Metal detectors have feelings too, apparently. Last Friday a team of crack (are you sure about this? - Ed) coppers leapt to the defence of one being verbalised by a Goth at Highbury & Islington station, and spot-fined the miscreant £80.
According to a report of the incident, the Goth in question, Phil, had observed to the reporter in a low voice that the machine was a "piece of shit that wouldn't stop anyone". The reporter seems to regard Phil's being "a physics graduate" as lending weight to his pithy assessment of the kit's capabilities, rather than (as we'd suggest) simply indicating a stroppy determination to be right about everything, but in this case he's at least on the right track. Register mini review - walk-through metal detectors are imprecise in detecting objects that may or may not be knives or offensive weapons. This alone is sufficient to make them impractical for use on public transport systems, and because by design they 'bottleneck' subjects, the impracticality is compounded. They are therefore at best a psyops tool, and it is the policy rather than the machine that is a "piece of shit", OK?
Back to Highbury though, where Phil is given a 20 minute search and shake-down, then hit for the £80. But why?
The spot fine was levied under antisocial behaviour legislation, but although the ASBO pitchfork brigade (and, er, quite a few police forces) often seem under the impression that swearing within public earshot is an offence, Section 5 of the Public Order Act as amended by David Blunkett's Home Office (a good subject for profanity in itself) specifies: "Using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress."
While we can at least accept the possibility that a word can of itself be threatening, in which case it would not be necessary for it to have been directed at a specific threatened individual, words are flexible things, and it would seem to us that here we merely have a noun used to describe a machine. The machine is slandered (we think it does have a case here), but not threatened as such. And "likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress"? Not to the machine, clearly, so it would have to be the coppers or passers by.
Over, then, to the Crown Prosecution Service's ever-helpful guidance section. "There must be a person within the sight or hearing of the suspect who is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by the conduct in question. A police officer may be such a person, but remember that this is a question of fact to be decided in each case by the magistrates. In determining this, the magistrates may take into account the familiarity which police officers have with the words and conduct typically seen in incidents of disorderly conduct."
A police officer explaining his distress on behalf of the metal detector to the magistrates would be one to book tickets for. How about passers by then? "Although the existence of a person who is caused harassment alarm and distress must be proved, there is no requirement that they actually give evidence." Well, according to the report we do have a passer by, with notes, but... it was a reporter for the Islington Tribune". That's Islington for you - crawling with media effing and blinding to one another. We reckon if Phil fancies challenging this one, he's got them.
There have been other cases where dubious profanity fines have been levied, although no other involving bits of metal with flashing lights, as far as we know. Kurt Walker, wonderfully, was fined for fuck all, and is refusing to pay. A guidance circular to the police, we feel sure, would be in order, before they seriously embarrass themselves.
What, though, were the coppers and their sensitive equipment doing at Highbury? We're glad you asked that. It looks like the deployment was part of Operation Shield, which is run by British Transport Police and involves officers "swooping unannounced at key mainline and Underground stations" (a boggling image...). "The intelligence led approach will also seek to reassure passengers that the police are focused on tackling fear of crime" (there you go, psyops). Do you have a choice about going through the detector then?, you may ask. To which we respond, what part of the sentence, Are you trying to be funny, sonny?, is it that you don't understand?
Further psyops, meanwhile in Scotland where British Transport Police have pushed back the boundaries of, or possibly raised the bar on, intelligence-led policing with a 'successful' trial of a mobile metal detector at Largs station last weekend. The deployment of the unit, from 1700 BST on Friday to 2300 BST on Saturday, was the first of a series across Scotland.
There will, Superintendent Ronnie Mellis told the BBC, now be "a rolling programme of intelligence-led operations that will take place over the country to reassure the travelling public that Scotland's railways remain safe and that they are able to travel without the fear of becoming a victim of violent crime."
And the weapons haul of the "successful" operation? 240 passengers scanned over the period, no knives or offensive weapons found. So shall we just savour that for a moment? No hits, equals a successful intelligence-led operation. Which presumably makes the recent police knife amnesty, where quantities of knives were actually handed in, a failure, right? Or not, because there have been other public transport detector trials which have been deemed successes on the basis of having actually detected stuff.
Intelligence may lead, but the casual observer's intelligence sometimes, somehow still manages to lose the way.
Still, if we consider the objective as being to reassure the travelling public, proof that absolutely none of your fellow passengers is tooled-up ought to be pretty reassuring. There you've been imagining it, see, silly? Anyway, if it's stabbings you want, it's a ticket to Glasgow you want, not Largs. (thanks to Spy Blog for detecting the Highbury detector) ®