An intelligence-led approach was launched in the 1990s to disrupt prolific offenders, and Compstat-type reviews try to keep up with the latest trends.
Intelligence-led policing was pioneered by David Phillips when chief constable in Kent. For Compstat, see Chapter 14.
Only one command unit was found by the Inspectorate to anticipate problems by drawing on work by crime scientists – and that ‘delivered significant burglary reduction in the areas concerned’. But for the most part, the report found, ‘everything is a priority we just respond to the next call’.
‘Taking time for crime, A study of how police officers prevent crime in the field’, HMIC, 2012. See pages 2, 9 and 11. [http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/taking-time-for-crime.pdf]
It can’t be local government either. There was a brave attempt at this in 1998, requiring local authorities to have a crime reduction strategy in partnerships with other agencies, but with nobody specifically in charge it rarely had much impact.
Sections 5 and 6 of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act required local authorities to work with the police and create partnerships with other agencies, to produce a local audit of crime and disorder, and to set priorities and create a strategy. Some of these statutory partnerships had a useful impact. For others, while everyone accepts the value of shared objectives there is usually no-one in the driving seat and, without clearly articulated and measurable goals, the process degraded into compliance and cynicism. See Coretta Phillips et al., Crime and disorder reduction partnerships: Round One progress, Police Research Series Paper 151, Home Office, London, 2002.
To quote ex-Met Chief Lord Stevens, ‘For too long we have simply accepted the growing demands placed upon us. We must “front end” the business and not be a slave to the symptoms.’
Sir John Stevens, Police Foundation Millennium Lecture (jointly with Nick Ross), London, 2000.
A few have called for a National Crime Reduction Service1 and one, a former Met Commander, Lawrence Roach, has even proposed that policing should be turned exclusively to crime reduction.
A long-term permanent solution to the problems of the police requires them to withdraw from the investigation of crime, and the identification, detection and prosecution of offenders. In its place a national public prosecution department should be created within the Crown Prosecution Service under the direction of a public prosecutor supported by a staff of full-time crime investigators.2
1 The idea of a national crime reduction service was championed by several senior officers, notably Mike Hodge of Greater Manchester Police, who has consistently been in the forefront of attempts to make policing more proactive.
2 Lawrence Roach (a Metropolitan Police Commander 1990–96), ‘Detecting Crime Part II: The Case for a Public Prosecutor’, Criminal Law Review, July 2002, p. 575. Actually the idea of a separate prosecution service dates back to a royal commission of 1839 set up to spread best policing practice from London to the whole of the UK, though it was never taken up. When the CPS was founded in 1985 it was intended only to filter cases investigated by the police; it has never supervised investigations. (Nor, incidentally, has it taken it upon itself to apologise or explain to most victims and witnesses when it decides that a case should be dropped. Being focused on the accused rather than the victims it does not have the systems, staffing levels or policy priorities to do so.)
For as Professor Kennedy says, no community wants to be fearful, no mother or grandmother wants to see daughters turning to drug-addicted prostitution or sons at risk of being arrested or shot dead or finishing up with a walking stick and a colostomy bag. After years of trying to solve the problem through the courts, it was cured by not going through the courts.
These approaches – which focus prosecutions only on lynchpin offenders – are sometimes called ‘pulling levers’. A systematic review found, ‘Nine of the ten eligible studies reported strong and statistically significant crime reductions associated with the focused deterrence strategy.’ While the standard of the evidence was not always first class even the weakest studies look ‘encouraging’. Anthony Braga, ‘Focused Deterrence Works to Control Crime: Key Findings from a Campbell Systematic Review’, The Experimental Criminologist, Vol. 8, Issue 1, January 2013.
Several academics, including Larry Sherman and ex-police chief Peter Neyroud, have explored ingenious ways of diverting people from the path to court.
Lawrence Sherman and Peter Neyroud with commentary by Ken Pease, ‘Offender-Desistance Policing and the Sword of Damocles’, Civitas, 2012.
