Be afraid; be very afraid of who you elect as your Commissioner

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 – 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.


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25 Responses to Be afraid; be very afraid of who you elect as your Commissioner

  1. An interesting debate to start. I agree in principle with Mervyn’s comments. I am a great supporter of rehabilitation and restorative justice, as he says, getting fewer criminals has to be the aim. . Zero Tolerance is a juxtaposition, and as he said, contributed little in Bratton’s New York. The main success in New York was the scrutiny the commanders received over how they were policing, in front of the whole Force.

    You cannot have zero tolerance per se, we haven’t got enough police.
    However, by labelling a particular crime area as zero tolerance (as I have with ASB) it highlights to everyone your stance on it.

    We have let standards slip. People are allowed to use far more aggressive behaviour and words than they were, say, 20 years ago, before a police officer intervenes?

    That’s what I mean by zero tolerance. As Mervyn says, some candidates brandish the words almost like a magic wand. Zero tolerance is far from that. it needs strict guidelines to the officers, on what is tolerable and what isn’t. But it can send a clear message that ASB is firmly on the agenda, and will not be tolerated.

    Why do I use the label zero tolerance? Because the public understand it. And because Bournemouth has a stag/hen reputation that needs to be sorted.

  2. One of the best posts I’ve read on the subject. Let’s hope people listen.

  3. What a good article NOT – You can tell it is a prospective candidate from a NACRO career background, which it doesn’t say for some reason? on his PCC site, and he does wrongly claim to be the “Leading Independent candidate” in LIncolnshire rather than one of two, and he calls his helpers “Interns” – Aso personally I would love to know how all those twitter followers got there!!
    Perhaps the writer would like to also remove all keys from prison doors, and we could save a fortune on prison officers.
    The police should do everything possible to catch every criminal – and must have the resources, because money can be found and real pressure on the Prime MInister and Home Secretary are needed to divert money from other areas – not just people who say asking is waste of time, which seems to be the mantra from some party candidates – dare I say overseas aid, Europe and many other pockets could be raided!
    Sentances should properly reflect the effect and impact on the victim, and not that of the poor misguided career criminal . That dratted HRA again…Remember – If they are in jail they cannot commit crime and they have a choice not to commit crime as we all do – Not everyone from a terrible background commits crime – the cost of prisons should come down by making such things as the cost of their meals equal to that in hospitals, cutting down on what should never be in there such as Sky television if it is still there – Prison should be somewhere no one wants be in, and if they get there they only want to be there once…Yes I do agree attempts to show them the error of their ways and rehabilitation are also needed. The very serious crimes like rape, murder, major drug dealing, and really violent crimes should see the perpetrators really hit hard with at least 20 years before becoming eligible for parole if it is not their first offence for a similar crime. I would guess most peope would pay a lot more for their police and prisons if they did the job of locking the criminals away and keeping the country safer – How about some lottery money for special police tasks – especially on drugs? -.Where are we on repatriation – HRA again!
    I have personally seen the effect of “Soft on crime” in many areas including the inner cities many times over the years, and more recently in rural areas, and the police need medals for what they have to face as a result of it – Criminals laugh in their face. “Do gooders” also talk about it not being crime but “Fear of crime” – Again it maybe is fear sometimes, but with complete justification in most cases – When it is your 90 year old neighbour who gets battered for what is in her purse, in her own home, in broad daylight, how long would you put the chap in prison for ?- What if it was your mother Mervyn? – also the similarly placed neighbours have every right to be frightened It could very easily be them next, and that is why people such as myself have to escort them to the shops, shop for them, etc. I have also had a young kid knock on my door and beg to be let in while I ring the police because he is being chased by some other youths from a neighbouring village for crossing their line! Someone near me has spent over £10, 000 in legal costs trying to stop his neighbours ruining his family’s life – and yes he did try to be nice and neighbpurly when the people moved in. Vicious dogs is an other key area – don’t get me started…. It makes my blood boil to read such articles as this, and in a perverse way I just wish ther Prime MInister, Home Secretay the writer, and even the Queen, had to put up with much of what good law abiding ordinary people have to in some areas, because I am sure it would make them think differently if it actually happened to them rather than hearing about it – and please don’t say start a youth club or give them a job and that will solve it… Wise up please – we have had years of “Soft on crime” and it has to change – Our police forces deserve much better. Also please don’t quote statistics because a great number of crimes go unreported for fear of reprisals, or apathy because they think it will not stop it sand they are wasting their time – Incidentally severe anti – social behaviour is a crime in my book – Richard

    • samchapman says:

      Can I join your party, Richard?

