Tuesday, 14 January 2014


Re-posted from the excellent site at http://policeconomics.wordpress.com/ Well worth a visit for everyone interested in the police recorded crime debacle.

People respond to incentives!

“People respond to incentives’ – this is the central plank of the theory put forward by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner in their books Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics. They cite the many ways in which different types of incentive drive performance in a particular direction. For those of you who are beginning to glaze over at the thought of a book on economics – wait. Just suspend belief for a moment; their examples include How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of Real Estate Agents? Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With their Moms? Where Have all the Criminals Gone? For anyone remotely interested in how the world actually works in practice (as opposed to theory) these books are required reading!

So if you accept that people do indeed respond to incentives, then you would hope that the target that has been agreed has been properly thought out. In the policing context, the obvious example is the target of ‘reducing crime’. To the vast majority of us, this would actually mean a reduction in the number of victims, however, to many – including ACPO – this just means recording fewer crimes. I hope the difference is obvious!

Now you need to indulge in a bit of role play. Imagine yourself as an ACPO officer (try not to laugh) on the command team of a medium sized force (I’ve been advised to avoid giving an actual example to avoid any ‘pure coincidences’ with reality) charged by the Home Secretary of reducing crime. You have been an Assistant Chief Constable (Met equivalent is Commander) with responsibility for Crime in your force. Your ego is only matched by your ambition and you have earmarked a Deputy Chief Constable’s job in a neighbouring force when the existing post-holder retires/dies/gets promoted. The PCC in that new force area is a lovely chap – he was on the Police Authority and has always been a staunch supporter of the Police. Clearly you need to impress him so you can be identified as the ‘favoured candidate’ when the DCC’s job becomes vacant. How can you best do that??

You are aware that this PCC (similar to your own) doesn’t ask awkward questions as it risks upsetting his Chief Constable. In all fairness, the PCC doesn’t understand all those figures and charts so he relies on an ‘executive summary’ of performance to let him know if the force is performing well, particularly well, or spectacularly well. He has seen all of those press and TV articles regarding how Police manipulate statistics but has been completely assured by his ACPO team that they are different – he can trust them implicitly – after all, they are Police Officers. The telephone number of the PCC is available on the force intranet site and he has only received one call from an officer since he took up office. The officer didn’t give his name but insisted that the figures were being fiddled and victims were being neglected as a result. The PCC mentioned it briefly to the Chief Constable at a drinks party who gave him a withering look, told him that everything in the garden was rosy, and he shouldn’t believe a word of it. He decided not to push it further lest he risk the wrath of his good friend the Chief Constable.

Ok – back to you as ACC (Crime). You have sat down with your Chief Superintendents in private and told them that ‘the public’ want to see a reduction in crime and that ‘one way or another’ it was their job to deliver exactly that – you don’t care how it happens as long as it happens soon. They are ambitious themselves and are clearly willing to compete to win his recommendation to attend the Senior Command Course – thus making them eligible to apply to be ACC’s too. You have also been feverishly ‘raising your own profile’ by attending large briefings and espousing your zero-tolerance to crime and your ethical approach  to crime recording. Some of you might now have spotted this unusual strategy of insisting recorded crime is reduced ‘one way or another’ in private but in a more public setting where less controllable officers are present, that integrity is paramount and he will not tolerate anyone manipulating statistics etc. I’m sure that this is not some form of multiple personality disorder, but rather it is the hunger of a man desperate to succeed at any cost.

Spookily enough the Chief Superintendents have very similar private/public conversations themselves. The same scenario is repeated throughout the ranking structure until you get to those who actually do the work and deliver the service i.e. Constables and Sergeants. As a result, the real message encourages crimes to go unrecorded or downgraded, and victims are ignored or given a sub-standard service. However, lets look on the bright side. You have delivered a 15% reduction in (recorded) crime and the neighbouring PCC has been made aware that you are a ‘can-do guy’. You are selected as his Deputy Chief Constable and you look forward to an even deeper pile carpet in your new office.

Within a few weeks of taking on your new role you are informed that HMIC will be visiting your old force soon in their on-going Crime Data Accuracy programme of audits. You are not in the least bit worried. You have hundreds of witnesses who will attest to your stirring speeches insisting on integrity and accurate crime recording. Don’t you just love that plausible deniability??
And so it goes on.

If things are to change – ethical behaviour must be incentivised. I’m guessing that any such approach would need to include both a carrot and a stick as neither is mutually exclusive. Looking at the personality-types involved it might be prudent to harness their shameless ambition. The carrot could be that demonstrably ethical crime recording and transparency is a pre-requisite for further promotion, whilst the stick could be misconduct for something like misfeasance in a public office if further manipulation is identified. Clearly HMIC has a huge opportunity to change things here for the better – the fact that Tom Winsor is not an ACPO officer might (for the first time?) work to his benefit!


Post a Comment

Search Site

Our Top 10 Read Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails


Internet Marketing & Social Networking

LinkedIn Tutorials