I’ve had a bit of a conversation on Twitter with John about this, but 140 letters at a time isn’t something that can do this subject justice. To start with the back-story:
Leah and I went out on Friday night. By the time we got back, some kids had got around the back of her flats (as they frequently do) and managed to smash the waste pipe coming down from the abck of the building. End result – shit all over the back area, flies all over, stench and no way we could use our bathrooms until it was repaired. At 10pm, no DIY places were open so short of a 24-hour (i.e. expensive) plumber, we were screwed.
These kids have caused damage in the past. The back window’s been broken more than once. Not just cracked, but completely smashed out of the frame. This lets them into the stairwell where they shelter and grafitti. And urinate. Rubbish is all over the back area. Bins have been set alight.
In all, not pleasant.
But what can we do about it? I asked the policewoman who came out to check the damage. The answer, effectively, is “bugger all”.
Go back thirty years and broken glass at the tops of walls was commonplace. I know we had it in the house I grew up. Forget it these days. Any prospective burglar or miscreant who cuts themselves will sue you. Same goes for burglar-proof paint, barbed wire or anything of that ilk. Hell, put a fence up and if they fall off it then you’re looking at a civil suit.
I can’t video them. Well, a CCTV camera only covering the communal area is fine. But as soon as said camera starts focussing on individuals then it’s a potential breach of the peace. Same goes for still photography. Hence we can’t identify them too closely and leave it to the police to go chasing them, even though these kids are known to them.
Apprehend them? Don’t be so stupid. If I lay a hand on one, then it’s potential assault. Detain them until the police arrive and it’s anlawful imprisonment or even kidnap. Don’t think of attempting to place someone under citizen’s arrest (even if you’re an off-duty peace officer) unless they’ve guilty of at least a serious assault or robbery.
Incidentally, the police are very unlikely to bring this fact up. However, should the little shit… I mean kid… or their parents complain then the police are obliged to caution you and the rest. You’re chancing it – decent parents will likely accept their kid has done wrong and be more interested in sorting them out. However, the kind of parents who let their 12 year old get pissed up and vandalise property on a regular basis are hardly likely to do this. They’re more likely to spot a chance to get someone else into trouble and possibly wangle some cash out of it.
Now, John’s responses to these points were that if you could withhold someone then anyone could grab anyone else and say that the detainee had damaged their property. The question you have to ask is why would anyone do this? Why catch someone who’s not guilty and detain them?
As things stand, all the police have to go on is your memory and a description of someone. They then have to locate that person, arrest them and get you to identify them. By that stage, the miscreant may have legged it, or at very least got a story sorted with a third party. Then it’s your word against theirs.
By catching them in the act and detaining them, you’re ensuring they can’t sort out an alibi, get rid of evidence or quite simply vanish. I appreciate that policing is the job of the police but as the law stands, right-minded citizens can’t even help them.
These are shining examples of the law being on entirely the wrong side, protecting the accused (not guilty – we still have due process to undergo) and making life incredibly difficult for the wronged.