    • A good case in point for ‘harsh on criminals’ approaches would the United States. Mass incarceration of prisoners and for long sentences. Has it worked? Has it heck. Placing someone in a cell does nothing to make them a better citizen when they leave. Have they acquired skills to help get a job? No. Have they had their drug addictions treated? No. How about mental health issues? No. They leave in the same condition as they entered and so returning to crime is an obvious reality. A person committing crime due to drug addiction needs that addiction treated and eradicated, otherwise they will simply go on offending by either possessing drugs or funding the habit through criminal activity. The same for poverty etc. What we should aim for is an approach that makes people not want to go back to prison, not out of fear, but out of not needing to because they have the ability and skills to be a better citizen. A life of crime is not an easy lifestyle, so help people to break free of it.

  4. Sebastian says:

    Great article Mervyn. Wish more candidates would start talking like this. Good luck in Lincolnshire. You’d have my vote for sure!

  5. says:

    The author is making a direct reference to me, Kevin Hurley and this . Please read it carefully

    Most people don’t actually study the philosophy of Zero Tolerance, it is about firm but reasonable approaches to crime and disorder. It is a resolute state of mind to not ignore or back down in the face of anti social or criminal behaviour that means police officers have to have the back bone and the political support to walk through a bunch of louts on the street. They do so on behalf of all the pedestrians.

    To the author read the article in detail. In the middle is a bit about standards of officer behaviour, “listening” etc.

    Please note the only inner city borough in a major city in the country that did not have rioting was
    Hammersmith and Fulham. Why? Zero Tolerance.

  6. First thing to say is – good article, Mervyn, it chilled my blood.

    Secondly Richard, when exactly do you draw breath or (cheap shot I know) pause to spell words like ‘sentence’ correctly? And is this you in this list by the way – ?? If it is… hmm.

    I believe the quote ‘the prisons build loft extensions’ comes from here Mr Hurley, where you are quoted as saying “I want the local police to make the prisons build loft extensions”. Do you stand by that quote? Make…. really? Precisely, how will the Surrey police, under your leadership, achieve this?

    As for H&F being “the only inner city borough in a major city in the country that did not have rioting”, please could you provide us with a source for this statement which would include a list of all places that experienced rioting last year next to a list of all inner city wards / districts for the country (which I assume will include Bristol, Leeds, Reading, Leicester, Birmingham, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff etc etc….). Thank you.

    • Thanks very much for spotting my spelling mistake – I like to avoid such things, but I was in a hurry to try to defend victims of crime and I do strongly believe there is a need to tackle the “Soft on crime” agenda before we start saying “Sorry you had to hit me so hard to get my money off me – Did you hurt your fist? – Please don’t sue me for compensation.”
      I do also strongly believe in all aspects of Information Rights – particularly transparency and honesty. I try very carefully to uphold and follow the legislation relating to it, as I did when dealing with matters relating to standards in public office. This is why I would like an answer on “The buying of votes on Twitter” saga. I want our PCC’s to be as open, honest trustworthy and efficient as they can possibly be – People deserve nothing less. I do not feel PCC’s should be part of a party political machine.

      Please do not hesitate to spot any more spelling mistakes – Richard

      • John Briggs says:

        As a holder of Judicial Office, or at least as someone who is subject to the Office of Judicial Complaints, should you really be entering the fray quite so energetically Mr Enderby?

      • Richard Enderby says:

        I would never enter into any similar debate if it was connected to any jurisdiction that I sit on, such as the right to access information, or was in any way related to my tribunal work. I think I have already made that plain in another post. I have declared an interest and would never sit on any Tribunal related to LIncolnshire – nor have I ever done so. Similarly I would never attempt to sit on a Tribunal that was dealing with this subject.
        You seem to be implying that anyone who is a judicial appointee in anything cannot have the basic right to “Free speech” on subjects they strongly believe in, that are not related to their appointment?
        In my case it is not even the same as a magistrate wanting to stand as a candidate…

      • I may pass on the highlighting of all the typos and spelling mistakes in your writing – as you will no doubt be inclined to spot mine!
        For clarity’s sake – I am a staunch defender of victims too – which is one of the reasons why I am disturbed that this government is about to up-end Victim Support in some daft quest for more efficiency – but that is another story
        Most of what you say I can agree with – I am all FOR effective responses to crime and disorder. I want action on crime that, put simply, WORKS! Retributive justice in the main does not work very well – as research suggests over and over that once people are involved in the CJS, they remain involved and prisons become colleges for the junior members of the criminal profession etc.
        As you want PCCs to be open and honest, you presumably support my efforts to get Cllr Anthony Stansfeld to be more transparent about his commercial interests (see my blog for all the details)…?
        As for PCCs being part of a machine – personally I would rather that PCCs were part of a body of opinion and collective action than some lone wolf who can do or say what they wish with impunity. But we may have to disagree on that point.

