The public retreat is profoundly important if only because there are so few police compared to the rest of us: perhaps, if we are lucky, one officer for every 420 citizens. In fact in any crowd you are more likely to meet a doctor than a copper.
According to the General Medical Council there were 198,136 doctors registered with a licence to practice in England and Wales in 2013. As at 30 September 2012 the Home Office reported 131,837 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in the forty-three police forces of England and Wales. According to the Office of National Statistics the population of England and Wales was then 56,171,000.
At any one time in England and Wales there is one sergeant or constable available to watch over every ten square kilometres or so.
The number of police officers patrolling per kilometre is calculated from figures available in 2012 after a substantial loss of manpower due to spending cuts but allowing for a large increase in volunteer special constables. There were 131,837 equivalent full-time officers (Police Service Strength England and Wales, 30 September 2012, Home Office Statistical Bulletin, 31 January 2013, not including British Transport Police) in forty-three police forces in England and Wales which meant an average of just under 3,100 per force area, of which up to 2,800 were sergeants and constables, providing for maybe 560 per shift, which allowed (very optimistically) for at most 250 to be available for patrol. Dividing these over the median force area (which is Staffordshire with 2,713 square kilometres) and you get to the reality of police coverage: one officer for each ten square kilometres.
And that in turn leaves only one officer in every forty available to answer 999 calls, lending uncomfortable truth to the joke that: ‘We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.’
The figure (of one in forty officers available to respond to 999 calls) is from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, 29 March 2007. The line that ‘we live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police’ is from Jeff Arder.
In 1921 there were 57,000 police officers in England and Wales dealing with 103,000 recorded offences – fewer than two crimes per officer each year. In 2009, when police numbers reached an all-time high, there were 144,000 dealing with 4,655,000 recorded crimes – a sixteen-fold increase in their case load.
Crime in England and Wales: Quarterly Update to June 2009, Home Office, London, 22 October 2009. [http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/hosb1509.pdf] This meant there were thirty-two recorded crimes for every full-time equivalent officer. In the next two years, 2011 and 2012, roughly 10,000 officers were lost because of budget cuts.
Nor are officers where the crime is. Policing has mostly been provided on the basis of population not crime rates – a distortion magnified at basic command level. Thus an offender in a crime hotspot generally has a bigger chance of getting away with it than his counterpart in a low-crime area.
Nick Ross and Ken Pease, ‘Community Policing and Prediction’, in Tom Williamson (ed.) Knowledge Based Policing, Wiley, Chichester, 2008. Maybe people accustomed to low levels of crime make more of a fuss; or maybe police are more simply more sensitive to middle-class concerns. At least there is growing recognition of the bias against properly resourcing high crime areas and in 2008 a review by a senior officer, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, recommended changes to the funding formula so that money goes to areas of highest need.
… one of the first things they did was to set down their ‘Instructions, Orders etc.’ which were issued with the approbation of the Home Secretary and furnished the most famous quote in policing history:
It should be understood at the outset that the principal object to be attained is, ‘the Prevention of Crime’. To this great end every effort of Police is to be directed. The security of person and property, the preservation of public tranquillity and all other objects of a Police establishment, will thus be better effected than by the detection and punishment of the offender after he has succeeded in committing the crime.
Metropolitan Police Instructions, Orders etc., September 1829, pp. 1–2. (Metropolitan Police Museum.) This is not to be confused with a much-quoted but later, and rather different version, issued by Mayne’s successor in 1873.
Ten years later a royal commission tasked with extending policing across England noted that its model for the task, the Metropolitan Police, had no powers to make even preliminary inquiries once a crime had taken place.
In preparation for a PhD following retirement, a former senior police officer wrote a superb history of the shift from crime prevention to detection from which some of these details are derived. See: Lawrence Roach QPM, ‘Detecting Crime Part 1: Detection and the Police’, Criminal Law Review, 2002, pp. 379–90.
… in 1873 the new ‘Instruction Book for the Government and Guidance of the Metropolitan Police’ subtly rewrote the objectives. No longer was prevention of crime ‘better’ than detection and punishment; instead the three aims morphed into a unitary task.
‘The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed.’ Preface to Metropolitan Police Instructions, 1873. Interestingly, there seems to have been no statutory authority for this change and, as Richard Mayne had warned, it is not clear that the police had legal authority to undertake investigations.
