Police target dangerous suspects before they can offend
Lucy Bannerman – The Times November 27, 2006
Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt.
The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence. Pilot projects to identify the highest-risk future offenders have been operating in five London boroughs for the past two months.
The Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the serial rapist Richard Baker have been used as examples of the type of man police will identify.
However, the database will increase concerns at the growth of official surveillance and anxieties that innocent men are being singled out for offences they have no intention of committing.
Experts from the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit are creating psychological profiles of likely offenders to predict patterns of criminal behaviour. Statements from former partners, information from mental health workers and details of past complaints are being combined to identify the men considered most likely to commit serious violent crimes.
The list will draw comparisons with the Hollywood film Minority Report, in which suspects are locked up before they can commit a predicted crime.
Laura Richards, a senior criminal psychologist with the Homicide Prevention Unit, told The Times: “My vision is that we know across London who the top 100 people are. We need to know who we are targeting.
“It is trying to pick up Ian Huntley before he goes out and commits that murder. Then we have the opportunity to stop something turning into a lethal event.”
The team is concentrating on reducing the risk of those with a history of domestic violence turning into murderers. About a quarter of murders are related to domestic violence.
“There are some pretty dangerous people out there, so you need these risk models to wheedle them out, separate the wheat from the chaff,” she said. “If you add up all the information, it tells us which people are risky.”
Ms Richards said that once an individual had been identified, police would decide whether to make moves towards an arrest, or to alert the relevant social services who could steer those targeted into “management programmes.”
The project will be closely watched by the Home Office. However, civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers will be concerned at the plans to intervene in the lives of men before they actually commit a crime.
Details of the database emerged after Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said that Britain had “sleepwalked” into a surveillance society.
Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said yesterday: “It is quite right that the police should keep intelligence on suspected criminals, but it is obscene to suggest there should be a ‘crime idol’ list of those who might commit an offence.
“The police are systematically moving the boundaries as to where they can exercise their powers. The Minority Report syndrome is pushing the boundary of criminal intervention further into the general community.”
There was also concern that the database would be ineffective if the authorities continued to fail to act on the information already available to them. Ray Wyre, a sexual crimes consultant, was supportive of the database but said that it would only work if police acted on the information.
“Of course you have to know your enemy, but it is what you do with the data that matters,” he said
Last updated 29/11/2006