Plain English campaigners target police jargon

Author: By Chris Greenwood, Press Association

Members of the Plain English Campaign said they are considering a one-off
campaign against baffling police jargon.

Founder Chrissie Maher said police have got away with using language to “clean
up” crime for too long, leaving the public confused.

Her comments came after a Scotland Yard detective sparked controversy by
renaming gang rape as “multi-perpetrator rape” in a report.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Yexley said the term was more appropriate after
considering an academic report on the appalling crime.

Similar public complaints arose six years ago when the phrase “group rape” was
used by Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

Mrs Maher said a snapshot street survey found the new terminology sounded more
like a multi-purpose tool than a serious crime.

She said: “The campaign was never created to ‘police’ language, but to raise
awareness that public information must use words that are appropriate for
the intended audience.

“That’s using words that can be read, understood and dealt with first time
around.

“We have worked with other Metropolitan Police departments that fully support
this, so it would be good to see consistency throughout the force.”

The Plain English Campaign has already lambasted police forces for their use
of “ploddledygook”.

Members singled out forces who replaced control rooms with “citizen focus
commands”, rebranded victims of crime as “customers” and drew up complex
“mission statements”.

Job titles such as “protective services”, “citizen focus”, “criminal justice
change” and “director of knowledge architecture” also came under fire.

Promotional material was criticised for stating the obvious such as “tackling
crime in your area”, “local solutions to local problems” and “our priority
is you”.

Mrs Maher added: “If a piece of jargon is used to get rid of ’emotive’ aspects
in an internal report, you can be sure that when it escapes to a wider
audience, it’s likely to create a whole lot of confusion and emotion.

“On the Home Office website, the term ‘interpersonal violence’ is used and
sounds to me like there’s some willing participation involved, like
‘interpersonal skills’ – all confusing management-speak.”

Angie Conroy, of Rape Crisis, said: “There is no doubt that it is misleading
when jargon is used to take away the true meaning of a serious crime.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “There is no desire to confuse or
mislead the public on this issue.

“The decision to use the phrase ‘multi-perpetrator rape’ in this report was
based on academic research which raised concerns about the perceptions of
the word ‘gang’.

“Although, as the report described, there are instances of these offences
being carried out by criminal gangs, sometimes as a means of initiation,
that is by no means always the case.

“Sometimes the perpetrators are a group of two or more people with no links to
established criminal gangs and it was deemed important to make a distinction.

“The Metropolitan Police is conscious of the widespread public awareness of
the term ‘gang rape’, but it was felt that, in this instance and for the
intended audience of the report, ‘multi-perpetrator rape’ was a more
accurate and unambiguous term for the offences in question.”

* Nominations for the annual Plain English Golden Bull awards, which mark
notably poor use of English, can be sent to infoplainenglish.co.uk.

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