There used to be a character who popped up regularly in comic sketches about the police in the 60s and 70s. She was called WPC Dawn Raid, a cheery pun on one of the most familiar of police tactics – the early morning visit or, as it often known, "the six o'clock knock".
WPC Raid comes to mind again in the wake of the arrests of Rebekah Brooks and five others in the latest development in the Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of phone hacking at News International.
The raids were carried out between five and seven in the morning. So how necessary is such a tactic and why can't arrests of people who are not an immediate danger to the public or an obvious flight risk be left until the sun is in the sky?
Dawn raids are carried out for two main reasons: firstly and most prosaically, this is the likeliest moment to find someone in their home before they have headed off to work or the shops and thus they have no reason not to be at their known address.
But secondly and crucially, the timing of the raid can put the police at a profound psychological advantage.
There is nothing more disorientating than the ring of a bell or the crack of a door-knocker when the body is still halfway between sleep and wakefulness.
The arresting officers are at an immediate advantage over the sleepy, unwashed detainee.
If a search of the property is planned, the sheer unexpected nature of the raid minimises the risks of evidence being hidden. The latest arrests involved a number of different people and, by co-ordinating the raids in the early morning, the police are able to reduce the chances of those held alerting others.
Dawn raids may be a lot more common in Hackney or Moss Side than in Chipping Norton and Hampshire but they are usually carried out for one of those two main reasons wherever they take place.
If police reckon that someone may resist arrest, then the six o'clock knock makes good sense: no one cuts a very heroic figure in their vest and pyjama bottoms.
Last August, in the wake of the summer riots, police in London carried out more than 40 arrests of people who were suspected of planning trouble at the upcoming Notting Hill carnival.
The raids were all carried out at dawn to make sure that no one was on their guard and awaiting that knock. Immigration officers also increasingly use the dawn raid for the same reasons to net those suspected of being in the country illegally, regardless of how terrifying that may be for the children involved in such a process.
After the last round of arrests in Operation Weeting, there were complaints that the police were being heavy-handed, but the practice is fairly standard in any major inquiry, not least in one where the original police investigation was criticised for being too timid and passive.
We have now had more than 40 arrests related to the inquiry; victims of phone hacking who experienced the foot in the door at the hands of some members of the press may see the knock on the door of members of the media as some form of rough justice.
During riots, it is often said that the most effective police officer is the rain. During raids, Dawn gives the police an extra officer. And for that reason, she is likely to be one member of the force that is never made redundant.
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Source : The Guardian