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Policing in the U.K. – Burglaries and Bain-Maries

Monday, March 11, 2024

Policing in the U.K. – Burglaries and Bain-Maries

We have written before about police “operations” termed “weapons sweeps” in the United Kingdom, in which law enforcement resources are used to scour public spaces to ferret out would-be implements of “knife-enabled crime.” Often displayed among the recovered “weapons taken off the streets” are what appear to be oddments scavenged from metal recycling bins and similar cast-off junk – pliers, a file, old kitchen flatware, and even a bicycle wheel.

A report on one such operation (Derbyshire Constabulary, Engagement and sweeps conducted during national knife crime week of action, Nov. 19, 2022) explains, “[t]his is all about being proactive and ensuring anything potentially dangerous doesn’t get into the wrong hands in the first place… Anything we find, whether it’s a weapon or whether it’s something seemingly innocuous which has the potential to be dangerous, we will take away anyway so nobody else gets hold of it.” Officers “also look out for any disused waste, such as cans, which might highlight antisocial behaviour to us and we can then work with partner agencies to clear this out and help keep the park a safe and nice place to visit.”

Being proactive and keeping public areas tidy are laudable, to be sure, but it is somewhat startling to read that while officers spend working hours combing the undergrowth for signs of antisocial behavior, police have failed to solve a single burglary in almost half of neighborhoods in England and Wales. “An analysis of police data from 30,100 neighbourhoods found that in 48.2 per cent, no break-ins had been solved in the past three years. The data includes the time since England and Wales’s 43 chief constables pledged in October 2022 that their officers would visit the scene of every burglary.” The percentage of burglaries that resulted in criminal charges has dropped from 4.6 in 2022 to 3.9 in 2023. The worst hit of these neighborhoods is Outer Rothwell in West Yorkshire, where reportedly all of the burglaries in 2021-23 remain unsolved.

Dame Vera Baird KC, a former Victims’ Commissioner (an appointed government position dedicated to promoting the interests of victims and witnesses), commented that “burgling somebody’s home is a free hit. The criminal can walk away with the proceeds and never look back… Why are there no arrests, no prosecutions and no deterrence in almost half of all these cases?”

What makes these crimes all the more distressing for householders is that break-ins in the U.K. tend to be “hot burglaries,” where a resident is home when the crime is committed. A 2023 burglary report on England and Wales using Freedom of Information Act requests to the Home Office determined that the most common time for burglars to strike was between 6 pm and midnight.

Dr. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center points out that the “United Kingdom not only has twice the burglary rate of the United States, but 59% of break-ins there are hot burglaries. By contrast, the U.S. has a hot burglary rate of 13%.” Further, “surveys of convicted burglars in the two countries indicate that American criminals spend about twice as much time casing a home and making sure no one is home. American burglars frequently comment that they avoid late-night break-ins because ‘that’s the way to get shot.’ These are concerns that British burglars don’t share, given the UK’s strict gun laws.”

These are, in fact, concerns that British criminals as a class don’t have to lose sleep over, knowing that the law-abiding are generally prohibited from possessing any sort of “offensive weapon” for defensive use (“items that are made for the purpose of causing injury and have no other practical purpose,” but including, also, items adapted or altered for the purpose of causing injury and those that are not specifically made or adapted to cause injury but are carried for that purpose, like “a hammer, cricket ball, baseball bat, scissors, razor, a stone, pick axe handle etc.”) An official police resource called “Ask the Police” is clear: “[i]t is an offence for any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse has with them in any public place, any offensive weapon. It is also an offence to possess (including in private) any offensive weapon as outlined in category 1, i.e. those that are made for the purpose of causing injury” (emphasis added).

In response to the question, Are there any legal self-defense products I can buy?, the same website states that the “only fully legal self-defence product at the moment is a rape alarm … You must not get a product that is made or adapted to cause a person injury. Possession of such a product in public (and in private in specific circumstances) is against the law” (emphasis in the original).

The British, of course, are at liberty to decide on what is acceptable behavior in their own society. However, the prohibition on possessing so much as a stone to defend oneself to ensure that “anything potentially dangerous doesn’t get into the wrong hands” comes with a significant social cost for the law-abiding. In 2019, Londoners attempting to subdue a convicted terrorist on a murderous rampage had to scramble for anything – anything – that might serve as a weapon. “I was thinking of using the lid of a bain-marie as a shield and maybe a serving spoon or something,” testified one brave bystander on arming himself, and who instead “took a narwhal tusk from a bracket and used it to keep [the terrorist] at a distance as other attendees fought the terrorist using makeshift weapons including a pike and fire extinguisher.”

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.