Ask a simple question, get a simple answer. Right? Wrong.
Over the past month Manchester Confidential has been playing 'Where's Wally?' with Police on the streets of Manchester city centre at weekend evenings. There are sporadic sightings here and there but we wanted to know just exactly how many officers were on duty - in other words the physical numbers of the police visible to the public and ready for action. This visible presence would reassure the public and stop drunken violence occurring.
So Confidential asked a simple question. 'How many Police were on the streets of Manchester city centre on Friday 23 March 2007 after 11pm?' We also asked a subsidiary question about what the city centre area actually constituted? If the boundaries of this district were drawn widely into inner suburb areas then that would make the policing even thinner.
The two questions turned into a merry-go-round of replies. First off we thought the City Council might know:
'Information on staffing levels should be directed to Greater Manchester Police, who will also have details on crime levels within the city centre. The levels of policing in Manchester city centre are part of Greater Manchester Police Authority's remit. As part of the partnership that exists between the City Council, bars and others, the level of policing is often under review and the numbers change as circumstances and events take place.'
But that wasn't the question we asked.
The GMP Information Access Team got straight to the point. No messin'. Their reply was, 'We are not obliged to supply the information that you have requested. The exemption applicable to the information is Section 31 Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Law Enforcement - sub section (a) the prevention or detection of crime.'
Lovely use of English: we pressed for clarification. So the GMP Public Relations Department expanded, sort of, with the raw truth. They said: 'GMP can't give any figures, not even through the Freedom of Information Act, because it may make criminals target the area if such criminals felt the figures were low.'
In other words we're not going to tell you so bugger off.
Surely if the Police were confident that they have sufficient officers patrolling Manchester city centre at peak periods, they would say how many. And we're sure that any hardened criminals who happen to be Manchester Confidential readers wouldn't need us to tell them how many officers are on city centre streets. They probably have their own intelligence.
In any case most of the observable crime seems caused by drink not by organised crime syndicates. All we want is a very visible presence. Not to say that there should be a cop on every corner. Not every corner needs it but if we knew exactly how many Police are around to protect us at peak weekend times, we'd be able to work out which corners do need it.
If our Police were confident in their work they would assertively and boldly answer: 'On Friday 23 March 2007 there were X number of Police employed to actively patrol Manchester city centre. By Manchester city centre we are referring to all areas within the boundaries of X, Y and Z.'
As it stands we don't know how well we are policed. The Police feel that releasing the data would compromise the public's safety. But the fact that they can't supply the public with the figures compromises the public's faith in the Police.
This isn't to say that Confidential feels the city centre is a dangerous place. We love it. We won't be doing any silly campaigns about it being 'lawless', we won't be showing the same picture of the same poor drunken girl slumped in a doorway over and over again.
The city centre is our playground, we use it relentlessly, we know what we're talking about, but as tax payers, as citizens, as the constitutional bosses of those civil servants, the Police, we feel we have the right to know exactly how many Bobbies are on the beat at flashpoint times. After all we're not asking about sensitive terrorist investigations.
It's scandalous that the Freedom of Information Act can be used to deny this information. It's shocking that the Police hide behind it. It shows how far this Government has taken us down an authoritarian road, in which they, the Police and others can dictate what we should know and when. They're treating us like children. It's frightening.
What do you think? Have your say.
49 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.
Depends on the arse.Read more
There are no excuses for arse-kissing.Read more
It's a good book. So why not, eh? Thank you for your troll-like comments, though. What a wonderful…Read more
I was born on George Leigh st. I consider myself a true Mancunian and your comments about certain…Read more