Archives for January 2014

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Good news today on crime figures. After weeks of headlines about dodgy figures, we learn that crime fell 10% last year. That’s a real achievement, for the police mostly but also for the government.

Ah, I hear you say. Here’s another politician claiming credit for good figures that he was rubbishing last week. Well, not exactly. The 10% fall is in the Crime Survey of England and Wales. The police don’t control these figures. Nor do politicians. They are what people report as their experience of crime. So, they do indicate a genuine fall.

Not only that. There’s also good news in the police recorded crime. The good news is that it fell less than the survey figure (3.7% down, rather than 10%). That suggests a closing of the gap between the crime people experience and the crime the police record. And, whatever the precise relationship, that the trend of both is downward.

It’s undoubtedly positive, so far as it goes. The police can claim the credit for lower crime. And the government can claim credit for removing targets, allowing the police to focus on crime itself rather than figures – which is reflected in the narrower gap.

But. This is all very unsophisticated. Different types of crime show different trends – for example rises in sexual crimes, shoplifting and theft. We still don’t know what we don’t know. A huge proportion of crime goes unreported, possibly even unnoticed.

What is happening online? Crimes committed online are rarely reported because no one believes the police will do anything. I spoke to a small family shop today who main business is online – on Amazon, eBay and his own site. He has to dispatch goods immediately to keep customers satisfied, but when a card is refused he loses the cash. Would he report £100 of stock stolen from his shop? Yes. Would he report £100 card payment that doesn’t go through? No. So the police never know. The crime is not recorded and the criminal is not caught.

Until that cycle is broken crime will continue to spread. And when it is, criminals will have moved on to other things. Crime may have fallen but it never goes away. It changes and so must we. The battle never ends.

 

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Think again on water cannon.

Do we want water cannon on the streets of mainland Britain? It seems that a surprising coalition of policing interests do. Boris has said he will pay for them in London. Chief police officers have said they do. Now Tom Windsor, Chief Inspector of Constabularies and champion of consent-based policing, sees no problem with them.

London’s senior officer, Bernard Hogan-Howe, says they would be rarely seen and rarely used. Tom Windsor dodges the issue by saying he sees nothing controversial in having them, only in how they are deployed.

If we don’t plan to use them, why buy them? And if we do plan to buy them, let’s be clear how they will be used. Because, where London leads, the rest will follow.

Much of this began with the riots of 2011. Officers also cite the Countryside Alliance protests in Parliament Square in 2004 and student protests as examples of where cannon could have been used.

I have no sympathy with the professional hand-wringers of the left, who seem to see something sinister in the very concept of defending social order. Their soft-headed objections to tactics like kettling force the police to seek extravagant answers in more kit. I fail to see, though, how water cannon help in any of these scenarios.

It’s hard to see how soaking the stalwarts of the shires will do much to enhance police support among those who should be their natural allies. Would the police have used cannon against their own protest march to Parliament on pensions and pay in May 2012?

What will this do to relations with disaffected urban communities, with the added complication of ethnic and cultural divides?

Cannon, we are told, are about defence – protecting buildings or monuments or keeping a crowd away from police lines. That’s exactly the point. What frustrated the public about the London riots was the failure of the police to get stuck in when they were needed. It was left to members of the public to stand up to marauding kids on their own streets.

How would water cannon help in a repeat – God forbid – of London 2011? They are cumbersome, slow and can only be in one place at a time. Would this encourage commanders to risk taking on a crowd early? Or would their understandable desire to avoid risk cause them to wait while a crowd that might have been controlled grows in confidence and becomes a mob that requires even greater force to master.

Like tanks in modern warfare, water cannon give an impression of strength but expose weakness. They are clumsy beasts for narrow urban spaces. We live in an age of instant mass communication. Crowds can appear and disappear in minutes. Cannon would either become an instant target or be left isolated as protestors melt away to appear elsewhere.

Far better to spend the money on monitoring communications, leadership and understanding how to keep ahead of protestors.

Perhaps careful deployment rules can limit the dangers, but I doubt it. When you have something, the temptation is to use it. And when what you have is a hammer, your problems start to look like a nail. Has the level of public disorder really risen so much – or at all – as to justify this escalation in tactics?

Water cannon will do little to control flash-mob rioting and a lot to inflame legitimate protests. They will not help British policing regain its traditions and place in society.

We should think very carefully before signing up to them.

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Rural Policing

Great news this week. Our application for funding from the new College of Policing will help us start the development of a Centre for Rural Policing and Justice.

Before I hear anyone mention sheep rustling, let me explain a little more about it.

The Centre is still in its very early stages. It’s the result of discussions between the Chief Constable (who holds the national lead for this area), myself and leading academics, Martin Innes and Kate Williams.

We want to bring the same professionalism and thought to rural policing and justice as exists for urban areas. Dyfed Powys is the most rural force in England and Wales. It also has the highest levels of public satisfaction.

The purpose of the Centre is to combine the best brains and the best bobbies. That will help us improve, learn from others and provide opportunities for our staff.

This initial money will be used to build an evidence base and establish partnerships with academia. We hope this will eventually expand to include other universities, police forces, PCCs and businesses.

But, first of all, we need to establish a solid foundation. That’s what we will start with UPSI in Cardiff and the University of Aberystwyth. I’ll be looking for a partnership that can deliver a better understanding of the practice and principles of rural policing. We will share data from the police and commissioned services and will look for sophisticated analysis that takes in other justice, demographic and economic data.

