Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Past passive

What is this curious tense that the police use when
talking about criminal or suspected criminal activity?
Preliminary research suggests that it’s the past passive.
They will say, for instance, ‘The suspect has driven off at
high speed’ rather than ‘The suspect drove off at high
speed.’ There are more examples in today’s paper, eg,
from Western Australia, ‘He has attempted to sit on its
back and the croc has taken offence to that.’ I know of
no other sphere in which language is used this way. It
lends what the police say a stilted, formal quality—
which may indeed be why they use it. It puts just a little
distance between them and the event; makes the
description just that little bit less absolute. I think. I
dunno, really. The blog has been written in a state of
some mystification.


stephen said...

Thank goodness I'm not the only one who's noticed this inappropriate use of the perfect aspect. I swear it's only started happening in the last year or so.

Anonymous said...

All very interesting but there's a more significant issue around language used by the police.

When commenting to the media about an event, police are careful not to give their view on what has happened. If pushed they rightly say that is for the Courts or a corononer or similar to decide.

However, where there is the possibility of police error, or in-appropriate behaivour, then everythings changes.

Right from the beginning they start to put a heavy "spin" on events and suggest what has happened, and so start to shape public perception. Then the articulate advocate for the Police Assn weighs in with his view which of course supports the police.

Keep this in mind when watching/reading/listening to media reports you'll see this is an overwhelming pattern. Blatant is not the word.

Rather than go along with this why doesn't the media challenge the Police for their bias in commenting when their own are involved.

I challenge this blog to challenge media commentators for not challenging the media for not challenging the Police in this regard.

Anonymous said...

Reference my post about police Rushing to Judgement where their own are involved.... see today's media interviews re the shooting of a man after tasering didn't work....
I rest my case.

Denis Welch said...

Well said, anonymous. You are quite right about police spin. It dawned on me fairly late in life, when I started covering court trials, that the case presented by the prosecution doesn't necessarily have much to do with the truth or the 'facts' of the case - it's all about making as convincing as case as the police can in order to secure a conviction, and if that means leaving some awkward facts out, then fine. And you are right in suggesting that the media depend far too much on the police media release, which often makes its way into print or onto air unaltered.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Denis. Forgive my harping on but again today - another chase ends in a bad accident and out comes the spin with a police spokesman stating .... "the chase lasted less than a minute (says whom, and at what speed, 65 or 165 kph?) and the driver did not have a licence". Boy they did their research on that one quickly, and so what. Of course the inference is that he didn't know how to drive and it was therefore his fault and the chasing police were not to blame. So again, front end spin before all the facts are known.