Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

Why the Police Shouldn’t Spin

I generally tend to believe police announcements; what’s more, I want to. So when they get into the spin game about something really important and make me get that sinking feeling where I can’t believe a word they say, it’s really not a good move. That’s what’s happened, of course, with the ‘terror raid’ in Forest Gate at the weekend. There are few services for which trust is more important than the police; if they contrive to make everyone think they’re a bunch of liars out to cover their own backs, it can’t help them do their job.

Other Lib Dem bloggers have been quicker off the mark and said pretty much what I would have, so I’ll not go into every detail. On Friday, news reports told us that a chemical device had been found, and heavily emphasised – clearly following the tragic De Menezes affair – that one person had been shot, only once. I remember thinking that this was terrible news, and, blimey, I used to have an ex who lived near there, but well done to the police for getting it sorted so efficiently. I woke up on Saturday and heard virtually the same report, except that suddenly in the last few words the police were now “expecting” to find a chemical device, about which they had had “credible intelligence”. “Oh no,” I said to Richard, “They’re doing it again.” And then the questions started on who’d done the shooting, and the story became not a police action but whether the police were lying, again, and about how many things.

Why do they do this?

Does it not occur to anyone that ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction Not Found Again’ is not a confidence-inspiring headline?

I have little respect for journalists, but it isn’t journalists who made these stories up.

The 24-hour news cycle is merciless. But if the police want to maintain public confidence, they really need to disengage from it and just say, “We’re in the middle of an operation, and we can give you the details once it’s been completed, but not while officers on the ground are still in the middle of it.” The urge to brief a big success must be very strong, but it seems to turned into ‘hopes’ being announced as ‘facts’, and then having to be messily retracted. Wait until they’re facts first, please.

Another Lib Dem suggested to me on Monday evening that, if these confident but constantly changing pronouncements had come from a politician about something like election prospects, the media would have instantly dissected them with a ‘What do they really mean by that?’ With the police, that doesn’t happen, yet. With the police media operation approaching the size and complexity of that of political parties, though, it can only be a matter of time. And that’s not going to do anybody any good.

Speaking of which…

I know it’s unfair to pick on any old member of a party for saying something dodgy, but from the way it’s become a major news story in the last hour, I guess she’s relatively senior. A ‘Respect activist’ has just called on all Muslims to refuse all assistance to the Metropolitan Police; which will really help with burglary and muggings. But, then, ‘Respect: really not helping’ – it’s not exactly ‘Man Bites Dog’, is it?

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