There has of late been a lot of talk about rising crime, particularly violent crime, with the predictable cries that it’s all due to insufficient police numbers. Now it may well be that the police force is under manned, or possibly that it’s got too many of the wrong people doing the wrong things. However it occurs to me that to a great extent the absolute numbers of police really doesn’t matter. By and large the number of people employed in the police force doesn’t have any direct impact on the amount of crime committed. Much like ticket inspectors don’t stop fare dodges, what they do is catch fare dodgers and the risk of being caught and the repercussions of being caught prevent people fare dodging. So it is with the police, a bobby on the beat might stop someone in the process of committing a crime but generally the police are there to take action after the event. It’s the action they take that causes crimes not to be committed. So to have a deterrent effect the police have to be able to take suitable action and the resultant cost to the ne’er-do-well must be such that crime doesn’t actually pay.
So to be effective a police force needs to be perceived by our would be miscreant as likely to take actions that will result in a greater cost to the miscreant than the potential gain. To this end the police need to be taken seriously and dare I say it be respected. We are ( at least in theory ) policed by consent. The police’s power is dependent on the co-operation of the public as the third principle says:
“To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.”
I would suggest that to achieve such respect and approval the police need to enforce laws consistently and impartially, indeed as the fifth principle says: “by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws”
Now I’d suggest that some of the police over recent years by their action, inaction and own media portrayal have consistently eroded at least the appearance of being impartial and by ill-conceived public announcements squandered what respect the public had for them. They haven’t been helped of course by the ever-increasing number of jobs worth and busy bodies strutting around in faux police uniforms, and I include PCSO’s in this camp. If you have some jumped up jackanape who looks remarkably like a police officer trying to throw their weight around and making up rules and penalties as they please it erodes respect for the police by association. Mainly because there are now so many bodies that have this enforcement power or that ability to charge penalties that as far as the general public are concerned they’re effectively a single amorphous enforcement blob headed by the constabulary.
The rozzers haven’t helped themselves in this matter, and I’m not entirely blaming the feet on the ground here so much as those that instruct them and represent them. We’ve had riots where the police stood by watching cities burn, rather than defending property but condemning those that were prepared to defend things for themselves. We’ve had rules and laws suspended for some groups due to “cultural sensitivity”, and lower sentences given because of the same “cultural concerns”. We’ve had millions spent to find the child of a pair of media savvy middle class parents that if they’d been working class would have been investigated for neglect, whilst the abuse of thousands of working class was ignored for the sake of “community relationships”. Violence at demonstrations has been prosecuted with an uneven hand, with no visible action taken even against people filmed carrying out violence directly in front of officers. There are repeated boasts from various forces about all the resources they’re dedicating to prosecuting hurty words and upset feelings, whilst telling us they don’t have the resources to tackle theft or crimes against the person.
All of which would be bad enough but then they go and trumpet the success they’re having with getting illegal weapons off the street, by headlining it with a legal antique air pistol, or the contents of someone’s tool box or even a table knife. This doesn’t convey a sense of a zero tolerance approach, so much as a sense of farce and if people are laughing at you then you don’t have their respect. Rainbow coloured patrol cars and twerking at carnivals fun as it might be also really doesn’t help support an image of a serious force, ready to prevent crime and disorder. If you want to have a zero tolerance policy, and tackle “smaller” crimes to create an atmosphere inconducive to crime that’s fine and dandy – but you can’t do so by prioritising such matters over more serious offences and to convey such a message you have to be taken seriously and be respected.
So really it doesn’t matter how many police we employ if the perception is that they’re all seconded from the keystone cops. When the perception is that in the unlikely event they do see you breaking the law they probably won’t do anything about it ( if there’s a risk that it might be culturally insensitive ), and if they do do something then the courts won’t give out a meaningful punishment, and if the courts do hand down a fearsome sentence then don’t worry because the parole board will make sure you don’t actually have to do it. Now you may claim that all of these things are “isolated” instances or are inflated by the media. Well maybe, but the police forces have their own media voices that do nothing to counter such impressions, preferring instead to threaten action against people removing flowers from a fence commemorating a dead burglar whilst the victim of the burglary can’t go home as it wouldn’t be safe. So the flowers will be protected but not a pensioner in their own home. It’s a bad narrative, and it’s a frequently repeated bad narrative. It is sufficient that justice be done but it must also be seen to be done and these days it very rarely is. So call all you like for more clown cops on the street or behind desks, it won’t make much of a dent on the crime figures until you the police are once more a force that is respected and working with the consent and approval of the populace.
As a final note I’d observe that when the police aren’t considered to be up to the job then people will take over the role, and then when they’re prosecuted it can’t help but erode things further. Most people want to leave things to the police and the appropriate authorities but that only works if those authorities are seen to be doing their jobs and protecting the people who have entrusted them with the task.