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Criminal Record Office checks

May 18 2009
One reader was checked several times by the same officer over a couple of weeks One reader was checked several times by the same officer over a couple of weeks
Fears are growing that increased police use of criminal record office checks amounts to a breach of homeless people‘s human rights The number of rough sleepers who are questioned by the police for no evident reason, is on the rise in London, according to several readers of The Pavement who contacted us recently wondering why the police ask for their details and check their criminal records. Fears are growing that police officers are increasing their use of CRO (criminal record office) checks, which may be targeted against homeless people. Two readers contacted this paper separately within one week in April. One, who wants to remain anonymous, said: "Some street homeless people attract police attention with their unsocial behaviour, but for the police to do 'welfare checks' - the excuse they use to justify their harassment of us - at increasing opportunities amounts to a breach of our human rights." A Community Support Police Officer recently told him that their desk sergeant had instructed them to check homeless people. When the checks take place in the crowded spaces of Embankment Gardens and Whitehall, he said, it can be embarrassing, "a public spectacle for the office workers that are there taking a lunch break." Another reader, Marylebone Joe, told The Pavement that the police and Community Support Police Officers are "harassing rough sleepers" in the Marylebone area. Speaking of a check he witnessed, he said: "it [the CRO check] happened in Paddington Gardens, to an obvious, non-smoking non-drinking quiet street person of 30 years." And this is what's worrying some people on the street: that it's happening to familiar faces, people who don't have a history of arrest, whom the beat police should know are not criminal. One reader told us he had been checked several times by the same officer over a couple of weeks. When we went to investigate this, we found out that there is some confusion as to the very name of the measure the police makes use of. We asked the police for comment on the use of CRO checks, but a spokesperson told us he was unsure what we were talking about. However, if one speaks to an officer on the beat, they do know what the CRO check is, and use it regularly in their work, along with the NPC (National Police Computer). So, what are the guidelines for what a police officer can and cannot ask? It's simple. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told us: "Police officers can speak to you for any reason. They can ask anybody who they are, and approach somebody with whatever inquiry." As to whether the police officer has to 'formalise' the process by writing a note or leaving the person who has been checked with a noti fication, it is only necessary if the person is searched. The spokesperson said that if you are searched, you must be given a form, but otherwise it is at the officer's discretion whether they will write something on his or her pocket book. Apparently, entries on pocket books are registered and it cost ?î???10 to get hold of the information, according to the Data Protection Act. The spokesperson added: "We are not targeting anybody more or less, but when we carry out patrolling operations, we have a responsibility to check on everybody who looks of concern, particularly if they look ill or drunk." However, the only people we know who have been checked - and most multiple times - are part of the street population. Some are checked bedded down in doorways, obviously homeless, and others have been stopped as they stand out with large back-packs on Oxford Street. The Home Office website includes some interesting information about "stop and search" powers which can be used to carry out a CRO check: "stop and search powers allow the police to combat street crime and anti- social behaviour, and prevent more serious crimes occurring." It continues: "If you are stopped you'll first be asked where you're going and what you've been doing. The police may then decide to search you but only if they have a good reason, for example, that you fit the profile of a criminal seen in the area, or they think you're acting suspiciously." The web document adds that if the police officers do not find any- thing, the person's details will be recorded for monitoring purposes, and the person will be allowed to go. Most interestingly, the website specifies: "You don't have to give your name, address or date of birth to the police if you're stopped and searched unless you're being reported for an offence. However," it adds, "it's advisable that when asked, you describe your ethnic origin," apparently to help the police monitor disproportionate stopping of ethnic minorities. Perhaps they'll be asking soon for you to state if you're homeless; for the record. This is certainly a story we expect to cover again, so if find yourself getting stopped often, let us know, and if you're searched: get a record of it.