Organised gangs were tackled by civil law in an echo of how Al Capone was finally brought down for tax evasion. Money-laundering rules were used to seize their cash, their mansions, yachts and flashy cars.
SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, was created in 2006 and absorbed into the National Crime Agency in 2013. One of SOCA’s triumphs was to demonstrate that policing could be accomplished by investigators drawn from a wide range of professions. It combined powers of policing, immigration and customs officials and applied a lot of ingenuity to tackling gangs. This included cunning use of anti-money laundering legislation. They required mobsters to divulge how they earned their cash or bought their houses and paid for luxury cars. In civil proceedings, which require only proof on balance of probability, the courts can impound any assets that cannot be justified, or that have been concealed or been passed around without good cause. The seizure powers come from legislation known as POCA (the Proceeds of Crime Act), and its use became known as the ‘pocalypse’.
Yet because we have seen criminals as the problem, not the symptom, police have never broken out of the circularity that so frustrated America’s most famous cop, Bill Bratton: ‘We’re just stuck in this carousel that people get off of, then right back on again.’
William Bratton, when Chief of Los Angeles Police Department, Washington Post, 29 February 2009.
Accordingly the local fiefdoms of policing would have a natural incentive to collaborate nationally and even globally and to assert a crime prevention role by influencing product designs, policies and procedures which largely determine the rates of crime we suffer.
This would mean a much larger role for the National Crime Agency – the organisation which inherited the roles of earlier attempts to coordinate policing including the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). It might also provide a new sense of purpose for ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has no statutory powers and yet has long been the glue that has held national policing together.
The one group of scientists that does look for top-class evidence in crime reduction is the Campbell Crime and Justice Group. And it rightly despairs at the amateurishness of our approach to crime prevention.
‘We think it a major public policy failure that the government and the police have not invested greater effort and resources in identifying the specific approaches and tactics that work best in combating specific types of crime problems. The portfolio of studies that exists is at best serendipitous, and does not represent any concerted public effort to either assess the effectiveness of problem-oriented policing as an approach, or understand the mechanisms that would make it more successful.’
David Weisburd, Cody Telep, Joshua Hinkle and John Eck, ‘The effects of problem-oriented policing on crime and disorder’, Campbell Crime and Justice Group, 2008, p. 33. [http://db.c2admin.org/doc-pdf/Weisburd_POP_review.pdf]
This means the police have to forestall crime not just at local level but by putting pressure on polluters far away. They need to be detectives of temptation and opportunity, seeking out emerging problems and demanding top-grade security for the next generation of services and products. If they won’t who can, who will?
Since 1994 Foresight has been the UK’s horizon-scanning think tank which helps government departments think about long-term challenges in science and technology and their implications for policies. Its reports have ranged from coastal defences to obesity, but one arm has focused on crime prevention, setting out some of the principles outlined in previous chapters. [See www.foresight.gov.uk/OurWork/Completed2002.asp.] Unfortunately little notice was taken of its perceptive warnings such as that police organisation is too fragmented to deal with many contemporary threats. [www.foresight.gov.uk/Crime Prevention/Turning_the_Corner_Dec_2000.pdf.]
Only indifference by national politicians has stymied a directive that ‘products and services will not be vulnerable to crime risks that could reasonably have been addressed at the design stage’.
CEN/BT/WG161/Reduction of Crime Risks in Products & Services Final Report, 09/2005, pp. 1–2. I was a member of that working group along with industrialists and academics, so you will not be surprised that I commend its findings. Sadly it didn’t play to the traditional political agenda. Even so the EU has pioneered several individual crime-proofing initiatives.
Governments are among the greatest patrons of crime. This is partly because they handle so much money. Leaky tax policies and poorly supervised welfare payments between them probably haemorrhage £6 billion pounds a year in scams.
