Reinventing the wheel – badly

PC Bobby McPeel /   June 29, 2015 at 8:31 PM 2,151 views

I posted this a few weeks ago and then removed it. With the PCC elections looming next week I have edited it slightly and reposted it. Enjoy! I found this article in the Guardian written by Professor Lawrence W Sherman on 22nd August 2012. It provided me with the perfect platform on which to base my blog on Police and Crime Commissioners and with the added bonus of giving me some ammunition against the new College of Policing. The article is in italics and my comments in normal type – just in case you were in any doubt! Link to the article: Historians will remember 2012 not for the Olympic Games, but for the most profound change in the British constitution in decades: the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners. Britons who vote in this year’s election, on November 15, will have an unprecedented chance to affect public policy – and to protect the rule of law from populist excesses. That’s right! The country is currently buzzing with excited talk of the upcoming PCC elections. I’ve never known hysteria like it. The Olympics were really just the support act to this momentous occasion. Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy are yesterday’s news and the new heroes and champions of the people are the Adonis-like figures of John Prescott. He used to be a boxer you know! Voters in England and Wales will be able to do something no one has ever done before. By voting for a police and crime commissioner in their area, they will choose a citizen to hire and fire chief constables, determine the rate of local taxation to pay for policing, set policing policy and outsource police tasks to private firms. These elections are badly timed. Voters will be using their democratic energy to cast votes for X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing in the run up to Christmas. Unless Dermott O’Leary or Bruce Forsyth present a Saturday night live showdown for prospective PCC candidates, the public will stay firmly rooted to their sofas, remote control in hand. I deal with the public on a daily basis. Most of them don’t know who the chief constable is, would not “pay my wages” if they had a choice and mostly care about dog poo, speeding and kids playing football near their cars. Don’t get me started on outsourcing – I’ll only get mad (that’s for another blog). This change is truly radical. There are other countries with some electoral control over policing, but no other nation has ever been so bold in using direct democracy to govern police policy. The boldness lies not just in giving citizens the power to hold a single politician to account for both a (big) tax bite and how it is spent. The less apparent, but more important, factor will be the mix of politics and police professionalism. For “boldness” substitute “stupidity”. In other words the PCC will become a scapegoat for when the wheel comes off and the government needs to point the finger of blame at someone. I love the bracketed BIG tax bite. Thats a good joke – I must tell that at my next party! That bite now has 20% less teeth!! Americans in some counties can elect their sheriff, who then runs a police agency as a chief executive. Australia, India and other countries elect state or national parliaments, whose cabinets include a minister who hires and fires police executives on behalf of the government. But in none of those places are the elected officials constrained to hire senior police leaders who have been fully vetted by a professionally controlled peer review process for their knowledge and performance. I don’t really see the difference – apart from one degree of separation between the government and chief constables. Earlier in the article it states that “they will choose a citizen to hire and fire chief constables”. So in theory, any citizen that fancies a punt at being a PCC could get elected and then hire and fire a chief constable without any understanding of policing. That’s genius! At worst, the PCC will be a puppet for the government and hire and fire on their behalf. In this way, the new system for England and Wales will contain strong safeguards against a free-wheeling populist sheriff, such as Joe Arpaio in Arizona, who personally leads dawn raids hunting down illegal immigrants – and even ordered his officers to investigate Barack Obama’s birth certificate. No one – and no professional body – stands between Arpaio and the operational work of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, where the police chief is the politician. The irony is we don’t need those safeguards under the current system. We’ll only them once the PCC’s are elected! Our police chiefs are not, and never have been politicians and are operationally independent. Why change it? Although not perfect, there is a chain of accountability through the tripartite system. (Chief Officers, Police Authority, Home Secretary) The vast majority of police in the United States work not for a sheriff but for an elected mayor, who appoints a chief from the ranks of officers already in the police agency. But that model also lacks any independent professional standards. It has often seen inexperienced police sergeants transformed into chiefs of police overnight by the mayor’s magic wand – and the result is the mayor making operational decisions. I refer to my earlier comments. Stop comparing us to America!! Thankfully, that can’t happen here. The new British model will limit the commissioner’s choices for chief constable to the several hundred people who have been selected by their peers through a national assessment centre. As it stands, this country’s law already forbids elected politicians from giving any constable a direct order about who to arrest or not to arrest. But in tandem with the elected commissioners, the new British model will create a more powerful professional body – a College of Policing – which will be launched on December 1. Oh great, another ill-conceived idea and unnecessary waste of money. The College of Policing will encompass police of all ranks. Modelled in part on such professional bodies as those for physicians and engineers, the new college will strive to advance professional knowledge by using rigorously scientific testing for recommending police policy. By demanding the same rigour in testing the outcomes of policing as the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) does in medicine, the college will be able to improve the cost-effectiveness and legitimacy of policing. The policing college will provide the public with facts, not just opinions, as the basis for trusting police decisions on what works – and what doesn’t. What the college will mean for elected police commissioners is that they will be held in check not just by a single