David Green writes for the Telegraph today making a very strong case that failures of policing, rather than too much alcohol, are at the root of yob lawlessness:
"The accepted tactic is to maintain a permanent police presence - not an occasional drive-through by a police car, but regular foot patrols by officers whose job is to get to know the gang members.
It usually turns out that there are a few ringleaders and a lot of hangers-on. Effective policing can easily break the power of gang leaders. They are usually committing crimes every day of the week, providing ample grounds for arrest and conviction.
But Mr Fahy also made another claim. "We cannot have a society," he said, "where adults feel scared to go out and challenge youngsters up to no good."
Fair point. But is fear of retaliation by unruly youths the only thing holding people back? In recent years, the police have increasingly arrested and charged victims of crime for "taking the law into their own hands".
One infamous case occurred in Penzance in June, when the owner of a hardware shop tried to stop three youths from stealing cans of spray paint. One kicked him in the groin, which provoked him to punch and kick the youth in self-defence.
The police arrived, gave the youths fixed penalty notices for shoplifting, then charged the shopkeeper with assault. He was conned into pleading guilty by police officers, who told him he could face six months in jail if he didn't."
Alcohol can, of course, cause people to lose their inhibitions and forget the consequences of their actions. However, statistics from the Better Government paper show how unlikely it is that criminals will face serious consequences:
"Where 100% represents the total number of offences committed:
- 45.2% are reported,
- 24.3% are recorded by the police,
- 5.5% are cleared up by the police,
- 3.0% lead to a caution or a conviction,
- 2.2% are convicted by the courts, and
- 0.3% are given a custodial sentence."
There just aren't that many consequences for a drunken lout to forget about. Even in a sober state of mind they're likely to have little fear of the criminal justice system, they don't have much to fear.
Green also hints are the root cause of the problem in this section:
"If Mr Fahy truly thinks that adults should not be frightened to challenge youths, he should take a glance at the "nine principles of policing" framed by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. One says that the police should "maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen". In other words, the police should remember whose side they are on."
The problem is that at the moment the police just aren't on the side of the citizen. They're on the side of politicians who want to see targets met. These targets aren't a good proxy for an effective police force or the priorities of the citizens that the police are supposed to support. Only making the police accountable to those citizens again can put them back in the right corner.