Oxfam estimate £5.2 billion p.a. is lost through tax fraud (Krisnah Poinasamy, and Matti Kohonen, ‘How tackling tax evasion could help overcome poverty in the UK’, Oxfam media briefing, 31 January 2013); and the government estimates welfare fraud costs £1 billion p.a. (‘State of the nation report: poverty, worklessness and welfare dependency in the UK’, Cabinet Office, May 2010, p. 34.)
There was a classic whiff of hypocrisy in 2001 when the government changed electoral rules to encourage postal voting … There were objections from the Electoral Commission and from politicians who foresaw a scandal.
The Labour leader in Birmingham, fearing scandal, wrote to the Prime Minister warning that there were almost no controls against widespread fraud. A Labour backbencher pointed out that large numbers of Asian women were likely to be disenfranchised because the male head of the household would fill in the votes. The Association of Electoral Administrators raised objections along with the Electoral Commission. When the new system was tried in local elections in 2004 tens of thousands of ballot papers went astray. But the very fact that there were so few checks meant it was hard to prove wrongdoing, apart from which there were no central records of electoral malpractice, all of which allowed government apologists for the system to claim there was little or no malpractice. With reports around the country of postal workers being threatened and people arriving at polling stations to be told they had already cast their vote, the government tightened up the rules after the 2005 election, and dozens of police inquiries resulted in prosecutions, but gaping loopholes remained and an official review for the House of Commons library makes depressing reading (Isobel White, Postal Voting and Electoral Fraud, Standard Note SN/PC/3667, House of Commons Library, 11 January 2007).
In the event electoral malpractice was so widespread, embracing all three parties, that one judge denounced ‘evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic’1 and in another case the judge described the changes as ‘lethal to the democratic system’.2 The Council of Europe was moved to comment that British elections had become ‘childishly simple’ to rig.3
1Richard Mawrey QC, the judge hearing vote-rigging cases in Birmingham in 2005. Source: BBC [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4410743.stm]. According to petitions three councillors had been found by police in the middle of the night in a warehouse with hundreds of postal votes spread out on the table.
2Richard Mawrey QC, presiding over an election court which stripped Eshaq Khan of his council seat in Slough, 18 March 2008.
3Application to initiate a monitoring procedure to investigate electoral fraud in the United Kingdom, Opinion by the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee, AS/Mon (2007) 38, 22 January 2008. [www.assembly.coe.int/CommitteeDocs/2008/electoral_fraud_UK_E.pdf]
There are exceptions – in some towns poor estates endure gangs, drug dealing and a nasty atmosphere of violence where police and the community at large have lost control – but our personal experience rarely matches the big things that preoccupy police chiefs and politicians, let alone the drama in the news.
We sometimes get the impression that armed and feral gangs of youths roam much of Britain, and in parts of London and a handful of other cities gang territoriality is a tragic reality. But to put it in context, in England and Wales less than twenty per cent of citizens live in social housing, about twelve per cent of whom are teenagers, of whom fewer than ten per cent will live on a troubled estate, and very few of them will carry knives, let alone have access to firearms. To put that in numbers, 4.1 million are in social housing, of whom about 1 million are aged 13-19 inclusive. Perhaps 100,000 will be in troubled estates where gang culture is common, of whom 50,000 will be boys. Only some of them will carry knives. This compares to a population of 57 million. (All home ownership and population figures from the Office of National Statistics, 2013.)
… I learned from years on Crimewatch that senior investigating officers would often divulge secrets to me that they had kept from members of their own team. As one top detective put it, only half in jest, ‘If you want something leaked, tell a policeman.’
In particular, anyone in public life who reports a crime takes a gamble with their privacy. Some years ago while our house was being renovated an opportunist thief tried to grab some property through a partly open window and, an hour after the police were told, a reporter from the Daily Mail arrived on our doorstep. Confidentiality should be as important for a police officer as for clinicians. In fact doctors, lawyers, accountants, civil servants, business executives and many others can be struck off, fired or even prosecuted for breach of confidence. Sly tip-offs, usually for money, are not the healthy openness the public seeks from the police. While crime has potent public interest implications, there are strong moral and practical grounds for victim confidentiality. As the ethicist Baroness O’Neill observes: ‘Patients might be reluctant to seek medical treatment, and clients reluctant to seek legal advice, without confidential relations between client and professional. Business would be at risk unless employees could be told facts in confidence, which it would be damaging for competitors to know…. There is a reasonable presumption that certain information is not for wider consumption and will not be made available to others or used for other purposes without the agreement of the confider.’ (Onora O’Neill, then President of the British Academy, Can Information be Personal? Caledonian Research Foundation Prize Lectures 2007.)
