We've been here before, or I have at least.
In 1998 the then relatively new 'New Labour' Government passed the Crime and Disorder Act, giving a statutory basis for local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (often called Community Safety Partnerships). As those of us in the field followed the various requirements to conduct Crime Audits, consulting the public, analysing local crime trends and spotting gaps in service to identify a truly local solution we all wondered what each area would come up with.
But all this localism was too much for one Home Office Minister, Paul Boateng, who had a rather curious tendency when you met him of referring to himself as “Deputy Home Secretary”, a role which doesn't exist. He sent us a letter telling us that, if we did all our local analysis right, we would obviously each find that Domestic Violence was a priority. Bang went localism and much of the point of the Crime and Disorder Act. We were expected to do what we were told, an impression reinforced as much by competition for central funding as by such ministerial directives.
I thought of this today when I read this report of Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper's statements. Police and Crime Commissioners are supposed to be the voice of the people, but Ms Cooper obviously has designs on being the oracle who hears that voice on behalf of Labour PCCs. Labour candidates will make tackling domestic violence a priority, says Ms Cooper.
Now, let's be clear. Domestic violence is a terrible crime. Victims are repeatedly targetted by the same offender. Their children are likely to also be at risk, and the one place which should be a place of safety, their home, is turned into a repeated scene of risk and crime. It is an offence that is hugely under-reported and frequently misunderstood. It could intelligently be picked by any PCC as a priority area for work, though my own feeling is that challenging some of the stereotypes around domestic violence has real potential (like accepting it isn't just “wife-beating”, addressing the mismatch between the real level of male victimisation and the general lack of services for male victims, and a break from political correctness to acknowledge that abuse and violence also happen in same-sex relationships).
However I object to one type of crime being pushed on to candidates as a priority for a number of reasons:-
1) Because having local elected Police and Crime Commissioners is a chance for local people to influence elected Commissioners, not to have priorities dictated from a political party's offices in London.
2) Because priorities should be few and far between if they are to be meaningful. If everything is a priority, nothing is, and this feels awfully like the beginning of anything and everything being a priority because it is a crime or anti-social behaviour and we don't like it.
3) Because it smacks of “something must be done”. With 41 different Commissioners, one of the most exciting possibilities is that they will each have different ideas to tackle different problems. Some of them will produce innovation that can then become the next generation of “what works” that they can all implement. But this will take local creativity and proper research, neither of which are necessarilly helped if crowded out by national direction.
4) Because it reinforces the idea that the Commissioner's prioirities should be crime categories, which to me makes the PCC the prisoner of crime statistics. Instead, how about Change priorities – not just a type of crime but identifying what needs to change, which may impact on many types of crime and other experiences of our citizens?
5) Because Commissioners should be more than slaves to their party. Candidates are individuals contemplating a very serious and important job. They should have ideas of their own, rather than just waiting for someone a hundred miles away to apply the ideology-of-the-day to crime and policing.
6) Because, where priorities are properly limited in number, forcing something on to the table pushes something else off.
7) Because it creates a preferred victim. In the report what starts off as “domestic violence” is rapidly transformed into “violence against women and girls”. These are not the same thing. I don't have preferred victims. I have sons as well as daughters and I don't want anyone beating any of them up, or if that does happen, indulging in the insidious practice of denying them help because they don't fit in with a strategy which spins the positive-sounding aspects of discrimination, while merely entrenching the inevitable negative side. Sadly, this applies to the current Government as much as it does to Labour.
