Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Loss of faith in the police

There is little doubt that today people are loosing faith in the police. On 11th February, an article in the London based Daily Mail newspaper, Officers in despair, a public losing trust: Inside Britain's police farce, highlighted some of the difficulties that are inherent in the police force today.

Not that I would say the Daily Mail is a fully trustworthy paper, but the journalist, Harriet Sergeant, offers us some interesting facts and musings about the police. Below I have taken from Sergeant’s article some of, what I think, are the more poignant snippets and have made some of my own comments underneath:

Source: Daily Mail newspaper
Article: Officers in despair, a public losing trust: Inside Britain's police farce
Author: Harriet Sergeant

“By 2011, spending on the police will rise to £10 billion, two-thirds of the law and order budget.”

Sergeant argues that the police have never been better equipped, had so much money or access to technology, but yet the public and the police themselves have never been more dissatisfied with their lot.

“A poll shows that only one in five of us believes in the Government's ability to deal with crime and violence, the lowest rate out of all 30 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”

“The 43 police forces in England and Wales are wholly accountable to the Home Office.”

As Sergeant herself suggests in this statement, confirming our own knowledge, Cornwall only has an English colonial police. Moreover, this highlights the need for the police to be decentralised and for Cornwall to have control of its own police force.

“Worse still, the Government all too often measures the wrong things - and tolerates dodgy data for political ends.”

The police are controlled for “political ends” – a telling statement indeed in view of the events that have been happening in Cornwall over the last year.

“Bad targets force otherwise ethical public servants into unethical behaviour.
In the police, this means that serious crime is ignored and minor crime elevated to the serious in order to satisfy the target regime.”

Hence the arrest of innocent people in Cornwall.

“As a result, police complain that they are criminalising a generation and alienating the public.”

They have certainly alienated and continue to alienate people by arresting and harassing people who are innocent.
“Ordinary people want something different. They do not want the crimes happening in the first place.”

“When asked to choose which activities the police should spend more time on, the public's top three priorities are preventing crime, community policing and foot patrols - all of which are about deterring criminals.”

People want a more local and accountable police force. They want to see police people in the streets who they know, respect and who are approachable.

“Targets measure crime committed rather than crime prevented. They allow the Government to score politically - but in the process, police complain, the Government has sacrificed their integrity and their relationship with the community.”

Targets for the police just motivate the police to arrest people.

“As one officer said: "Politics currently control the police."”

See above!

“This growing alienation between the public and police is deeply worrying.”

Perhaps this is why there is a shortage of Special Constables in Cornwall, (see but Special Constables are just a sticking plaster for an open wound.

“In the most recent British Crime Survey, 50 per cent of respondents thought the police in their area did an excellent or good job.”

But that means 50 per cent didn't, which is a sorry performance for any institution.”

“Complaints against the police have doubled in the past three years. Significantly, the big increase is coming from law-abiding, middleclass people, upset by officers' rudeness, by not being kept informed about a case as promised and the crime against them not being investigated properly.”

Police definitely need to keep the law abiding public on their side. This is not achieved by harassing and arresting them for the sake of targets. Neither is it done by making them feel they are permanently under suspicion.

“In 2003 there were 264 police officers in England and Wales to 100,000 of the population.
The European average is 357, and in New York, where crime has fallen dramatically in the past 20 years, there are 457.”
The figures just don’t add up. Again this is politics interfering. In Scotland they have recently increased the number of officers on the beat. This could be done if Cornwall had its own devolved force.

“But what exercised the police officers I encountered more than anything else was the pressure on them to meet targets in what are called "sanction detections" - making arrests, charging people, issuing penalty notices or official cautions.
It skews police activity, takes away their personal discretion - once a key factor in policing - and puts them in confrontation with an increasingly hostile public.”

Targets, targets, targets – no one likes them except the politicians and the fat cats who benefit from them with financial incentives.

“One constable remarked that his job used to be about problem-solving - if a dispute could be settled without making an arrest, so much the better.

‘“That way we make more friends than enemies within our communities."”

Not any more. Arrests have to be made to meet the "sanction detection" quotas.”

In Cornwall the police have certainly made enemies rather than friends. This is not good policing. Again this is down to targets and politics!

“Local commanders are judged by their detection rate. The annual bonuses of their senior officers - £10,000 to £15,000 - depend on it.”

The fat cats!

“To meet targets, police are now classifying incidents as crimes that would previously have been dealt with informally or even ignored.

The best example is Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which allows police to arrest anyone for "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress".

A senior policeman explained that Section 5 used to be invoked only for "a full-blown punch-up".

But now that a Section 5 arrest qualifies as a "sanction detection" and counts towards to those all-important targets, suddenly every minor incident is blown out of proportion.”

Again this is about meeting targets. Hit the public with any law – even if they are innocent, or even if they appear to be on the fringes. Of course, this effects the more vulnerable in the community, who may not even be aware of their rights or that they may be breaking the law in the first place.

“The effect of all this on the policing we receive is devastating. Crimes that would once have been written off are rigorously pursued, wasting money officer who refused to collude was disciplined.”

Targets, targets, targets!

“A child stealing a Mars bar earns an officer the same as working on a murder investigation. Inevitably, some are now reluctant to get involved in any job that does not help towards their target.

But this is often the very police work that the public appreciates - reassurance and solving problems.”

Again this shows that we need local, community policing. Special constables are fine, but they will not have the experience and training that professional officers have. Therefore are more likely to make mistakes. In short Special Constables are no substitute for a proper qualified professional police force.

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