I knew it would go wrong the moment I heard it. “We have taken 513 police officers off the streets.”
It was at the Lancashire Police Authority Meeting last week, where the Acting Chief Constable was running through the latest crime figures, and having given the fairly good 12-month comparison had decided to release a comparison of the one single month that had finished in this year, which was less good, leading to the speculation as to why that might be.
I was sitting in what I will call the spectators’ section, and my senses may have been heightened by the presence of the local reporter who had taken a seat just in front of me, as his pen jumped to life, matching the actions of several round the table, which included two-thirds of the local Labour PCC shortlist.
The Jubilee weekend would keep the story away from the front cover till today but, as you can see, not forever. And then a tweet or two and the help of the Press Association, and before you know it, it is being quoted by the Shadow Policing Minister, and transformed in no less an organ than the Telegraph to say “Burglary and violent crime is rising in some parts of the country because of the swingeing cuts in police numbers, a police chief has warned.“
Surprisingly, what didn’t make the story was his anecdote about people shoplifting meat, bread and cheese and how this was “a commentary on social pressures”, so that one member of the authority expressed a concern that they wouldn’t like to see the criminalisation of people committing crime out of necessity. Perhaps reporting all that would have made the meeting sound less like a Police Authority meeting and more like a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the bleeding-heart-liberal party?
My mind went in several directions, to half remembered scenes from films depicting harsh punishment of starving French peasants, to my undergraduate self reading All England reports stamped ‘from the library of Mr Justice Diplock’ as I tried to understand what was required to fulfil the demands of the legal defence of ‘necessity” or ‘duress of circumstance’. But mostly what filled my mind was the thought “Oh dear!” as, whether intentionally or otherwise, the Acting Chief had become the pin-up of every wannabe Labour Police and Crime Commissioner in the country, including tacit endorsement of the campaign slogan of one sitting opposite him.
And they say policing is not political.
You may imagine that last week a whole host of requests for clarification found their way from yours truly to the Constabulary, and when that information is received, I will be sure to give you the highlights. Suffice it to say for now that the varying levels of crime, whether that variance is up or down, is neither neatly or solely related to the number of cops there are, and there are some categories of crime that should increase if the police are doing a good job (see the third bullet here).
There was a time when I would have been concerned about the impact that this would have had on fear of crime locally. This was before I realised that most people only believe crime figures when they are rising, and that how they feel about the level of crime is little to do with what is reported at a Police Authority meeting.
It was a shame though about the soundbite. I feel the real news at the meeting was missed – that after years of never doing it, the Authority had trained a number of members in how to handle pension forfeiture cases, as a number were expected before November. Now there’s a story.