Our policing system is broken centralised, target-based policies should go, argues new study.

A greater degree of local accountability is needed to cut crime

A new IEA study*, released today, shows that despite increased levels of spending and the recruitment of extra officers, Britain’s policing system is failing to protect the public from crime. Violent crime has reached record levels and overall crime rates remain ten times higher than in 1950.

Extra police resources have been squandered on Home Office bureaucracy, which has encouraged forces to focus on arresting ‘easy-targets’ for trivial offences to meet centrally-determined goals. Patrol officers typically spend less than 25% of their shift actually on the beat.

The study’s distinguished authors include the Rt. Hon. David Davis MP, Shadow Home Secretary, Sara Thornton, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Paul Evans, ex-Boston Police Commissioner and former Director of the Police Standards Unit, and John Blundell, IEA Director General and Ralph Harris Fellow.

The authors agree that current British police practices are desperately in need of substantial reform. In particular, they advocate a greater degree of local accountability and an end to the failed, centralised, target-based policies of recent years. According to Davis, “Vigorous and visible policing should be brought back, to cut crime and make neighbourhoods feel safe again. The police should be made accountable to local communities for reducing crime.”

The study points to the success of locally-based reforms to policing practice in the USA. Author Paul Evans was Chief of the Boston Police Department from 1994 to 2003, during which time violent crime fell by 34%, homicide by 68% and burglaries by 40%. After analysing the evidence the study provides a series of practical policy recommendations that promise to transform British policing and dramatically reduce crime. These include:

• Giving officers long-term control over a particular area, so they can fully exploit local knowledge and develop local contacts.

• Increasing the proportion of patrols on foot and by bike, rather than by car, thereby increasing contact between officers and the public.

• Introducing more solo patrols to increase street presence and make officers more approachable.

• Making better use of computerised information systems, such as the NYPD’s CompStat, to target crime hotspots.

• Improving accountability by making local authorities responsible for police finance, strategy, pay rates and working conditions.

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