UK Liberty

Policing in the 21st century

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on November 20, 2008

Home Affairs Committee published their 7th report.

Some notes:

The police are uncertain about their role.

There is some interesting comment about perverse incentives in the section Hitting the Target but Missing the Point:

The current system of measuring police performance has distorted operational priorities, criminalised many individuals for trivial misdemeanours, and prevented forces from focusing on what is important locally. There is much to be welcomed in initial attempts to reform the performance framework. We are pleased that the generic targets for offences brought to justice and sanction detections, which encouraged forces to focus on the easiest crimes to resolve rather than those which have the most significant impact on public safety, have been removed from the 2008/09 statutory performance indicators. These changes should be reflected in local practice and must be reinforced by an alignment in performance measures between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. We support the Government’s proposal to end top-down numerical targets, as set out in the Green Paper. The shift towards greater performance monitoring at a local level will require that police authorities are properly resourced to undertake this role.

These are problems caused by centrally-imposed (i.e. Government imposed targets).

Also of concern is the absence of fraud as a priority:

Several organisations wrote to us to express their concern about the absence of fraud, including identity fraud, from performance targets. CIFAS, a membership organisation which describes itself as the UK’s non-profit fraud prevention data sharing scheme, stated:

“It is extraordinary that the agency with primary responsibility for policing crime in this country does not have fraud as a priority. Indeed, in recent years, despite knowledge of the extent of the problem having grown … some Chief Constables have been systematically reducing fraud squad numbers until in a number of forces a fraud squad no longer exists … Having studied the Performance Indicators that police performance will be assessed against, however, it is clear that the current approach to policing fraud, identity fraud and cyber-crime will prevail and that these crimes will continue to be largely ignored by both the Home Office and the police.” …

35. It is estimated that fraud costs the UK £13.9 billion annually. …

There is a discrepancy between the public’s perception of crime rates and reality:

Low levels of public confidence in the police and distrust of crime statistics are in part driven by a lack of clear information about local crime and police activity. The public should be provided with better information about crime levels in their neighbourhood. Neighbourhood crime mapping appears to be a useful means to achieve this, but the Home Office should be alert to the potential for criminals to use this information to target certain areas. Local police successes should also be publicised in more detail, to reassure the public in a way in which outline crime reduction statistics do not. The Government should consider how this information can be provided in a way that is genuinely accessible. 

And sadly,

The majority of the public do not have confidence in the police’s ability to deal with minor crime and to be there when they are needed. While, on the one hand, we support the renewed focus on serious crime as a way for the police to focus their attentions on this important area of work, on the other, we are concerned that minor crime and anti-social behaviour, which are of great concern to the public, will continue to lack sufficient police attention.

This is interesting:

The Home Office funded pilots for a single non-emergency number, 101, in 2006 in five sites covering 10% of the population of England and Wales. Despite evidence to show the scheme was proving successful, the Home Office decided to withdraw funding, although three of the five pilot areas—Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Cardiff and Sheffield—have chosen to continue funding the service themselves.[62] We consider this would have been a useful initiative to improve accessibility and customer service, as well as facilitating better partnership working between the police and the local authority to deal with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.

There are pressures on resources relating to immigration, gun and knife crime, alcohol, and bail for those charged with violence.

Police funding in the UK is highest among the OECD countries at 2.5% of GDP.  There is a complicated formula for working out which police authority gets what amount of money, further complicated by a “damping mechanism”. The centrally-imposed cap on council tax increases has left some authorities in a “desperate position”. Underestimates of local populations, due to greater immigration than expected, and using out-of-date statistics, has led to authorities being underfunded. The funding formulae are “not rapid or flexible enough to deal with change”.

Again, yet another problem with centrally-imposed policy.  The centre is not quick enough or local enough to adequately respond to local needs.

