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April 08, 2009



I'm confused - 40 deaths from 1,400,000 arrests is nearer 3 in 100,000, isn't it?

Luis Enrique

I don't understand this Marxism business (evidence of lame-brainedness).

"what any Marxist has known all along - the police, politicians and much of the media are all on the same side. Which is not the side of liberty or justice.... - the state is not your friend.

Sounds like overheated nonsense to my lame ears. Sometimes I'd expect these three to be on the same side, and rightly so. Say, on the side of law and order. Other times these three are clearly opposed. How often do you think the police like what's written about them in newspapers? How much love is lost between politicians and the media? Ah, you're going to tell me that even though the individuals involved see themselves as opposed and for all the world appear to be at loggerheads, underneath they're really on the same side. You see, too clever for me.

Of course their are veins of mutual self-interest etc. that run through the relationships between the press, politicians and the police, but what's Marxist about saying that? I think their are similar relationships all over the place, and I'm not a Marxist (too dim).

How would things look in a Marxist world? What would the relationships between the press, the police and politicians look like in a Marxist society? Would the state be my friend then?

And the media does act as a constraint - just not a very effective one. Sometimes the media makes a fuss, the fuss results in an inquiry, and the inquiry results in a (small) change. Just the other day you were linking to a paper about newspapers and democracy. I'd bet that all else held equal, the press acts as a constraint on police conduct. Why do you think worse governments than ours shut down newspapers?

Certain newspapers are biased toward the police and against protesters, and most journalists lack the wit and/or opportunity to challenge the police version of events until somebody makes it "a story" and then the pack follows. Certain people are biased toward the police and against protesters, never mind the press. There's bias and witlessness and self-interest and back-covering etc. all over the damned place. I don't see how you build a grand Marxist class conspiracy out of it.

Luis Enrique

"the police, politicians and much of the media are all on the same side"

come to think of it, are you sure that's not a quote from Milton "Lenin" Friedman?


What's all this Marxist bollocks you are throwing in recently Chris? Not sure you need Marx to adequately analyse the behaviour of the boys in blue.


"Let’s run some figures. Since 2000 there have been 361 deaths in police custody, an average of 40 a year - though in fairness the number seems to be falling. During this time there have been an average of just under 1.4 million arrests each year (big pdf).
Dividing one into the other gives us a death rate of just under 3 per 1000. This compares to a death rate in 2007 for men aged 20-24 of 0.65, and for men aged 30-34 of 1.02 (big pdf)."

You are comparing two wholly different statistics here. In the case of deaths in police custody you are calculating deaths per arrest. In the case of the general public's mortality rates you are providing deaths per person per annum. They don't even have the same units.

To get something more meaningful we would use the number of incarcerated persons at any given time in the UK rather than the number of arrests. The incarceration rate in the UK is ~145 per 100000 meaning that at any one time there are approximately 145 * 60 million / 100000 = 90000 incarcerated persons in the UK. If there have been 361 deaths in police custody over a period of 8 years, then the number of deaths per incarcerated person per annum is calculated by 361 deaths / (8 yrs * 90000 people) = 0.0005 deaths per person per annum. Scaling up to deaths per million per annum (statistic given in the pdf linked in blog post) we get 500 deaths per annum per million. The number for males 15-24 is 542 and for males 25-34 is 894.

Please note that in addition to containing a conceptual error, the original figures contained a severe arithmetic error (as pointed out by anonymous at 2:30 pm).

So, does being in police custody make you safer (as these numbers seem to suggest)? Probably not. Perhaps healthier people commit crimes more often. Perhaps the police release very sick individuals to the hospitals and these deaths are not counted as having occurred in police custody. And even if being in police custody DOES protect you against death, how much of this effect is due to reduction of traffic accidents (you can't drive in prison), how much due to reduced availability of certain drugs etc?

Police brutality is like a much smaller effect than any of these major causes of death.


Last sentence should contain the word "likely", not "like"

Jim Jay

Ian Tomlinson was not under arrest nor had he committed a crime. He was assaulted by the police for walking home on a route that brought him into contact with them.

The context that is important is not deaths in custody but the undirected, casual violence against protesters on the day.

Bob B

One of the outstanding and sickening cases of a death in police custody in the recent past as reported by the BBC:

"A former paratrooper who died in police custody with his hands cuffed and his trousers around his knees was unlawfully killed, a jury has ruled.

"Christopher Alder, 37, was arrested on 1 April 1998, and died on the floor of Queens Gardens police station in Hull, East Yorkshire, without regaining consciousness."
24 August 2000

"Following Mr Alder's death, five police officers - Sergeant John Dunne and Constables Martin Barr, Neil Blakely, Nigel Dawson and Mark Ellerington - were suspended from duty and charged with manslaughter and misconduct in a public office.

"Another man, Jason Paul, was charged with grievous bodily harm after voluntarily contacting the police as a witness to events outside the hotel. Charges against Mr Paul were later dropped and in January 2006 he was awarded £30,500 damages against Humberside Police. . .

"The five Humberside officers went on trial at Teesside Crown Court in April 2002, but two months into the case the judge ordered the jury to acquit the officers of all the charges.

"Mr Justice Roderick Evans said there was conflicting medical evidence about why Mr Alder became unconscious and what had killed him.

"An independent hearing subsequently cleared all of the officers of neglect of duty allegations. And in December 2004 it emerged that four of the five officers had been allowed to retire."
26 March 2006


Matt, Anon - many thanks for pointing out my appalling figures, which I've recalculated.
Matt - your figures on the incarceration rate refer mainly to the prison population, not police custody.
Many more people die in prison than in police custody - which is a different story:


Chris, your new figures are no more meaningful than the last ones.

