POLICE CONSTABLES ON THEIR DUTIES,*
THE LATE RIGHT HON. LORD BRAMPTON,
One of Her late Majesty's Judges from 1876 to 1898.
IN the few words I purpose addressing to you, it is not my intention to define every duty of a Police Constable, but rather to point out some matters which all who desire to become good officers ought constantly to bear in mind, for by strict attention to them every man may assuredly raise himself to a high position in the Force, and by neglect of them he is equally sure always to occupy a low one.
First of all, let me impress upon you the necessity of absolute obedience to all who are placed in authority over you, and rigid observance of every regulation made for your general conduct. Such obedience and observance I regard as essential to the existence of a Police Force. Obey every order given to you by your superior officer without for a moment questioning the propriety of it. You are not responsible for the order but for obedience. In yielding obedience let the humblest
member of the Force feel that by good conduct and cheerful submission he may himself rise to be placed in authority to give those orders he is now called on to obey. As to the Regulations, a single moment's reflection will teach you that when so many men of different classes and habits are enrolled in one service, some rules applicable to all are necessary for the purpose of ensuring uniformity in discipline, action, conduct, and appearance. Therefore it is that there are Regulations exacting sobriety, punctuality, cleanliness, and many other matters to which I need not refer.
The slightest disobedience in one begets a bad example to others, and if this bad example is followed by a few, it is calculated to disorganise and bring discredit upon the whole body.
Let me now say something to each of you as to the mode in which your obligations to the public ought to be performed. Depend upon it, to become a good and efficient officer, you must, when on duty, allow nothing but your duty to occupy your thoughts. You must studiously avoid all gossiping. You must not lounge about as though your sole object was to amuse yourself and kill the hours during which the public has a right to your best services, and during which constant vigilance and attention to what is passing around you is expected from you. It was this gossiping, lounging habit which sometimes gave rise to the observation that a policeman was never to be found when he is most wanted. Moreover, a man who gives way to such a habit never observes with so much accuracy that which occurs before his eyes, as he who makes it his endeavour to fix his attention upon all that is passing about him. This is a habit not difficult to acquire if you are in earnest, and when once acquired you will find the cultivation of it a source of pleasure, and the hours of duty will be much less irksome. I may add, too, that the man who takes no pains to acquire this habit, for want of attention, generally makes a very bad and inaccurate witness.
I wish you to feel the importance of a steady constant endeavour by your vigilance to prevent crime as much as
possible, and not by your negligence tempt persons to commit it; as you do if you fail in attention to your duty. To my mind the Constable who keeps his beat free from crime deserves much more credit than the man who only counts up the number of convictions he has obtained for offences committed within it. It is true the latter makes more show than the former, but the former is the better officer. The great object of the law is to prevent crime; and when many crimes are committed in any particular district one is apt to suspect that there has been something defective in the amount of vigilance exercised over it.
Whatever duty you may be called on to perform keep a curb on your temper. An angry man is as unfit for duty as a drunken one, and is incapable of calmly exercising that discretion which a constable is so often called on to exercise. Be civil and listen respectfully to everybody who addresses you; and if occasionally you are remonstrated with for the course you are taking, do not hastily jump to the conclusion, as some constables do, that the person who so remonstrates wishes to obstruct you in the execution of your duty.
Beware of being over-zealous or meddlesome. These are dangerous faults. Let your anxiety be to do your duty, but no more. A meddlesome constable who interferes unnecessarily upon every trifling occasion stirs up ill-feeling against the force, and does
more harm than good. An over-zealous man, who is always thinking of himself, and desiring to call attention to his own activity, is very likely to fall into a habit of exaggeration, which is a fatal fault, as I shall presently show you.
Much power is vested in a police constable, and many opportunities are given him to be hard and oppressive, especially to those in his custody. Pray avoid harshness and oppression ; be firm but not brutal, make only discreet use of your powers. If one person wishes to give another into your custody for felony you are not absolutely bound to arrest. You ought to exercise your discretion, having regard to the nature of the crime, the surrounding circumstances, and the condition and character of the accuser and the accused.