One problem with immigrants is that they are dealt with as mere numbers, equal in resource requirements as any other member of the population, but of course they have specific needs:

83. The House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee also found that:

Most of the analyses of fiscal impacts that do consider public services simply estimate immigrants’ use of public services based on their shares in the population. This assumes that the average cost of providing public services to immigrants is the same as for those born in the UK. However, there are likely to be some additional costs in providing public services to immigrants which Professor Coleman described as “uncosted externalities”.[107]

84. In terms of specific costs caused by immigration, translation costs appear to be the key factor for policing. In Kent, translation costs have risen by a third in three years.[108] Sergeant Guy Rooney told us that in Ealing alone the interpreters’ bill for the last financial year was £1 million.[109] Cambridgeshire’s translation costs are also around £1 million per year:

The real resourcing issue is the fact that one has to translate issues, whether they involve on-the-ground problems or those in custody where investigations take two or three times as long. A Police and Criminal Evidence Act review that an inspector could deal with in 10 minutes could take 90 minutes in the case of someone for whom English is not his or her first language.[110]

Foreign nationals can spend significantly longer in custody than British citizens, either where interpreters are unavailable, or where an individual has been detained for immigration purposes but immigration authorities do not have the facilities to hold the detainees prior to deportation. This generates additional costs in providing food, phone calls and supervision, as well as a potential loss of custody facilities. Chief Constable Spence told us that in 2002 there were on average three non-UK nationals in custody per day in Cambridgeshire, rising to an average of 13 per day in 2006, with the figure now standing at ten per day. 

NOTE: I am not suggesting, nor is the HAC, that immigration per se is undesirable, or that immigrants are responsible for ‘crime waves’ and so on – what is undesirable in this context is not taking the costs of immigration and the differences between people into account, and using out-of-date statistics, when resourcing the police:

The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, Liam Byrne MP, told us in November 2007 that the funding formula used to allocate money to the police for 2008, 2009 and 2010 would draw on 2004 sub-national population projections “simply because that is the best available data”

Yet another example of evidence-free policies.

Despite these pressures, police officers spend 25-30% of their time on paperwork, and according to one Deputy Chief Constable they have become a “crime-recording” rather than “crime-fighting” force.  The Met spent 1.2 times more on paperwork than on burglaries and robberies. A crime recording form could be 14 pages long – a pilot study in Staffordshire has reduced this to one page.

IT has helped:

Personal digital assistants can significantly increase the amount of time that police officers spend on visible patrol and dealing with incidents outside the station, and reduce the time they spend on paperwork. We welcome the Home Secretary’s recent grant of £50 million to fund PDAs in 19 English forces and her promises of a further £25 million, but recognise that many forces were disappointed not to win funding bids. We recommend that sufficient funding is made available as soon as possible to enable all frontline officers to have access to a PDA.

… and IT has hindered, where authorities have chosen different equipment / standards.

It seems weird that,

The British Transport Police (BTP) experiences difficulties in securing funding for new technology developed by the NPIA for Home Office forces. As a force that is financed by the rail industry rather than the Home Office, the BTP is not always included in the specification for new technology. Of particular concern is the Home Office’s refusal to fund BTP access to the Police National Database.

It seems more efficient to use specialised police staff for particular roles than police officers trained in more general competencies. Only a small proportion of police tasks require “sworn officer powers.”

There is some useful information about “accountability structures” (how the heirarchy is structured, who is responsible for what etc) – particularly as this seems (to me, anyway) difficult to get hold of. But there are once again serious problems relating to centralisation of power:

Sir Ronnie Flanagan identified the following concerns with current arrangements:

  • The tripartite structure has become unbalanced with the Home Office “having become too directly involved in the delivery of policing at the local level”;
  • The tripartite structure does not recognise the role of partners or that forces have some accountability to these and other bodies;
  • 57% of the public feel they have no influence over the police and little say in decisions about policing;
  • Police authorities could benefit locally from a higher profile;
  • There is no direct public participation in police authority selection; and
  • Some authorities are identified by stakeholders as not fully having the skills or capacity to do the job.[267]

235. The Local Government Association (LGA), echoed some of these findings in a recent paper:

The Home Secretary’s powers through the setting of priorities and targets via the National Policing plan plus those resulting from the funding and audit and inspection regimes dwarf those of the police authority. The result is that the police authority is now much the weakest pillar in the tripartite structure … The consequence of the gradual weakening of police authorities over the 40-year period since the passing of the Police Act, is that the connection of the police to their local communities has been severely reduced. As a result the Home Secretary is the only visible politician who can be called to account for the way the police work.

And as we have seen with the growing disengagement from mainstream politics, the greater the perceived distance from power and the less influence we feel we have, the greater the disengagement and distrust.

A number of problems in all areas of politics seem related to the notion that power should be concentrated in the centre.  I’m inclined to believe there should be minimum standards and funding agreed on nationally, but funding and the majority of decisions should be made more locally.


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