I don’t often post a direct reply to a question in the comments. I kind of enjoy reading everybody else kicking it about BUT I read Hopi Sen and he asked a straight question particularly about David Blunkett’s reforms to Policing.
“So here’s my question to Jack, genuinely meant. Since he knows that some of his colleagues dial it in, while most are dedicated and hardworking, that some constabularies are useless, and some senior officers worse than that, why wouldn’t a Home Sec look at this and come to the conclusion that their only viable option is to grab hold of the system and tell it what to do, even if that means wrenching the agenda away from the freedom of the frontline police to do what they will?” – Hopisen
The key phrase there Hopi is, I think, your last four words. “do what they will.” Was that really what was happening? Were an emancipated Police Service swanning around doing not much with all those extra resources? I don’t think we were.
In the wealth of statistics trotted out to show how great the 1997-2001 period had been in terms of Policing, the Home Office were asserting that recorded offences fell by 21% percent between 1997 and 2001. They also claimed that all types of crime from had fallen significantly. Public satisfaction with the police was around 66% (and how we would wish to achieve that barely 9 years later). The government already had it’s apparent result from the increased spend, a substantial reduction in levels of crime . So if it already had the result it wanted, why then deploy “The Blunkett” to crowbar through reform?
My proposition is that during his time at the Home Office, David Blunkett was not about making policing better. He was about doing things that seemed likely to be popular with
a) A Treasury with concerns that 20% of the bill for policing was for pensions.
b) That part of his political constituency that had been crying out for years that the Police failed the socially disadvantaged, women and various minorities.
c) That part of the floating vote that likes to hear strong rhetoric on anti-social behaviour.
David Blunkett addressed his perceived problems in ways that were not well thought out. His policy initiatives caused many of the problems in the relationship between Police and society that afflict us today. He is that most dangerous of things, a quick thinker and forceful advocate with no trace of self doubt.
Lets look at what David Blunkett did as Home Secretary between 2001 and 2004. What were the landmark Policing policies of his tenure? What were his big ideas? (I shall borrow heavily from Wikipedia, The Grauniad and Hansard and I may revisit old ground – sorry readers)
In 2001, right at the start in the Observer, he set out the thinking behind his version of Police reform. He came at it from a standpoint of making sure that the Police started providing a better service in terms of those crimes that impacted on the poorest and most deprived areas of our society. He explicitly saw Police reform as an arm of social policy. His talismanic image throughout was the repeat victim living on the sink housing estate in Sheffield. Policing was somehow failing these victims. His themes were that Policing was not convicting enough people and that Policing was not detecting enough crime. Never mind that Policing was reducing the actual levels of crime. He got us arresting more people alright and detecting more crime but I don’t think that the repeat victim in Sheffield is any better off today as a result and the cost in terms of public confidence and organisational confidence / morale just hasn’t been worth it. Anyway…..
Someone at the Treasury was not at all happy with the cost of Policing. We know this because early on in his career, David Blunkett mentioned the cost of policing quite a lot. He even fell out with the Police Fedaration about it when he decided to slash overtime, reform pensions, mess with working hours and introduce very large pay differentials all at the same time. It was too much too soon to force onto any working culture let alone the Police. He recanted at a Police Federation Conference when he realised that he had gone too far too fast but the damage was done in terms of trust between the Police rank and file and the Home Office. Too much, too soon. Consequences not properly thought out. Long term damage.
Exhbit NJ/01 Proposed reform to Police pay and conditions
His big idea White Paper was called Policing a New Century, a Blueprint for Reform. Amidst the rhetoric on increasing detection and convicition rates were a few choice phrases ( I cherry pick freely)
“The challenge of modernisation is to bring about the kind of improvements which are
welcomed by everyone – except those more concerned about protecting their comfortable
ways of working.” – Who could he mean?
“The Government intends to deliver a modern police service in which managers can make
the best, most flexible use of staff, and terms and conditions meet the diverse needs of the
workforce. Police employment regulations are a bar to efficient and effective policing, and
unresponsive to changing needs and pressures. They constrain the ability of police officers
to have modern career patterns and fail to meet the aspirations of those now entering the
employment market. The Government has asked the PNB to explore and agree ways of reforming the pay system and the current system of regulations. It is hoped that agreement in principle will be reached by the end of 2001. The PNB has also been asked to explore and agree
ways of delivering a fair and more consistent approach to early retirement due to ill health.” – We read this as “The shafting stick is coming to get you” and it was.
