miss the point of this fiasco. Its to read more
  • wtwu: @ Karlos - thanks for your interesting comment. You can read more
  • Karlos: I think we should get a bit of perspective on read more


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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

intelligence_gov_uk_150.gif - Cabinet Office hosted portal website to various UK Intelligence Agencies and UK Government intelligence committees and Commissioners etc.

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protestClimate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

Serious Organised Crime Agency - have cut themselves off from direct contact with the public and businesses - no phone - no email

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

netcu_logo_150.gif National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit - keeps a watch on animal extremists, genetically modified crop protesters, peace protesters etc.
(some people think that the word salad of acronyms means that NETCU is a spoof website)

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme