Mervyn Barrett OBE, an Independent Candidate in Lincolnshire, gives his view on “tough on crime”. TopOfTheCops view on the same issue is here, but if you would like to pen an alternative view on this or another relevant topic, why not discuss it with Editor@TopOfTheCops.com – and we are still taking ideas for other shorter debate pieces where the content is anticipated mostly to be in the comments section.
I have been struck by the tough law and order rhetoric expressed by a few candidates for Police and Crime Commissioner. Struck, not because I do not expect to hear such things; some candidates will always take this stance because they think it appeals to voters. But struck because a few candidates, including those who ought to know better, clearly believe in what they say.
The problem with their approach of course is that it doesn’t work. It is simply empty rhetoric. It satisfies basic desires within us; it is not based on an analysis of what works.
Take, for instance, zero tolerance. It is clear that more than one candidate will take a zero tolerance approach to policing, drawing on their experience and, I guess, Bill Bratton's approach in New York. Analysis of Mr Bratton's approach by researchers at Bristol University suggests that the fall in crime in New York cannot be attributed to zero tolerance. Amongst the reasons they give is that crime fell at the same time in other American cities that had not adopted the same approach.
Zero tolerance conveys the idea of the police seizing the streets, taking no nonsense from anyone, least of all young people. As one candidate put it, 'police officers should be walking straight down the middle of the pavement, not standing scared in doorways. If yobs don't get out of the way then walk through them'. The terminology 'yobs' and the improbable image of police officers standing scared in doorways aside, do any of us, indeed do the police themselves, want to be walking straight down the middle of the pavement, knocking aside those who get in the way? Of course we don’t, and the police don’t. The police are a service, not a force. Have candidates forgotten the riots of a year ago when people felt so alienated from the police and the authorities?
A number of candidates seem to think the Police and Crime Commissioner will have a prosecution and sentencing brief. The police don’t prosecute anymore – that’s the Crown Prosecution Service’s job. Sentencing has never been in the police's gift and nor is it ever likely to be in the gift of Commissioners. So to talk about 'locking up burglars' and making 'the prisons build loft extensions' is never going to happen, no matter what a few gullible voters might think. 'Seizing back the assets of criminals' is again the responsibility of the courts and prosecution service, not Commissioners.
'The only way of stopping a career burglar from burgling is by locking him up until he stops'. The statement is problematic on a number of levels. I will pick just one of them. In order to lock up a burglar, you have to catch him in the first place. There will never ever be enough police officers around to provide enough patrol cover to prevent anyone from sneaking into property when no-one is looking. And tax payers might have something to say about ‘loft extensions’. They don't come cheap.P rison building aside, it costs more than £35,000 a year to lock someone up.
There's more than one way of stopping a career burglar. Being tough on the causes of his offending, often drug related, is one way and often a cheaper, more effective way than imprisonment.This is not empty rhetoric – I have worked on many initiatives that are proven to work far better and more cheaply than prison in cutting crime. Drug treatment for instance works and is cost effective. I’ve worked with countless drug offenders over the years and seen the difference first hand. What’s more the 2010 National Audit Office report, Tackling Drug Use, concluded that for every £1 invested in drug treatment we save £2.50 later on.
At the end of the day how we reduce the number of criminals is immaterial – what matters is that we do reduce them because fewer criminals mean fewer victims.