"If we assume each arrested person spends 24 hours in custody"

If we assumed that the the incarceration rate of the UK would be

1.4 million / (60 million * 365) = 6.4 per 100000

In actuality it's 20 times higher than that. The incarceration rate for UK is given as between 130 and 140 depending on the source you check.

You are applying deaths among those in police custody to a population that is FAR too small.

I have already done the actual calculation for you in my earlier comment. It does not assume anything about the average length of captivity; instead it uses the MEASURED rate of incarceration to get the proper divisor (incarcerated population at any one time).


Indeed, we can easily get the average (mean) length of incarceration under any given arrest from the data:

length of stay in years = incarceration rate * population / number of arrests per year

and get that the average length of stay after any given arrest is (140 / 100000) * 60 million / (1.4 million per annum) = 0.06 years or 21.9 days


EDIT: chris, I did not see your earlier comment. Please ignore my last two comments. Thank you for the correction


as Shuggy says, the only people shocked by that video - and this means you Laurie - are those who have spent their lives having tea with mother

And I thought I was misanthropic. Since when was being shocked by someone's death something to take the piss out of? It's the treatment of humanity as an abstract concept that leads to this kind of shit.


Not sure what Marxism has to say about this, but there's a wealth of analysis from the non-Marxist, libertarian left on this.

The police were instituted by the political class to enforce their aggression against the poor, to ensure they became the working class.
They carry out similar functions today. Just look at the laws being instituted on behalf of the music and film industry to enable the police to act against copying of media.

It is no surprise that this is how the police act - a monopoly of force will always be prone to abuse.


"The police were instituted by the political class to enforce their aggression against the poor, to ensure they became the working class."

Sorry, but that's just nonsense. The really interesting thing about the police (before as well as after Peel) is just how autonomous they are with respect to both capital and the state - neither of which cared very much about the G20 demo, let alone the free movement of pedestrians in the region of the demo. They don't actually embody the state's monopoly of force, either (that's the Army). Constitutionally speaking, the police are weird.

Bob B

In simple terms, the Police are out of control:

"Officer cleared after killing a man carrying a table leg"

"Three Sussex officers avoid prosecution over fatal operation and subsequent cover-up which was damned by two separate inquiries

"In a small Sussex seaside town, at 20 past four in the morning, James Ashley was sleeping naked in his bed. Seconds later, he was on the floor, shot dead at a range of 18ins, by a police officer using a powerful Heckler & Koch carbine."

Luis Enrique


I think he just meant nobody should be shocked to see the police shoving over, and using batons on, an innocent bystander at a protest. Something we've seen hundred times before.

Bob B

Perhaps the challenging question to ask is: What really motivates the kind of people who join the police force nowadays given the press that the police get?


"What really motivates the kind of people who join the police force nowadays given the press that the police get?"


john b

There are three types of people in the police:
1) bastards who enjoy exercising power
2) people who aren't very skilled or competent, and hence are willing to take a shitty job in exchange for decent-ish pay, job security and a pension
3) community-spirited types who believe they can genuinely make a difference.

What's less clear is the % split between the three types...

Bob B

I became involved as a bystander in a vicious fight that broke out in a local commuter train. Waiting to give evidence as a witness at a local magistrates court in a subsequent trial, I struck up a conversation about police-public relations with a member of the Transport Police who was also waiting - and who quickly reminded me that we mustn't discuss the particular case.

One of the especially memorable things he said was that the public tends to forget that the police spend much of their time dealing with the nastiest members of society.

He worked out of the HQ of the Transport Police near to Victoria Station in London. So concerned was he to protect his family from potential pressures generated by his work that he commuted to work from the family home kept well away from London in Milton Keynes.


john b on who would be a copper: "3) community-spirited types who believe they can genuinely make a difference."

Twenty odd years ago, I knew two lefty liberal types who had joined two different constabularies (Met and Nottinghamshire) with the ambition to make a difference. Both failed their probationary period and felt that it was down to their low arrest rate. I reckon that their careers would have been even shorter today.


"And I thought I was misanthropic."

You thought correctly...

"Since when was being shocked by someone's death something to take the piss out of?"

Who's taking the piss? Not me - not Chris, as far as I can see. This video: if anyone finds this behaviour by the police extraordinary, then they have, you have, lived a very sheltered life and that is that.

Tom Addison

A mate of mine is trying to join the police, and his motivation is probably number 2, it's either work in the police or work in a supermarket on minimum wage. For people who don't mind a bleep test, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

I think you can add another number to the list though, people who join the police because they have an ego the size of a garage.

"Well if you must know, I'm a policeman..." [pauses for impressed looks of idolisation]

Saying that, I looked at joining the police about 6 months back, and my motivation was good pension (which you get after 30 years if I'm not mistaken), variety in your work and, yes, a decent chat-up line.


It's just gets me how you can have a situation recorded on video with obvious implications of police brutality and the response is to cover it up by saying that the officer was doing his job and not out of line. When a suspect is not combative and is surrendering, is it necessary to kick him in the head or shove him into a wall causing him to go into a comma....lets think long and hard on those instances.

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And a lot of it reflects a switch from bank deposits to securities; foreigners “other investments” in the UK, http://www.watchgy.com/ mostly bank deposits, fell by £143.2bn in Q1. And of course there’s no guarantee such buying will continue.


Can anyone tell me does a police officer still receive his full pension after he has committed a crime and spent several years in jail for it?

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