This will help us target crime trends and hotspots better. That means we can respond better with fewer resources, which in turn means we can prevent crime.

In due course, the Centre might provide surveys, analysis or policy work on particular topics – for example, challenges of protecting particularly vulnerable groups in rural areas, or disrupting travelling criminals, or stopping middle aged men killing themselves on speeding motorbikes.

And yes, it will also help prevent sheep rustling. It’s just that there’s more to rural policing than those metropolitan sophisticates who dominate public debate realise.

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What will 2014 hold for PCCs?

Prediction is a mug’s game. But then a politician’s job is to predict confidently what they cannot see and then explain convincingly why it never happened. So, why wait?

Policing is still firmly in the news. Within the first few days of 2014 we’ve had the verdict in the Mark Duggan inquest, an admission of lying in the Andrew Mitchell affair and discussions about water cannon on the streets of the mainland.

Here’s an easy prediction to start. These, and the issues they reflect, will continue to feature heavily throughout 2014. Police integrity and relations with the public (and particular parts of it) will remain high on the political agenda. They will be kept alive, as will questions about crime figures, by the enthusiastic attentions of HMIC and the IPCC.

Both of these organisations receive a funding boost in the coming financial year, at the expense of PCCs. This is not entirely comfortable for PCCs, even for those who accept the reasons. We have a great deal to do on both those issues ourselves at a local level. Police integrity requires stronger leadership and a much less complicated complaints process. And police performance needs much more than the traditional statistician’s fetish applied to it.

Crime figures will feature heavily, largely because they may start to rise. Whether this forms a trend, a blip or reflects more honest accounting only time will tell. But it will unquestionably fire a debate.

For my part, I would accept a rise in recorded crime, if that provides a better reflection of reality. There’s an obvious risk there, though. That is that the police confuse scrapping targets with scrapping performance measures. They mustn’t. Performance will be absolutely central to everything we do. I don’t see an easy way out of the dilemma. We have to turn police focus from crime figures back to crime. But we must also keep a very close eye on how they are doing. It will require a fine balance, time and a willingness to accept some mistakes.

Integrity and relations with the public will continue to bubble over because they are embedded cultural issues which take years to tackle. This takes in a huge area from complaints to stop and search, recruitment and neighbourhood policing. We hear a lot about the police losing trust but I wonder if the bigger danger is a loss of legitimacy. Some people will never trust police officers. But if too many start to question the right of the police to police, then we are in trouble. Is that the danger in Tottenham?

With luck, this year will see pilots of ways to improve police complaints and investigations from different PCCs, as well as the expanded IPCC. The new generation of Chief Constables, appointed by PCCs last year, now have their feet firmly under the table. They will begin to influence police culture as they exert leadership through the ranks. They, and only they, can change it.

We heard concern about the future of neighbourhood policing in 2013. I’m not entirely sure why because I’ve yet to hear of a PCC of any party not describe it as a priority. Certainly Dyfed Powys are increasing our neighbourhood presence, despite the budget squeeze. The question is whether what PCCs say is the same as what they do, which brings me to my final prediction.

In 2014 we will see the first real divergence in PCC policies. Thus far we have responded to the similar challenges of new offices and new roles. In 2014 we will see PCCs respond to budget reductions and possibly rising crime figures. How they do this will begin to show their worth.

Some will take on internal interests and look for fundamental change. Some will push for alternative answers through commissioned services. Some will duck the challenge and simply cut to balance the books. Some will weigh heavily on their taxpayers. Some will simply wring their hands and blame the government.

Some will fly, some stumble and some fall.

And that leads me to one prediction I’m certainly not foolish enough to make.

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The challenge of our age

It’s already been a big week for us in Dyfed Powys. This week the Chief Constable launched a major programme of change to get us match fit for the demands of the future.

It’s a programme that our team has put a lot of work into over the last months. They were even busy here right over the Christmas break.

Like all change it involves difficult decisions and uncertainty. We must do everything we can to minimise the negative effects. But the opportunities by far outweigh the risks. In fact the biggest risk is to do nothing.

We must deliver for our public and our central government budget has been cut by 4.8%. So, over the next few weeks and months the Chief Constable’s team will start to reshape how Dyfed Powys works and to maximise those opportunities.

Why are we doing this? The first and most important answer is that we need to make sure all our efforts are focussed on delivering for the public. They pay for the police and criminal justice system to keep them safe. We must put them first in everything we do.

The longer answer is that we must respond to the needs of changing times. Technology and social change affect us all, including criminals. Crime is changing, moving online, into the home and often away from the street. Criminals are evolving faster, responding to any opportunity they can seize. At the same time, money is short. And people’s expectations never shrink.

Every generation faces its particular challenges. Ours is the challenge presented by the end of the mass state activity of the 20th Century.

The state left to us after the great financial crash of 2008 had run out of money. It was, and still is, doing more than it can afford to do. Fixing it and paying its debts will be the regrettable but unavoidable work of my generation’s lifetime.

The world we must prepare for is more fluid and more mixed than the one we left behind. We are entering a period – whichever party is in power – of a permanently smaller state. That doesn’t mean it’s less effective. In fact a smaller state likely to be more effective. And it doesn’t mean the things the state has done, like policing, healthcare and education aren’t important. It means that we have to find different ways of doing them – more voluntary action, more sharing of effort, greater social (rather than state) responsibility.

Public First is about preparing our police service to meet the challenges of our future. We are playing our part in fixing the nation’s finances. But more than that, we are taking the best of our traditions of policing and ensuring they will still be there to protect our children’s children.

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