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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Everything changes but remains the same

Even though I have been away on holiday  - Mauritius, very nice thank you - I have been keeping an eye on developments in policing in the UK following the the General Election.

This is my brief analysis of events. I draw on my experiences of when  I was seconded to the Home Office on two occasions so I may have a few useful insights.

First and most importantly we have a new government in power. It is a coalition of Conservatives that tried to maintain in the election that we live in a broken society created by Labour and they will come in to fix it; and the Lib Dems who are ideologically against what they see as the erosion of civil liberties. The right-wing of the Conservatives also are opposed to the big state controlling individuals. So one Labour policy goes immediately - ID cards - a big mistake in the long run my opinion - but it is do with how it was spun by Labour as an anti-terrorist measure - its real benefit is as potentially a net cost saver by allowing state benefits and access to services such as NHS to be properly regulated and targeted for the first time.

Coming back to the allegation of a broken society and supposed rises in violent crime that accompanies the argument. The case was never convincingly made in the Election Campaign and most importantly no alternative strategies were or have been put forward. This may be the reason why the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is not the Home Secretary now. The fact is generally Labour had a pretty good record on crime and policing. The move to Reassurance Policing, Neighbourhood Policing and the overarching performance measure of confidence in the police was well researched, logically implemented and funded over a period of about 10 years. This along with the Drug Interventions Programme that recognised the link between heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine addiction and acquisitive crime has made a real difference to many peoples lives.

But (big but) in the Home Office we are talking politics (with a big P, small p and in fact any size of p you can think of). The new government has to be seen to fixing problems of the old regime with new policies. The first thing they have to do has been handed to them on a plate - they have to reduce cost. This was where Labour (and the Home Office) was at their weakest as they thought that the importance of a strategy was reflected by how much money was allocated to it. Actually a lot of  what happens in the police only needs a fraction of the money to implement than that which is made available. The money then goes to project managers whose only measure of success is have they spent all the money within the time scales, leading to waste on every level. So there is scope for improvement there which I fully support. This would include a rationalisation of the central police bodies at the top - at the last count there was the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), Her Majesties Inspector of Constabularies (HMIC), the Police Standards Unit (PSU) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), all good sources of employment for retired police officers (so not all bad!); and a rationalisation of oversight in London - the Mayors Office, the Metropolitan Police Authority and Government Office London. This is particularly urgent as the only big new policy that the Coalition Government has come up with so far is the introduction of locally elected police commissioners. This seems to be a Chris Grayling idea which has survived, see here. It is not clear to me how this will all work or even if it is desirable, what I do know is that it will be expensive, add another tier of bureaucracy and take at least 5 years to implement properly by which stage a new idea may be on it way in.

Lastly and probably most importantly for my research is the removal of the overarching performance measure of increasing public confidence in the police announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May, at the ACPO Conference on 29th June 2010. An interesting speech which is worth reading in full. It can be found here. Now this is where in my opinion spin and politics come in. Take this quote from the speech;

But targets don’t fight crime; targets hinder the fight against crime. In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime. No more, and no less.
The quote makes no logical sense in the cold light of day but thats by the bye. What she (and her advisers) are trying to flag up is judge me by whether crime is cut or not. This is clever politics because this is the one measure that is has been falling year on year and is likely to continue to fall and it is a measure that is totally manipulable by politicians and the police. We are not of course talking about crime here per sae. we are talking about the sub-set which is police recorded crime. In fact there is a very good case to say that rises in police recorded crime is a good thing. For instance, I am sure that police recorded crime in the shanty towns around Recife Brazil (see my previous blog) have a low level of police recorded crime (worth research) but that does not reflect the true situation.

The police service and the Home Office is like a huge oil tanker. It will not be easy or quick to turn round strategies regarding police confidence and they are likely to continue to be measures at local level over-seen by the new local representatives. Local crime statistics and crime maps will become more and more important for police accountability - see also Nick Herbert's speech on 23rd June 2010 here. This will call for a new generation of more sophesticated and comprehensive crime maps in the future. Co-incidently I am presenting a paper at the MapAsia Conference on 27th July 2010 in Kuala Lumpur entitled "Towards a Second Generation of Crime Maps for the Public" which discusses this subject. I will publish it on the blog once it has been delivered.

So what are my are conclusions. Everything changes but remains the same and there is plenty of need for my research out there!

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