Be very careful to distinguish between cases of illness and drunkenness. Many very serious errors have been committed for want of care in this respect.
Much discussion has on various occasions arisen touching the conduct of the police in listening to, and repeating statements of, accused persons. I will try, therefore, to point out what I think is the proper course for a constable to take with regard to such statements.
When a crime has been committed, and you are engaged in endeavouring to discover the author of it, there is no objection to your making inquiries of, or putting questions to, any person from whom you think you can obtain useful information. It is your duty to discover the criminal if you can, and to do this you must make such inquiries, and if in the course of them you should chance to interrogate and to receive answers from a man who turns out to be the criminal himself, and who inculpates himself by these answers, they are nevertheless admissible in evidence, and may be used against him.
When, however, a Constable has a warrant to arrest, or is about to arrest a person on his own authority, or has a person in custody for a crime, it is wrong to question such person touching the crime of which he is accused. Neither judge, magistrate nor juryman, can interrogate an accused person—unless he tenders himself as a witness, or require him to answer questions tending to incriminate himself. Much less, then, ought a Constable to do so, whose duty as regards that person is simply to arrest and detain him in safe custody. On arresting a man a Constable ought simply to read his warrant, or tell the accused the nature of the charge upon which he is arrested, leaving it to the person so arrested to say anything or nothing as he pleases. For a Constable to press any accused person to say anything with reference to the crime of which he is accused is very wrong. It is well also that it should be generally known that if a statement made by an accused person is made under or in consequence of any promise or threat, even though it amounts to an absolute confession, it cannot be used against the person making it. There is, however, no objection to a Constable listening to any mere voluntary statement which a prisoner desires to make, and repeating such statement in evidence; nor is there any objection to his repeating in evidence any conversation he may have heard between the prisoner and any other person. But he ought not by anything he says or does, to invite or encourage an accused person to make any statement, without first cautioning him that he is not bound to say anything tending to criminate himself, and that anything he says may be used against him. Perhaps the best maxim for a Constable to bear in mind with respect to an accused person is, "Keep your eyes and your ears open, and your mouth shut." By silent watchfulness you will hear all you ought to hear. Never act unfairly to a prisoner by
coaxing him by word or conduct to divulge anything. If you do, you will assuredly be severely handled at the trial and it is not unlikely your evidence will be disbelieved.
In detailing any conversation with an accused person, be sure to state the whole conversation from the commencement to the end in the very words used; and in narrating facts, state every fact whether you think it material or not, for you are not the judge of its materiality. Tell, in short, everything; as well that which is in favour of an accused, as that which is against him, for your desire and anxiety must be to be fair, and assist the innocent, and not convict any man by unfair means, such as by suppressing something which may tell in his favour, even though you feel certain of his guilt. Unfairness is sure to bring discredit upon those who are guilty of it. If an accused in a conversation with you states any circumstances which you have the means of inquiring into, you ought, whether those circumstances are in his favour or against him, to make such inquiry, and the witnesses who can prove or disprove the truth of the statement ought to be taken before the magistrate when the accused is examined; and if an accused person desires to call witnesses, the Police should assist him to the best of their power.
I cannot too strongly recommend every Constable, however good he may fancy his memory to be, to write down word for word every syllable of every conversation in which an accused has taken part, and of every statement made to him by an accused person, and to have that written memorandum with him at the trial.
