19 March 2019

Everybody Gets Killed in Oxford

Lately, I've been watching British crime dramas. I started watching Inspector Lewis. Then I watched Endeavor. Lately, I've been watching the series that gave birth to both of these spin-offs: Inspector Morse. In the watching, I've started to develop strange habits of speech and writing which leave 'Muricans bewildered at times. However, more importantly I have learned several interesting and potentially important things.

1) Most importantly, never, ever, ever, not on a bet, neither for money nor fortune, ever go to Oxford. As best I can extrapolate from the data provided by these shows, Oxford has a murder rate that would shock residents of Chicago. Professors kill professors, students kill students, professors kill students, students kill professors, and on the odd occasion a professor or student kills someone from the town because the guy was bringing down the local cricket side. It's a bloodbath. And the school must do an amazing job of covering it up, because every time the people involved act like they're shocked that a thing like this would ever happen in their academic community. So, if you go there you will get kilt and no one will ever find out about it.

2)  Caution: Of course, the British don't talk about "Miranda warnings." However, they have developed their own version which is somewhat like looking through a window to see how it could have turned out in these United States. The British call it "questioning under caution" and the statement given is: "You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." They also seem to have to inform the person they can have an attorney during questioning, but there doesn't seem to be a set format for that.

3) At the Station / taping: In the U.S. there is a strong preference under the case law to not bring a person to the police station because it is coercive. The British take the opposite approach. Questioning must take place at the station outside of extraordinary circumstances and the officer must put a tape in the recording machine which is present and start it all in the presence of the suspect. While they may have switched over to digital by now, I'd bet good money that institutional inertia probably made British police departments the last major customer for cassette tape manufacturers in the world.

4) Stopping the Interview: In the US, the interview stops with the magic words "I want an attorney" or if the attorney is already present with the attorney shutting down the questioning. Apparently, the presence of a lawyer doesn't give the attorney the right to shut down the interrogation - instead only giving him the power to advise. At least two shows I watched had the suspects sitting in the chair with their attorney at the table being recorded as the officer asked question father question while the hardened criminal types being questioned say time after time after time "no comment."

5) And finally (at least for today), ranks. In the U.S. while you might see wildly varying insignia and uniforms (every police and sheriff's department wants to be unique), but the ranks are almost always modeled on the military: officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, etc. The British have gone their own way.  They have constables, sergeants, inspectors, chief inspectors, superintendent, chief superintendent, assistant chief constable, and chief constable. Yes, before anyone points it out, I know there are variants depending on locality (there always are). Also, at least according to the Inspector Morse series, if you are a Detective Inspector you get assigned a sergeant whose main job appears to be relegation to peonage (or perhaps drudgery since debt does not seem to be involved or, as Webster is happy to tell me the British say "being a dogsbody"). Sergeant Lewis spends most of the series getting yelled at and abused by DI Morse and mainly just rolls his eyes and keeps doing what he's doing. Going back to the ranks - I actually wish we had adopted something more like the British system. I know we've professionalized police forces et al., but it would be nice to have more separating the guys out there patrolling our streets from the trappings of militarism.

Anyway, these are the biggest differences I've noticed. And since we all know that television shows are extremely accurate in their portrayal of policing I'm sure they're 100% correct. Just remember, DON'T EVER GO TO OXFORD.

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