Tuesday, 6 April 2010

CRIMINAL JUSTICE UK - THE POLICE PART 1


Some lessons have to be learned the hard and expensive way.

Only last week, the Advertising Standards Authority told the Home Office that its television adverts highlighting the government's "policing pledge" that neighbourhood officers can now be expected to spend 80% of their time on the beat is to be banned with immediate effect.

The ASA says that the television ad breaches its "legal, decent, honest, truthful" code because it is misleading on at least three counts.

The ASA said the ad was misleading because while it said that 80% of officers' time would be spent "on the beat", it did not make it clear this included duties other than patrolling the streets.

It also said the ad did not make it sufficiently clear that the pledge doesn't apply to all 140,000 police officers in England and Wales, but only the 13,500 neighbourhood constables and 16,000 community support officers in neighbourhood policing teams.

The announcement from the ASA coincides with a report we have been compiling on "Why Public Confidence In The Police is so low", looking at the various components of the UK Criminal Justice System.

The full report will shortly be uploaded to the see our reports section in the sidebar.

Meanwhile, here are a few extracts . . . .

WHY CONFIDENCE IN THE POLICE IS ALL BUT LOST
Never has the police service had so much money, so many officers or such access to technology. Yet never has public dissatisfaction with the police been so widespread. Complaints against the police have doubled in the past three years. This big increase, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is due to allegations from law-abiding, middle-class, middle-aged and retired people. These traditional supporters of the police have never felt so let down.

A Home Office report, considered the most authoritative in the country, shows a huge gap between how we want to be policed, how the front line police want to police us and how we are actually policed. Why is there this gap and what can be done about it?

The UK public lacks the power to get the policing they want. Neither the public, their democratically elected local counselors nor their MP have any influence over the strategy of their local force, its funding or the appointment or removal of its Chief Constable. If the chief constable wants to close police stations against the wishes of the community, he can do so. If he wants his response teams to spend the day chasing detections, there is little to stop him.

Since the Police Act 1964 successive government have accrued power to the centre. Law and order is a hot political issue. The government cannot be seen to fail. As in the NHS it exerts control through targets. Just as in the NHS these targets are often poorly thought out and measure the wrong things. The government tolerates dodgy data for political ends and coerces otherwise ethical public servants into unethical behaviour. Most of all, it stops the police giving the public the policing they want.

Government targets before serving the public
The British police force has been made to put government targets before serving the public. These targets, set by the Home Office, result in bonuses of between £5,000 and £15,000 to top officers whose forces meet them, with the predictable result that officers lower down the scale come under pressure to concentrate on whatever is targeted, to the neglect of other things.

Police performance is measured in 'sanction detections', a term for offences detected or cleared by charging someone, issuing a PND (penalty notice) or giving them a caution if they will admit the offence, have no previous record and have not recently received a PND. In order to meet targets, police are now classifying incidents as crimes that would previously have been dealt with informally, classified differently or ignored.

Rising numbers of sanction detections give the impression that the police are waging an effective war against crime, but, as one officer interviewed put it: 'We are bringing more and more people to justice but they are the wrong people.' Like other targets, they measure what was chosen to be measured, by Chief Officers in collaboration with the Home Office, not whether the public are getting a good service.

The volume of crime each officer has to deal with is overwhelming, with response teams (i.e. the officers who respond to calls for assistance) often depleted to extremely low levels. In response to ever-more government initiatives, officers are called off to specialist units - immigration, asset recovery, the Olympics - leaving fewer to deal with calls for help from the public.

The police also complain that, when they do catch offenders, many escape with an NFA - no further action - because the Crown Prosecution Service, with targets of its own to achieve in terms of successful prosecutions, is unwilling to proceed with cases that are not watertight.

Who is to blame?
Sixty five over-40s are now ‘made a criminal’ each day, Government figures show.

The number of people who are over 50 and enter the criminal justice system for the first time increased by 46.3 percent between 2000/01 and 2007/08, from 16,400 to 24,000. Meanwhile in the 40-49 age group, there was a 57.4 per cent rise to 32,900.

Incidents which would once have been ignored are now treated as crimes. Complaints against the police have risen, with much of the increase coming from law-abiding, middle class, middle-aged and retired people who no longer feel the police are on their side.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have removed all but one centrally-set target for police, to increase public confidence that the police and local councils are tackling the anti-social behaviour and crime issues that matter most locally.

“Together with the introduction of the Policing Pledge, we have ensured that the police are no longer driven by meeting multiple national targets but by listening to the public, identifying and tackling local priorities”.