      • Richard Enderby says:

        Much of what you say makes very good sense – and we are probably much nearer to agreement than both of us thought.
        I would support any campaign for candidates to be open and honest, but I cannot support politicial party machinery entering into this arena. There has always been too much politics involved in policing in my opinion, and even Government members have commented about “Independent PCCs. In my area the “Father of the House” a very wise man indeed, is not happy about supporting a party candidate. It stands to reason there can be a conflict of interest.
        I fully agree with your “Lone wolf” comment, and sincerely hope the PCCs will work together as a group. This has already been indicated as something that will happen – Again party politics, (-and I mean all parties, I am not against any particular one) could spoil that – PS I have just spotted a typo in my last post – sorry – Richard

  7. Oh yes – and you have not answered my question as to whether you are the Richard Enderby in the list I referenced – transparency & accountability and all that…? (Thanks for the prompt, John)

    • Richard Enderby says:

      Sorry – But I thought it was “Self evident” from my response… But I will elaborate further in line with the transparency I support. Yes – I sit on tribunals, but they have nothing to do with criminal matters, dealing with appeals in relation to the “Freedom of Information” legislation, and people’s right to know – balanced by the fact that the legislation also sets out how, why, and when, it is considered not right for information to be released. There is a key clause known as the “Public Interest Test” (PIT.) If you want to study the legislation,which is important, go to the Information Commissioner’s website. I also sit on the Tribunal dealing with cases of extremely bad conduct in public life, which is being wound up, but if you study some of the worst cases eg Accessing “Kiddie porn” on council funded computers you will see we did do some good.
      For the full record – I am also a school governor because I believe in trying my best for our children and their future, chair my Parish Council trying to do my bit for my community, chair Patient Participation Groups and sit on a CCG Locality Panel, because I support the need for the best possible service for patients, and I sincerely want a good independent PCC for the same sort of reasons. I am a Christian, not a Church goer, married with 3 grown up daughters,
      I would never be a magistrate, if given the chance, nor would I sit on Immigration Tribunals – in both cases, not for any reasons relating to race, prejudice, or anyhting sensationalist like that, but due to some of the laws governing them I would have to dutifully follow. It is a matter of personal conscience. Anything else – please ask – the above looks quite egotistical reading it back – but I am actually possibly just the opposite in real life. Oh and I am violently opposed to legalising drugs, and would like to see a major national initiative to trry to rid us of the large drug suppliers.
      I also try to deal in facts, not “Rhetoric” as Mervyn loves to keep saying, and I study both sides of the case – and yes – I strongly believe in rehabilitation (Especially after first offences) and trying to stop crimes being committed in the first place. However, in my humble opinion, and we are entitled to have one, we have gone too far when it comes to weighing up the rights of victims,(Where is their large national body?) and being soft on career and major criminals.I particularly respect the rights of people described as just being “In fear of crime”
      For the final record – I think David Bowles is the right person for Lincolnshire’s PCC – Just look at his record. I have nothing against Mervyn, other than his desire to “Over egg” his status for the position, in my opinion – and unless it has been put somewhere, and I have missed it – His constant “Dodging” of answering whether or not Twitter followers have been bought. I find that distasteful and unbecoming, but if it has been done, and we all make mistakes, I would feel better about him if he admitted it, instead of leaving it hovering round him.
      I am not a candidate, I am not worthy, so I hope you will now concentrate on the candidates, like I am trying to do, to ensure each area hopefully gets the best one. Richard

  8. ianchisnall says:

    I too value Mervyns blog

  9. Michael Frost says:

    Never mind be afraid be very afraid. I hope to goodness this man doesn’t ever get hands on the the levers of power, Its people like this that got us to where we are now, try and go out for a nice evening in any of our cities and you will see louts and yobbish behavior all over, and wiil probably see our emasculated police powerless to do anything that’s really effective, and for the record , i have seen them cowering in doorways. All I want is what most decent people want and that is to go out and feel safe on our streets and our loved ones and possessions are protected. This naive man is quick to ridicule people taking a tough line but doesn’t say anything that will make a difference to the yobbos and criminals where I live.

    • ianchisnall says:

      Hi Michael, you don’t say were your experience was gained, but certainly as far as Sussex is concerned, any time spent in shop doorways is certainly not cowering by our officers. All of them are very willing to put themselves in the middle of any violence. However in many situations, the presence of uniformed officers in the centre of a setting can provoke rather than calm those who may be out for ‘good time’. I coordinate the Street Pastors in Brighton and it is amazing how different people’s response is to our Street Pastors and a uniformed Police Officer. I would also question if we are in the state you suggest, but perhaps you could explain what you mean by that comment?

  10. Ed Packwood says:

    Mr Barrett writes an eloquent package, though at first I wasn’t quite sure from which perspective but it did become more clear.

    • He argues it’s not about being “tough on crime” etc.
    • He argues it’s not about “zero tolerance”,
    • He argues it’s not about “no nonsense” policing.

