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.