Even this statement has proven to be an embarrassment to the Government.

The Policing Pledge – More False Expectations
The £3.5million wasted on advertising the policing pledge would have been better spend on employing 100+ front line police officers.

Gordon Brown, in his crime speech earlier this month, set out what he described as "new neighbourhood policing strategy" which includes the pledge for neighbourhood police to spend 80% of their time on the beat, a response to non-emergency issues within 24 hours and a public right to monthly beat meetings to discuss priorities.

Although all 43 forces in England and Wales signed up more than 15 months ago to the pledge, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, published a report recently, showing that 35 were falling short of the required standard. Some forces are not even monitoring the amount of time officers spend "working visibly" in their neighbourhoods.

In our report, we have taken the most recent information from forces dated March 2010, which confirms that only 8 of the 43 forces attained a “Good” overall standard regarding their performance on the pledge, with two of the forces graded as “Poor”.

It can be seen that for the relevant pledge point, (3) relating to the 80% visibility on the street, only 14 of the forces attained a “Good” grade, with two forces, Nottinghamshire and West Midlands being graded as “poor”.

The Policing Pledge is a waste of time and tax payers money and should be scrapped. Thousands of police man hours are spent completing audit returns and compiling results, in a misguided effort to persuade the public that they should have confidence in the police. Bureaucratic projects like the pledge tie officers up in administrative duties. If they were put back on the street, public confidence will start to return.


It can be seen that for the relevant pledge point, relating to the 80% visibility on the street, only 14 of the forces attained a “Good” grade, with two forces, Nottinghamshire and West Midlands being graded as “poor”.

As if there weren’t enough examples of Chief Police Officer attitude likely to erode public confidence, the story that follows is one of the most disgraceful yet.
 
A police force won an award for its handling of the case of a schoolgirl knocked down and killed by a speeding officer after nominating itself.

Hayley Adamson, 16, was killed when a speeding patrol car with no blue light or sirens on smashed into her in May 2008. The driver, PC John Dougal, was jailed for three years after being convicted of driving at 94 mph moments before he ploughed into her in the late-night tragedy.

The family of Hayley Adamson, 16, have reacted with anger that Northumbria Police put themselves forward for the prize after the horrifying smash.

Hayley’s mother Yvonne Adamson, branded the move as ‘sick’. Mrs Adamson said:
“It’s a complete joke. I can’t believe they have nominated themselves for the award. ‘What about all the complaints that were put in against them when it happened? ‘Life is truly hell. This is an insult to her memory. Tomorrow would have been Hayley’s 18th birthday. ‘It’s just a massive shock. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the family.”

Less from Whitehall, more from local communities
This report deals with some of the more prominent reasons why the majority of the British public have lost faith and confidence in the modern police service.

Many Senior Police Chiefs are totally out of touch with the public and the front line officers. They have become adept at paying lip-service to what the public really want from their police service, then blame the same front liners when their latest schemes and fad projects fail to deliver. More time is spent telephoning members of the public to complete so called satisfaction questionnaires and then auditing the responses, than is spent delivering the service that is really needed.

At the most senior level, as we have reported previously, the police service fiddles crime and detection figures in the attempt to con the public that their force is performing well. Worse, along with the latest fad projects, they get the front line officers to implement their strategies. Chief Officers have, despite protestations to the contrary, shown themselves incapable of distancing themselves from political influence. The picture becomes somewhat seedy when Chief Officers are paid lucrative incentive bonuses to reflect decreases in crime and increases ig offences brought to justice.

The government cannot be seen to fail, yet with policing it clearly has. Working with Home Office sanction, Chief Officers are more concerned with performance targets than frontline requirements to deliver real policing. Like the health service, the Home Office, exerts control over the police through targets. These targets are often poorly thought out and measure the wrong things.

The government tolerates dodgy data for political ends and coerces otherwise ethical public servants into unethical behaviour. Most of all, it stops the police giving the public the policing they want. There has been a notable shift with this Government towards a more financially-oriented set of concerns about policing. Increasingly, they use financial and performance management and audit techniques to steer police services.

Policing priorities are inherently “political”. Citizens have particular concerns about crime and they elect politicians who claim that they will address those concerns. However the lack of a clear sense of the division of responsibility between politicians and the police creates confusion and prevents genuine accountability. Police Chiefs’ day-to-day decisions are hampered by central targets determining whom to hire and fire, which crimes to prioritise, and how much time officers must spend on any particular task. Meanwhile politicians struggle to grip the strategic priorities which are heavily guarded by ACPO.