The last but most important duty I would enjoin upon you is, on every occasion "SPEAK THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE
TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH." Let no consideration, no anxiety to appear of importance in a case, no desire to procure a conviction or an acquittal, no temptation of any sort, induce you ever to swerve one hair's-breadth from the truth—the bare, plain, simple truth. Never exaggerate, or in repeating a conversation or statement add a tone or colour to it. Exaggeration is often even more dangerous than direct falsehood, for it is an addition of a false colour to truth; it is something more than the truth, and it is most dangerous, because it is difficult to detect and separate that which is exaggeration from that which is strictly true; and a man who exaggerates is very apt to be led on to say that which he knows to be false. On the other hand, suppress no part of a conversation or statement, nor any tone or action which accompanies it, for everything you suppress is short of the whole truth. Remember always what reliance is of necessity placed in courts of justice upon the testimony of Policemen, and bear constantly in mind that in many cases the fate of an accused man, which means his life or his liberty, depends upon that testimony, and seriously reflect how fearful a thing it is for a man to be convicted and put to death, or condemned to penal servitude or imprisonment, upon false testimony. Remember, also, when you are giving evidence, that you are not the person appointed to determine the guilt or the innocence of a person on his trial, nor have you any right to express an opinion upon the subject. Your duty is a very simple and easy one, namely, to tell the court all you know. The responsibility of the verdict, whether it be guilty or not guilty, rests entirely with the jury or the magistrate (if the case is tried in a police-court), and they have a right to expect from you everything within your knowledge to enable them to form a just conclusion. It is right I should tell you that wilfully to tell a falsehood, or pervert the truth in a court of justice is PERJURY; and you all know perjury is a crime punishable with seven years' penal servitude, and your own common sense will tell you that when perjury is committed by an officer of justice he deserves and ought to receive a very severe sentence. Resolve, then, on every occasion to tell the plain, unbiassed, unvarnished truth in all things, even though it may for a moment expose you to censure or mortification, or defeat the object or expectations of those by whom you are called as a witness. Depend upon it, such censure or mortification will be as nothing compared with the character you will earn for yourself as a truthful, reliable man, whose word can always be implicitly depended upon, and the very mortification you endure will be a useful warning to you to avoid in the future the error you have candidly confessed.
I could write a great deal more on the subjects I have touched, but then my address to you would be too long for this useful work which is intended for your guide, and wherein you will find your duties upon various occasions more fully defined. I have only endeavoured in a few friendly sentences to point out to you a line of conduct the steady adoption of which will enable every man in the Police Service to feel that he is on the high-road to all that he can desire, having regard to the important and very responsible calling he has selected for himself.
Lord Brampton in a later edition of the Police Code added the following :—
THE GRANTING OF BAIL BY POLICE.
BY way of addition to what I have already written I desire to say a word or two upon the subject of bail. This may at first sight appear to have but little connection with the duty of a Policeman. It is not, however, quite so, for it often happens that a Police Inspector or Sergeant has the duty cast upon him to decide whether for a few hours a person arrested and in his custody, charged with an offence punishable by law, shall be kept in custody or released on his recognizance, until in due course of law he is required to appear before a magistrate to answer the charge. Now it is a serious thing to imprison without the order of a magistrate and before trial. To everybody this inconvenience and annoyance is great — to a person of character it may cause him to be an object of suspicion for many a long day, to his great injury.
In coming to a decision many circumstances have to be considered ; among them the general character of the accused, and whether he has a known and fixed place of abode ; for a man of character living in a fixed home would be very unlikely to abscond and forfeit his recognizance. On the other hand, a man arrested whilst committing a serious crime, e.g., a burglary, or a violent breach of the peace, could hardly be left without restraint. So if the crime imputed was in itself one inviting long or serious punishment, e.g., murder, rape, etc., it is unlikely that any Police Officer would under ordinary circumstances take upon himself the responsibility of releasing a man on bail ; for few persons could be trusted not to endeavour to evade by flight charges which would (if proved) involve such serious consequences.
I do not feel it necessary to multiply such instances. Assuming it to be thought necessary to detain a person in custody, it should always be remembered that at present he ought not to be treated as a convicted person, and he should be treated with every consideration due to a person so situated, having regard to the charges made against him ; and as soon as possible on the following day he should be taken before a magistrate and charged before him, and henceforth he will be subject to the orders as to bail, etc., of such magistrate ; and the Police have only to obey the magistrate's judicial decision. They will then do so, not under any original authority of the constable to arrest, but as an officer obeying the orders of a court. I abstain from interfering with any magisterial duties.
What I have written must be read with article " BAIL "
in the POLICE CODE.
* Police Code Copyright. This address, written for " The Police Code," cannot be circulated independently of this book or copied in the Orders of any Force.
Contents ~ Title, Preface, etc. ~ Police Code ~ Appendices