    He says none of these work. “it’s (they are) simply empty rhetoric” he says.

    He seems to believe other candidates are deluding themselves by suggesting these 3 tenets, mainstays even, of his competitors pitch are based upon misconceptions of the role they will have.

    He says:-
    • “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.”
    • “’Seizing back the assets of criminals’ is again the responsibility of the courts and prosecution service, not Commissioners.”

    His lambasting others for delivering what he terms ‘rhetoric’ disguises the simple fact that he is a “one iron golfer”. And what’s the club he has in his golf bag?

    Rehabilitation of the criminal and their subsequent recidivism. He argues all else is doomed to failure.

    Mr Barrett was a medium level manager working NACRO (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders – ) from whence his views, experiences and “ideas” flow.

    Whilst at NACRO he and no doubt his colleagues would have put into practice the ideas he now wishes to bring into the role of PCC for Lincolnshire.

    Did those ideas work when he was a small fish in a large pool? Well you be the judge.
    Between 1993 and 2009 – whilst Mr Barrett was directly involved in practicing what he now preaches –the prison population rose by 4% per year.
    I don’t think that spells out SUCCESS in any language let alone that of Mr Barrett or NACRO.

    Further Mr Barrett argues that much of what others are suggesting in their “rhetoric” will not be in the purview of any new PCC. He may be right, but neither will it be in the powers of any PCC to in any way alter the offending or recidivism rate by his methods either. His argument is therefore specious as, what he says about the effectiveness of others ideas, can be levelled at him too. Except of course his argument is proven ineffective as we have seen above.

    What will a PCC’s day look like. Do you think it will be full of conversations about care and rehabilitation of drug offenders?

    For me as a Lincolnshire resident, especially one living so rurally and therefore exposed, I’m more interested in what the new PCC and the Chief Constable are going to do about real policing, including support for beat officers. ‘Managing’ the difficult process of policing in this ‘spread so thin’ county.

    Do I want to hear about the PCC and officers spending time and effort on rehabilitation? No not when older people are at serious risk in this (and other) counties.

    Do I want to hear about rehabilitation when metal theft is rife. No. I want that issue sorted out.

    Do I want to hear about rehabilitation when there is so much rural crime. No. Again I want that issue addressed first.

    What is required of any new PCC, surely, is the ability to grasp the difficulties of jointly managing – I say “jointly” as let’s not forget the chief constable – a huge and extremely complex organisation balancing on the knife edge of public opinion whilst staring into the dark pit of underfunding. Not engaging in time wasting long discussions on esoteric and obviously failing ideas on how effective it would be to rehabilitate criminals – just because that’s the only iron in your golf bag.

    If I may just return to the top and repeat Mr Barretts quotes and add one of my own:-

    • “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.”
    • “’Seizing back the assets of criminals’ is again the responsibility of the courts and prosecution service, not Commissioners.”

    In exactly the same way, neither is it the role of the Police, nor the new PCC to rehabilitate criminals, as it would seem he argues.

    It’s the role of the Chief Constable and the new PCC to protect the people of Lincolnshire with the meagre resources they have and leave care of the offender to those who are charged with the task .

    • It hasn’t been NACRO (or indeed the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) since the early nineties. It is now and has been for many, many years the country’s largest crime reduction charity working with before, during and after they are in trouble in order to reduce crime and cut re offending. We are a service delivery charity that is on the frontline each and very single day cutting crime. As Mervyn says what does it matter how you cut crime as long as you do?

      As to the rest of your argument it is not my place to comment but I will say Mervyn was one of the most inspirational and engaging Head’s of Department I had the pleasure to work for during my time at Nacro, the crime reduction charity.

  11. Ed Packwood says:

    The wagons are forming a circle I see Mr Lennox. And Mr Barrett is showing once more his reticence to answer.

    Whilst we are on the subject of not answering, I see your tweet following is reducing Mr Barrett. It now stands below the “inflated” 17k+ it was. Any reason for that? I can see the headlines now. “Tweeters leaving Barrett in droves”

    As an aside, “Head of department”! That’s going to stand Mr Barrett in good stead to run Lincolnshire Police I’m sure.

    BTW when you come to give the oath, should you be successful in the election that is, how are you going to put your hand on your OBE and say this?

    “I will take all steps within my power to ensure transparency of my decisions, so that I may be properly held to account by the public.”

    Not much evidence of the transparency of your decisions thus far or for that matter answering i.e. being accountable, to the public? And it is “within (your) power to ensure transparency” regarding your appropriation of that huge Twitter following. You are not filling me with confidence.

  12. Dr. Evil says:

    But it would be reassuring to actually have police walking a beat, being seen and being able to speak to one as a person.

  13. Pingback: Are the police a service or a force? | Vote David Bowles 15th Nov 2012

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