The proliferation of targeting and central control prevents Chief Constables from exerting influence where it really matters. Unable to direct policing strategy and improve the effectiveness of their officers, they focus on those relatively trivial issues and “pet projects” over which they do have discretion. There are numerous instances of Chief Constables’ micro-management. One example is uniform. Each force determines the uniform components its officers wear; one Chief will veto tunics on the grounds that they are impractical and not waterproof, whilst another will ban fleeces for not being smart or traditional.

Senior officers are heavily involved in politics
Whilst it is generally accepted that there is little outright corruption in the UK, there is evidence that senior police officers spend time trying to influence politics and politicians spend time trying to alter police priorities. Decisions on policing strategy go through ACPO committees. One high-profile example of political involvement was the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, who campaigned publicly in favour of the Government’s plans to introduce identity cards and to allow detention without charge for 42 days. The result of this was an erosion of trust and the widespread questioning of Sir Ian’s independence.

Tripartite risk sharing
Accountability is diluted by the tripartite structure of police governance, which shares risk and blame across three parties: the Home Office, Police Authorities and Chief Constables. ACPO’s role in it is akin to the British Medical Association being part responsible for the running of the health service or the Association of Head Teachers approving education plans.

ACPO’s blurred purpose and responsibility does not help. ACPO advises government, it sets policing policy, it campaigns for increased police powers, and now we learn it is engaged in commercial activities – all with a rather shady lack of accountability. ACPO’s incorporation as a private company shields it from accountability, for example through the Freedom of Information Act.

ACPO – the power behind the throne
The Association of Chief Police Officers is a powerful and independent body consisting of Chief Constables, Deputy Chief Constables and Assistant Chief Constables. It has a major role as the primary coordinator of policing policy, encouraging the 43 forces in England and Wales to adopt the policies it promotes.

ACPO has been described as a “self-perpetuating oligarchy” Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, commented:
“It is strange that the Policing and Crime Bill gives ACPO a statutory position in advising on appointments when the status of ACPO itself remains undefined. Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers, or a professional association protecting senior officers’ interests? Is it a national policing agency, or is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers?”

ACPO has the ear of the Home Secretary and this, in combination with its influence over senior officers (and those wishing to become senior officers), means it is a prominent voice in determining policy.

There is a widespread belief that ACPO is the main party persuading forces to adopt particular policies. If the Home Secretary wants to ensure the adoption of a policy idea, he will “strike a bargain” with ACPO to ensure its implementation. ACPO is the driving force behind policy, and the Home Office succumbs, either because of its own autocratic instincts or because the police are exceptionally good at pushing through the things they want.

This focus of ACPO on national policy means that individual Chief Constables are left focusing on administrative matters and equipment choices. In fact this situation should be reversed: ACPO could take a useful national lead on administration and interoperability while Chief Constables focus on their forces’ operations.

Local accountability
Political debate about crime in England and Wales has been restricted to point-scoring and blame games.
The lack of accountability, and the need for politicians to be seen to be “doing something about crime” has created a culture of short-termism and knee-jerk reaction. It has resulted in the trading of meaningless statistics, accusations of interference and seemingly limitless centrally-directed initiatives.

One Chief Constable reported that he is accountable to “at least a dozen” authorities, with three – HMIC, the Police Authority and the Audit Commission – responsible for inspecting and auditing his force. But accountability to many bodies actually means no accountability at all.

Giving local officers real autonomy and the power to make their own professional decisions, rather than relying on Whitehall edicts, would start to rebuild the relationship between the police and local people.

The answer must involve getting the government out of the job of policing.

The politicisation of the force must be tackled, with the removal of targets, not merely the promise of it as it presently stands.

A local tax to pay for the basic command unit and a commander who is selected by and answerable to taxpayers, whether through local government or even direct elections, would give the public that power. It would certainly put an end to the dangerous politicisation of our police force and the continuing alienation of the public.

2 comments:

thespecialone said...

Very interesting post and seems rather true. Well we are now in an election campaign and it will be interesting to see what prospective MPs have to say about policing. I expect Labour to lie and lie and lie again. I expect the Tories to say that they will relieve the police of targets. I expect the Lib Dems to errr say anything they like as Clegg will not be PM.

Crime Analyst said...

Yep... and one thing's for sure... whoever takes over the mantle of policing will inherit a right can of worms. Only hope they have some firm reform ideas and the courage to make them happen. Steve

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