There was a flurry of interest in crime prevention in the 1960s1 but it says much for the fatalism which gripped government that for many years its biggest investment in the field was the National Crime Prevention Centre, which essentially boiled down to a Portakabin in Stafford. Though it was eventually enlarged and moved to Yorkshire, where I formally opened the new facility, it closed soon afterwards when a review concluded that ‘these services were not well enough resourced to have made a significant impact’.2
1 In 1965 the Cornish Committee on the Prevention and Detection of Crime recommended that each police for should have a crime prevention officer of Inspector rank and several hundred were appointed across the UK. For a time the Metropolitan Police even had a support unit with ten staff called TO32. Duties included advising householders after burglaries and liaising with architects and planners, notably over Secured by Design standards. But by the turn of the millennium enthusiasm had waned and when budget cuts were introduced crime prevention as usually first in line for the axe.
2 Home Office statement, 25 September 2006. The Stafford Crime Prevention Centre was opened in 1963 and the Easingwold successor closed in 2005.
Crime prevention, as such, is relegated to just one of the 190 training modules for police recruits.
HMIC, Taking Time for Crime, 2012.
This is in spite of ‘Peelian principles’ which centre on crime prevention and which are supposedly core values of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Has it ever occurred to you what a simple arrest involves for the officers involved? Take an elementary case of shoplifting … Then comes the paperwork: questionnaires on welfare considerations, fingerprints, DNA samples, photographs and an audit of the prisoner’s property. Now they must ‘do the notes’, which means writing a statement of the arrest, which will take anything from five minutes to an hour, then spend thirty minutes or so keying in much of the same information to create a computerised crime report. An intelligence report comes next, often repeating information, which may take another ten or fifteen minutes, often followed by property logs, witness forms or missing person details, and admin paperwork for overtime or force initiatives.
In 2008 a review by a senior officer, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, recommended cutting the amount of information gathered about less serious offences, reckoning this could save the equivalent of 2,500 to 3,500 officers every year. Subsequently the Home Secretary commended trials in Staffordshire of a new one-page crime report form. Any efficiencies are welcome in principle but there is a danger that these will be judged on short timescales and without regard for the needs of crime analysts. Less serious crimes, if not tackled properly, have a habit of growing into serious crimes and big problems.
The typical shoplifting case I described was as simple as it gets, but it still took two officers off the streets for over three-and-a-half hours – in manpower terms, one officer for almost a day. A survey of officers’ logs across England and Wales found this was average.1 The case resulted in a formal police caution.2
1 Lawrence Singer, ed., Diary of a Police Officer, Police Research Series, Paper 149, Home Office, London, 2001, p. vi. ISBN 1-84082-748-3. The data were compiled from activity logs kept by 378 police officers on various shifts throughout England and Wales. See also David Copperfield (alias Stuart Davidson), Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime, Monday Books, Leicester, 2006.
2 A big crime, like dangerous driving or a serious assault, may well involve specialists, like SOCOs (scene of crime officers who gather forensic evidence) and detectives – ratcheting up the bill considerably. And a murder, engaging dozens of officers and requiring lots of lab tests, could well cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, sometimes millions.
It takes on average nine-and-a-half days before things first arrive in court in England and Wales, which might be just a bail hearing.
Home Secretary, statement to the House of Commons, 8 February 2008. [http://police.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/police-reform/Review_of_policing_final_report/Review_of_Policing_HS_respon.pdf?view=Binary]
Sir Robert Mark, a former Met Commissioner, recalled how in the 1950s and 1960s suspects were half-drowned in lavatory bowls to extract confessions.
In his memoirs, Sir Robert Mark, a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, describes how violent and oppressive the police were in the 1950s and ’60s and explains how suspects were intimidated, not least by holding them upside-down over lavatory pans and half-drowning them with flushing water until they gave in and confessed. He himself broke someone’s leg with a truncheon. The truth about what some see as the ‘golden age’ of policing was that the middle classes were more or less immune from the treatment meted out on their behalf.
But still Herman Goldstein remained unfulfilled. The basis of police work remained the same – patrol, emergency call-outs, investigation and prosecution – a piecemeal response that was unable to stop crime growing and was becoming overwhelmed by the rising tide. ‘Rushing around chasing crooks was never going to solve things.’
For an excellent overview, see Herman Goldstein, Problem Oriented Policing, 1990, Temple University Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-87722-719-5.
As a US police chief describes policing in the years before she discovered POP: ‘Paramilitary, hierarchical, protecting your butt. Leave your imagination at the door. As the call came in we’d go and answer it. No strategy, just response. It’s what the public expect; but public expectations are bananas. There was no stake in seeing anything grow, succeed, or thrive.’
Jane Perlov, then Chief of Police, Raleigh, North Carolina, POP conference, Charlotte, N. Virginia, 2006.
POP has since grown into a worldwide initiative and British bobbies excel at winning POP awards. But it remains essentially a side show. The ideas are out there
Herman Goldstein, ‘On further developing problem-oriented policing’, in Johannes Knutsson (ed.), Problem-oriented policing: from innovation to mainstream, 2003.