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article imageWhen a snowball fight becomes a 'serious violent crime'

By Chris Dade     Feb 21, 2010 in Crime
The Chief Constable of a police force in the Northwest of England has revealed that during the course of January his officers recorded six snowball fights as "serious violent crime".
Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told a meeting on Friday of his force's governing body, the Greater Manchester Police Authority, that officers, unsure of how to record incidents for the compiling of government crime statistics, were failing to show "common sense" and becoming "too cautious".
But as the Manchester Evening News confirms by recording snowball fights as "serious violent crimes" the officers, who it is believed are deeming a snowball to be a weapon, are placing the incidents in the same category as murder, rape and using a weapon to inflict injury/grievous bodily harm.
The incidents that led to Mr Fahy's admission to the Police Authority resulted in neither injuries nor arrests and the BBC confirms that the incidents have now been re-recorded in a more appropriate manner.
Mr Fahy, whose force is responsible for a city that has been identified in recent years with a high level of knife crime and firearms offenses and recorded 52,934 incidents of serious violent crime in the 12 months up to October 2009, said of the errors by his officers:People do not feel they are trusted to make a common sense decision. Common sense says throwing a snowball is not a violent crime. But the culture at GMP is to play safe so if you record it as violent crime, (the officer thinks) no one will criticise me
One member of the Police Authority, Councillor Susan Williams, observed that "We seem to have gone the way of madness if this is being classed as serious violent crime" and the Authority's Chairman, Paul Murphy, explained:I'm so disappointed that a force the size of Greater Manchester is getting mixed up between kids throwing snowballs and serious violent crime
Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney has spoken of snowball fights as "just kids being silly" but emphasized that "the rules are confusing and officers are told to record what's reported". Nevertheless he has given an assurance that what was originally recorded as a "serious violent crime" can be "downgraded when an officer has visited the scene and established the actual circumstances".
With regard to the misreporting of the snowball fights a spokesman for the U.K. Home Office - the department responsible for matters in such areas of government as immigration, counter-terrorism and the police - is quoted as saying:The government is committed to the integrity of crime statistics - the public and the government expects crime to be tackled and that our performance is measurable. We give clear guidelines to police forces on what constitutes a violent crime and we know following a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary last year that the majority of forces are performing well. We keep our guidance under constant review and continue to work with the Association of Chief Police Officers and other government departments where necessary
It is not only in the U.K. where confusion reigns over the criminal intentions, if there are any, of those engaging in snowball fights.
Earlier this month a 21-year-old woman was charged with assault in Washington D.C., the capital of the U.S., after a police officer was hit in the face with an "ice ball" during a "disorderly" snowball fight in the city.
Around the same time two students at James Madison University in Virginia were charged with a felony when one of the occupied vehicles they had thrown snowballs at turned out to be an unmarked police car.
And in December Digital Journal reported on how an off-duty police officer in Washington D.C. produced his gun when confronting a crowd from which snowballs had been thrown, some of which hit his vehicle.
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