As management consultants point out, elephants can’t be taught to dance.
James Belasco. Teaching the Elephant to Dance: the Manager’s Guide to Empowering Change, Penguin, NY, 1991, ISBN 0-452-26629-7. Big companies have learned to be nimble by stripping out their layers of rank (Chris Dillow, The End of Politics, Harriman House, Hampshire, 2007). Knowledge is not the preserve of leaders, it is inherently dispersed, yet in traditional structures like policing, subordinates tend to be excluded from decision-making and thus from shared and informed strategic understanding. As the polymath Kenneth Boulding once observed, ‘The larger and more authoritarian the organisation the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.’ Several economists have shown that pyramidal structures are costly and inefficient. In the twenty-first century the police stand out as an island of antiquated management while almost all other paramilitary structures have been swept away. In time the hierarchical rank-based structure will disappear, even in public order policing where a visible chain of command is so often assumed to be imperative. (Less hierarchical systems can have curious consequences. The studio director of Crimewatch once ordered the Director General out of the gallery because he was talking too loudly. I am not sure the director – who was fiercely concentrating – realised who he was addressing but no matter, the DG meekly did as he was asked.)
In Denmark commercial companies operate the fire brigades, but the Danes balk at shareholders running prisons. In Australia, Britain, Canada and the US it is the other way around.
Modernising Government: The Way Forward, OECD, Paris. ISBN: 9789264010499
There are no more dangers of abuse in competitive enterprise than in a closed world of policing
Britain’s lawyers and other professionals largely owe their affluence to the protection of craft guilds, quite part from the usual national protections provided by barriers to immigrants and offshore competition. Policing too is an especially impermeable institution with a highly defined and separatist culture and a terminology that identifies civilians, even civilian staff, as a distinct, and lesser, entity from those with a warrant card and powers of arrest. Whatever the job, beat officer, crime prevention specialist, detective, custody superintendent or chief of police, everyone must be part of the same closed shop.
Paradoxically private police might be better held to account than police are in the public sector. Consider how officers routinely park their cars on yellow lines, go through red lights and speed when not on an emergency call. (Once, in a madcap act of vigilantism, I chased a patrol car that had casually sped through a red light narrowly avoiding a cyclist, but the officers were so deep in jovial conversation they didn’t notice my pursuit; at least they had the courtesy to be embarrassed when finally they stopped.) Around 70,000 officers from twenty-eight of the forty-three forces in England and Wales were caught by enforcement cameras in 2006 when not on ‘blues and twos’, of whom only 354 were penalised (figures obtained under freedom of information legislation and published in the Daily Mail, 29 May 2007).
Admitting weaknesses helps create clarity
Running a police force is generally reduced to juggling resources against competing priorities. It is extremely hard for any chief constable to take a truly strategic long-term view. The pace is mostly set by others. Dramatic crimes come and go, chronic problems pitch and heave, hotspots flush and fade, crises erupt and subside, ministers meddle, the news media distract, and the great machinery trundles on. Changing pace and direction is hard. Radical thought is discouraged.
In the past the police have juggled resources through expedience – such as slashing road safety spending by a quarter, which may risk public welfare more than cutting back on murder squads.
Between March 2007 and March 2012 the number of roads policing officers fell 24 per cent while in the same period overall policing numbers fell 5 per cent. In 2011 road fatalities rose for the first time in two decades. Source: Police Foundation, open letter to Police and Crime Commissioners, 27 February 2013, in association with the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.