Civitas report on the distortions of political targets for the police

May 30, 2008 10:53 AM

Policewestminster_2This study by Civitas looks excellent:

"The police, in their turn complain of central control and ill thought out government policies. All interviews were characterised by a high level of bitterness and frustration. Bonuses are paid to senior officers based on how they comply with targets. As in the NHS bad targets are coercing otherwise ethical public servants into unethical behaviour. Serious crime is ignored and minor crime elevated to the serious in order to satisfy the measurement regime. One office said: 'We are bringing more and more people to justice - but they are the wrong people.' Targets and increased central control are turning what should be an independent police force into what another officer described as, 'an extension of the government.' At the same time too much paper work sees officers spend only 14% of their time on patrol. Police numbers may be historically high but they are low compared to other countries while the ratio of crimes to officers is now overwhelming.


Targets miss the point of what the public wants. The Home Office judges each police force by how many crimes they detect and clear up. The public wants something different. They do not want the crimes happening in the first place. The absence of crime and disorder is not a target. As one constable wrote, 'I remember when it was a matter of pride to come back after a night shift to find no crimes had happened. Now all we are asked is why no one was locked up.'


[...]


Unlike many other police forces, British police were not intended to be servants of the state but of the communities they serve. Their powers are personal, used at their own discretion and derived from the crown. This essential feature of British policing - policing by consent - is now in jeopardy."

Central targets are a dismally poor substitute for accountability to local communities.  The police are working for the politicians in Whitehall, rather than for ordinary people.  The politicians can't see the day-to-day impact of crime across the country, all they can see are clumsy and often misleading statistics.  Police officers chasing 'sanction detections' can easily boost their numbers by chasing trivial crimes at the expense of serious offences and, with a bonus of £10-15,000 at stake, they have a powerful incentive to do so.


The police need to be made accountable to the communities they serve and freed from political management.

Policewestminster_2This study by Civitas looks excellent:

"The police, in their turn complain of central control and ill thought out government policies. All interviews were characterised by a high level of bitterness and frustration. Bonuses are paid to senior officers based on how they comply with targets. As in the NHS bad targets are coercing otherwise ethical public servants into unethical behaviour. Serious crime is ignored and minor crime elevated to the serious in order to satisfy the measurement regime. One office said: 'We are bringing more and more people to justice - but they are the wrong people.' Targets and increased central control are turning what should be an independent police force into what another officer described as, 'an extension of the government.' At the same time too much paper work sees officers spend only 14% of their time on patrol. Police numbers may be historically high but they are low compared to other countries while the ratio of crimes to officers is now overwhelming.


Targets miss the point of what the public wants. The Home Office judges each police force by how many crimes they detect and clear up. The public wants something different. They do not want the crimes happening in the first place. The absence of crime and disorder is not a target. As one constable wrote, 'I remember when it was a matter of pride to come back after a night shift to find no crimes had happened. Now all we are asked is why no one was locked up.'


[...]


Unlike many other police forces, British police were not intended to be servants of the state but of the communities they serve. Their powers are personal, used at their own discretion and derived from the crown. This essential feature of British policing - policing by consent - is now in jeopardy."

Central targets are a dismally poor substitute for accountability to local communities.  The police are working for the politicians in Whitehall, rather than for ordinary people.  The politicians can't see the day-to-day impact of crime across the country, all they can see are clumsy and often misleading statistics.  Police officers chasing 'sanction detections' can easily boost their numbers by chasing trivial crimes at the expense of serious offences and, with a bonus of £10-15,000 at stake, they have a powerful incentive to do so.


The police need to be made accountable to the communities they serve and freed from political management.

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