chief constable, but by the entire College of Policing. Commissioners may still wish to tackle issues that have already been addressed by the entire profession of policing, in committees comprised of beat constables, crime victims, detectives, crime analysts, academics, superintendents and chief officers. But they will not pick such fights on a whim. Policing is a unique vocation and trying to make it fit the mould of other professions is foolish and fails to recognise the complexities of the job. I’m all for development, research, training and improving working practices and policies, but policing is not a science and cannot easily be quantified and based solely on evidence-based research. A lot of good police work relies on local knowledge, camaraderie, experience and a sixth-sense (or copper’s nose); there is no substitute for this. Although the College of Policing may not be a completely stupid idea, it will inevitably lead to a sanitised and academic approach to policing, which I fear will be irrelevant to work at the sharp end, and ultimately tie officers’ hands. The college will also help liberate policing from “politically correct” mandates imposed by national governments. For two decades, for example, governments have mandated police to make arrests on sufficient evidence for all domestic violence cases, despite strong field-test evidence that in some cases arrest can double the risk of further violence against the victim. This kind of complex, case-by-case problem is no more appropriate for ministerial involvement than is the choice of treatment for each patient’s lung cancer. The College of Policing will bring new meaning to independent police professionalism in the public interest, standing firmly on scientific evidence rather than being bullied by conventional wisdom. I’d welcome an end to political correctness. Bring it on. In relation to the mandate to arrest domestic violence perpetrators, the problem frequently lies with the criminal justice system. We do our utmost to get these people to court but the so-called “victimless prosecution” is virtually a myth. If prosecutions do succeed, the punishments are pathetic and ineffectual. So, where is the incentive not to go and give your ex-partner another hiding for being a grass to the ol’ bill. I agree that there should be no involvement by ministers in our professional decision making. They don’t listen to us, so why should we listen to them. The commissioners will have overall control over a local police budget, but will have no say over the wheels of justice. This approach, I predict, will foster a creative tension between liberal democracy and professional policing. It will cause almost daily confrontations – some of them no doubt explosive – between politics and the rule of law. Compared with any other country with politically controlled police, the result is likely to be much less corruption, better protection of minorities, and increased efficiency. But it’s crucial to remember that policing and politics can be a dangerous mix if voters fail to make responsible choices. So this will all result in the Government and Police having regular spats. Nothing new there then. I really don’t see the link between “creative tension” and less corruption, protection of minorities and increased efficiency. If police leaders are taking their eye off the ball and wasting time and energy by arguing with politicians, how can this be helpful? Maybe I’ve missed something. Finally, how can voters make responsible choices? They don’t know what they are voting for! Politicians of all parties agree that the new law on police commissioners is unlikely to be repealed, even by a new government. This lunacy is here to stay. Yippee and score for democracy! But it doesn’t make policing less judicial than before; it simply joins that role at the hip to a radical new form of democracy. The most serious risk of elected police commissioners is that they will provide more policing to the local areas that voted for them, and less to areas where the public didn’t bother to go to the polls. Low-turnout areas are also likely to be high-crime areas, needing more policing rather than less. Repeated field tests show that the most effective use of police patrols is to concentrate on high-crime hot spots, rather than wasting patrols on areas where crime rarely happens. Yet low-crime areas often make the most demands for extra policing. A clear statement of professional standards for patrol allocation from the College of Policing would help both commissioners and chief constables to build public support for police policies that prevent the most crime. So essentially what he is saying is those with an interest in PCC’s and who bother to go to the polling stations will be more likely to have influence and receive priority policing. Those areas will inevitably be more wealthy, educated and privileged – a bit like the current government! The risk is a completely undemocratic and unrepresentative system. If you believe recent forecasts, only about 18% of the population are expected to turn out to vote for PCC’s. Those will probably mostly be the 18% just mentioned above. CALL A PRESS CONFERENCE!! “Repeated field tests show that the most effective use of police patrols is to concentrate on high-crime hot spots, rather than wasting patrols on areas where crime rarely happens.” And these people are paid a lot of money to “research” this stuff. Ask any police officer in the country, or indeed anyone with a gram of common sense, and they will tell you this. So, what are they going to do? Give us standards for patrol allocation. I’ve got a crazy idea. I’m going to throw it out there so brace yourselves. Let’s patrol the crime hotspots! The only thing that will add new energy to the police is if the government stop squeezing us for every penny and allow us to get on with the job that we love, allowing us to serve the public with the same enthusiasm and commitment that we have always done and sworn on oath to do. And there it is in the final sentence. It’s up the voters to make it work. As I have mentioned, there will hardly be any voters. Most of the public aren’t interested in setting policing priorities and having control over how budgets and resources are allocated. They just want to know that when they call 999, someone in a uniform will turn up. These ridiculous schemes are diverting much needed cash away from putting officers on the street, and ultimately putting public safety at risk. Professor Lawrence W Sherman is director of the Police Executive Programme at Cambridge University, where he teaches police chiefs from the UK, US, Australia, India and Latin America. Has he ever been a police officer? No, I rest my case. Courtesy of PC Bobby McPeel

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