“Driving up standards is at the heart of police reform. Some forces and BCUs achieve high
standards, and proven good practice should be used for the benefit of all communities.
To help the Police Service deliver a better and more consistent service to the public the
Government is taking specific steps. These include:
• strengthening and developing HMIC to challenge the worst performers and recognise the best
• a National Policing Plan to set out the Government’s priorities for policing, how they wish
to see them delivered and indicators by which performance will be measured; and
• a new three tiered-approach to good practice – regulations binding in law, codes of practice
to which chief officers will have to have regard, and guidance which will be advisory.” – Hello and welcome to central targets and all the ungoodness that came with them
“There are, of course, particular concerns for women, members of ethnic minority communities,and other groups who are vulnerable to hate crime. Policing must deliver the same service and the same respect to the whole community. “ – Now hear this fringe voters, I’m going to make “The Man” work for you as well
I exhibit as NJ/02 Policing a New Century A Blueprint for Reform
April 2002 brought The National Crime Recording Standard. This was not about common practices of crime recording across forces. It said that on the tin but the label lied. This was about ensuring that every report of a crime was treated as a crime.
The noble aim was to ensure that the police stopped sweeping racist, homophobic, “bad on bad” and domestic violence crimes under the carpet. Did thatsort of thing ever go on? Of course it did. I remember it well. Shouty, criminal damage and common assault type domestic violence used to be a “look the other way” crime within my service. You might arrest “him” for Breach of The Peace to take the heat out of the situation but you would seldom prosecute for any criminal offence. The ethos was to take the heat out of the situation then and there rather than for the police to try and impose any long term solution on the couple. (That being said one of my first ever arrests was an ABH domestic assault that went to court and got a conviction).
Was N.C.R.S. the answer to those problems? Of course not. It was the bluntest of blunt tools, a quick fix machine bureaucrat’s response. Lets create a one size fits all system and see what happens. What happened was that the police got an unacceptably large bolus of criminal complaints that all had to be recorded as crimes and all had to be investigated. Goodbye increased Police numbers, hello more arrests and paperwork. The very best way to keep officers on the streets and away from red tape is to encourage us to use the power of arrest sparingly and to seek resolutions that do not involve recourse to the courts wherever possible. That’s where the paperwork is. Always has been. The case preparation that we had already was a massive chunk of that oft quoted 43% of time inside the station. How was adding more cases ever going to change that? There were never enough police to do justice to N.C.R.S., there never could be.
Matters of neighbour dispute, harsh words said, unwanted courtship, name calling, playground fights, petty acts of spitefulness, minor damage, marital arguments and revenge reportings that were never previously anywhere near the criminal justice system were now firmly within our remit as crimes. A social policy aim was served but at the cost of soaking up an awful lot of resources in pushing the NCRS boulder up the hill. This was entirely forseeable but it did not seem to occur to the Home Office at the time.
Now if you ally NCRS to inflexibly inspected, crude, centrally driven, quantity based performance targets in terms of arrests, detections and offenders brought to justice you get a Police service that is driven to do two things
1) Create a bureaucracy to ensure that no crime goes unrecorded, un-investigated or undetected. This must be done to pass the inspections. A whole audit trail industry has grown on the back of this central requirement.
2) Create Police Officers who lose sight of the the people involved and who see the world in terms of arrest and detection figures. A crime is just a crime. There is a process to be gone through. There is trouble in not following the process. Not reporting is not an option. Not arresting is not an option. Criminalisation follows given sufficient evidence.
The public have not enjoyed this new equal opportunity arresting face of policing. Just look at the satisfaction figures.
I exhibit as NJ/03 the National Crime Recording Standard and the systems that came with it.
I think that’s probably enough to be going on with for tonight. There are P.C.S.O.’s that don’t do much community supporting. There are his policies on moving law enforcement down a more authoritarian track really quickly in relation to ID cards, freedom of expression, freedom to protest and intrusion into private lives. There are his reforms to the sentencing system that have created a regularly expressed and growing dissonance between sentence given and sentence deserved to the point where the public look at some sentences and they see real injustice to victims.
I note with interest that the Home Office seems to be coming back to the idea that Police discretion is a good thing and central targets are not. It will be interesting to see how much else of his work survives reappraisal.
Just to re-iterate the point made above less crime is a good thing. More arrests and detections may not be a good thing. The more arrests we have to make, the more incidents we have to record as crimes, the less we can be outside policing. Processing arrests is the big number in putting police off the streets and swallowing up resources in the back offices. Please Home Office, try and remember that next time.