How a new Conservative Home Secretary can tackle crime

Imagine it is 2010. The Conservatives have won the election and Dominic Grieve is the new Home Secretary. What can he do to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour?

Recruiting thousands of extra police officers will take years and cost billions, but the public demands swift action and results. Introducing new laws, regulations and directives – New Labour’s solution – will burden forces with extra bureaucracy. Grieve is therefore left with one practical option: he must get the Chief Constables to deploy the resources currently available to them in a more effective way.

This means slashing the paperwork burden on officers and introducing a framework based on decentralisation, responsibility and accountability.

Chief Constables would be urged to increase time on the beat from the current average (under 20%) to closer to 80%. And car patrols would be replaced by solo patrols on foot – to increase dramatically the level of contact with the public and thereby improve the flow of useful information.

Grieve should also press forces to give small teams of officers long-term responsibility for particular neighbourhoods. In this way they would develop a sense of ownership over their ‘patch’ and enjoy the benefits deriving from local knowledge and the trust of residents.

Change is also needed in the internal culture of the police. The beat should become central to officers’ careers and a route to promotion to the highest ranks.

In the USA such measures have been an outstanding success. They enabled Chief Ed Davis, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to cut crime by 70%.

So it can be done. An incoming Conservative Home Secretary will have a unique opportunity to reform policing practices. Through the better deployment of resources already in place he can cut crime without having to raise billions more from hard-pressed taxpayers.

An interesting post, but I’d be interested to know more about what was achieved in Lowell. A “70% reduction in crime” begs a lot of questions. For example, did the frequency of all crimes fall by 70%, or did the frequency of some rise? Did the ways of measuring and recording crime remain constant during this (unspecified) period? I suspect the policing techniques advocated here may reduce low-level, anti-social behaviour, but I’m less convinced they would impact on more serious crime.

John, I think you have omitted one vital point in your comparison with Lowell: the fact that in the majority of the US, the Chief of Police or the County Sheriff is elected, not appointed. Quite simply, if he or she does not provide the effective policing which the majority of the electorate want, re-election will not ensue. That would seem to reduce the risk of the police degenerating into the state’s instrument of left-liberal social engineering, as in Britain.

‘One for the price of two’As a former senior police officer, I welcome John’s comments. The issue is as serious as he claims and his points are all valid. Not only are the police denuding their all important relationship with the public through the routine deployment of officers in pairs, they are wasting resources. Most incidents attended by the police (and PCSOs) do not require the presence of more than one officer and yet the de-facto response is to send officers in pairs.

The easiest way to solve crime from a practioners view would be the following.
Improve recruitment standards,improve leadership and professional knowledge.This goes hand in hand with improved police discipline.
Move away from PCSO’s they are a waste of money and in the main ineffective. Give police the power back to charge for all offences – Officers spend hours on the phone to CPS trying to get permission to charge an offender. Keep offenders in prison, it works.
Stop wasting money, if budgets have not been spent by October it cannot be spent. You would not believe the waste, police business managers are generally poor. Get rid of political correctness agendas & focus on the public.

An interesting post, but I’d be interested to know more about what was achieved in Lowell. A “70% reduction in crime” begs a lot of questions. For example, did the frequency of all crimes fall by 70%, or did the frequency of some rise? Did the ways of measuring and recording crime remain constant during this (unspecified) period? I suspect the policing techniques advocated here may reduce low-level, anti-social behaviour, but I’m less convinced they would impact on more serious crime.

John, I think you have omitted one vital point in your comparison with Lowell: the fact that in the majority of the US, the Chief of Police or the County Sheriff is elected, not appointed. Quite simply, if he or she does not provide the effective policing which the majority of the electorate want, re-election will not ensue. That would seem to reduce the risk of the police degenerating into the state’s instrument of left-liberal social engineering, as in Britain.

‘One for the price of two’As a former senior police officer, I welcome John’s comments. The issue is as serious as he claims and his points are all valid. Not only are the police denuding their all important relationship with the public through the routine deployment of officers in pairs, they are wasting resources. Most incidents attended by the police (and PCSOs) do not require the presence of more than one officer and yet the de-facto response is to send officers in pairs.

The easiest way to solve crime from a practioners view would be the following.
Improve recruitment standards,improve leadership and professional knowledge.This goes hand in hand with improved police discipline.
Move away from PCSO’s they are a waste of money and in the main ineffective. Give police the power back to charge for all offences – Officers spend hours on the phone to CPS trying to get permission to charge an offender. Keep offenders in prison, it works.
Stop wasting money, if budgets have not been spent by October it cannot be spent. You would not believe the waste, police business managers are generally poor. Get rid of political correctness agendas & focus on the public.

The idea of the 'bobby on the beat' is seductive: at the stroke of the pen a shift to front-line policing will solve the problem of crime. What beat policing actually means has been neglected by political commentators. In particular, there appears to be a failure to acknowledge that the idea of beat policing is rooted in a particular time and place. Historical perspective and the importance of long-term trends do not appear to be attractive to politicians with an eye for head-line grabbing initiatives and the next election. Outlined below are a couple of thoughts on beat policing and why such an idea is not easy to reintroduce today by government fiat: (Note the examples below pertain to the Metropolitan Police District only) 1) By the mid-to-late 1930s it was becoming apparent that police numbers were not able to keep pace with population growth and suburbanization. The smaller inner-London police divisions witnessed population decline, especially in East London. From 1936 onwards (crime had fallen over the long-term since the mid-nineteenth century), crime rose. 2) Policing is based upon consent (another nebulous term): the spread of democracy, an appreciation of rights (re: concern over the liberty of the subject in the 1920s and the abuse of police powers - cf the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedure 1929) and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 eroded informal policing. For example, the National Council for Civil Liberties protested over the use of the SUS laws in the 1930s. 3) Powers invested in constables allowed the beat officer a wide degree of discretion over his activities, which may now be regarded as out of step with notions of law and due process. 4) With view to the above, concerns today over policing and race are actually related to broader issues articulated earlier over policing and class. Officers themselves were of a working-class background, and saw the streets as 'their ground'; hence common terms by police and criminals such as 'the manor. In the post (Second World) war era, the same respect for institutions, understandably, does not exist. 5) Beat policing is an efficient means of maintaining order, not fighting crime. In these bureaucratic times, it is less easy to tick a box for 'keeping the peace' than processing an arrest. Food for thought?

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