Not only that, Sam! Women’s Aid and REFUGE have built an industry on the myths. Originally less than 5% of DV was by women: now less than 20% (and climbing!). The “female victim” is the only one permitted along with which goes the “male only” perpetrator. “Preventing violence to women and girls” – who would have a problem with that? But the 25,231 ACPO estimated extrapolation of serial male abusers simply ignores an extrapolated 18,022 serial female abusers – who, because of the title of the paper, do not exist! And of course the underlying concern of all of this is that men represent all the risk and women represent none of the risk. The children who are very unfortunately involved deserve much closer scrutiny about who is doing what. A child is 4 to 6 times more at risk from domestic violence than a women, at risk from either or both!. The majority of problems in this area in couple relationships concern “situational / common couple violence” as stated by Prof John Archer and Nicola Graham-Kevan, not intimate terrorism. David
Instead of invoking false objects of derision (for example there is no Poltical Correctness getting in the way of tackling DV in same sex relationships – why else was Broken Rainbow http://www.brokenrainbow.org.uk/ mentioned at a recent Women’s Aid event I attended in London?), can we find things that we can agree on…?
You say and I agree (because the research is there) – DV is under reported to the justice agencies and there is still huge stigma attached to it. Anyone who has looked into this – and that obviously includes you, Sam, knows that ‘violence’ means a whole range of ways in which one person abuses another ranging from torture to onging, often hugely subtle, control over them. It is extraordinarily difficult to track and therefore prioritise, For lots of reasons (stigma, perps & victims not wishing to mention it etc) it is unlikely figure highly on surveys or be discussed in fora designed to prioritise policing.
So what is to be done?
One thing that can be done is to highlight this issue from the centre and use the leadership influence that the Opposition has to do this. Yvetter says that “Labour police and crime commissioners will make tackling violence against women and girls a priority in their policing and crime plans”. Yes – Labour PCCs will do this not because they are being instructed to do so (Labour Party members are not so compliant) but because the case is made and successive governments including the current one, make tackling DV a high priority. (See http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime/violence-against-women-girls/strategic-vision/) Or would you be critical of that initiative as well – as not being about localism?
PCCs, elected by the people in their areas, will have to balance national and local pressures – just like the police have to now. (Why else are we seeing – due to the G4S omnishambles – many police officers being dragged away from their holidays, families and rest days to fill gaps in Olympic security – a national problem that needed local resources to fix it.)
But back to where we can AGREE:
1) Agreed – no priorities should be dictated and ALL local people should have the opportunity to contribute to the plans to be created by the new PCCs. I await with interest to see how this is to be done…
2) Agreed – 7 or 8 priorities is the maximum any person can reasonably focus on. I have never agreed with the idea of having a multitude of targets to meet. I hope PCCs follow this.
3) Agreed – if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you you always got. A focus on DV does not prevent innovation and new good practice emerging. You know that.
4) Agreed – PCCs and policing generally should not be just about crime, or even asb: it should all be about restoring, boosting and sustaining the Queen’s Peace. But that does not prevent single topics being highlighted. If Labour PCCs were only about tackling DV then I would agree with you – but…they won’t be
5) Agreed – I cannot speak for all areas natrurally, but I would imagine that every Labour PCC is already actively thinking about what their local manifesto will be, while the national party is discussing national matters. Kind of makes sense, does it not?
6) Agreed – See 2) above.
7) Agreed – no ‘preferred victims’ but I don’t agree that by highlighting DV this will descend into the scenario you describe. This is but one policy intervention by national Labour. I don’t see much from the Tory PCCs yet. All I have seen so far about the Tory candidate in TVP are announcements that he has been chosen and to quote him “If elected, I don’t think there are going to be any great changes in policing. Police performance has improved, despite the fact that we have had some cutbacks. The numbers of police on the streets has not gone down, and I would like to see it remain that way.” – so nothing changes then!? See 3) above (quote from http://www.readingchronicle.co.uk/news/roundup/articles/2012/07/15/61020-police-chief-candidate-chosen/)
There is so much we can agree on, Sam!
So Yvette was looking like she was making a commitment, when actually she was making a prediction?
Explains a lot more than just this.
I cannot speak for Yvette Cooper naturally. But she has ~not~ said “and I have instructed Labour PCC candidates to…”.