Saturday, 8 August 2009

Can Pipe push the police?

The TV series The Wire provided a glimpse of how police and politicians might deal with each other behind closed doors. It didn't look like a happy relationship in Baltimore where the show was set.

In this week's Hackney Gazette Mayor Pipe writes: "I met Chief Supt Steve Bending, Hackney's new borough commander, this week to discuss how we can drive down crime in Hackney still further and, in particular, how we can do more to tackle the problem of gang and knife crime that still affects parts of our community."

Pipe also said he was "particularly pleased with the new borough commander's commitment to the policing pledge - a way of ensuring that Hackney residents get the high standard of policing they deserve."

According to the few policemen who dare to complain publicly - but still anonymously - targets set by bureaucrats are the main source of their misery. This example appears to deal with the policing pledge. It is from a book written by an anonymous police inspector and blogger Inspector Gadget (I haven't read it but found this excerpt on the blog Monday Books which is worth a look).

In his book, Perverting the Course of Justice, Inspector Gadget says:

We now have the ‘public reassurance agenda’ thoroughly embedded in our ‘tactical delivery plans’ and ‘control strategies’.

There’s a major ongoing scheme called the ‘Citizens’ Focus Agenda’, which involves a lot of cold-calling, often by agency staff or civilian call centres, with people being asked a number of questions for a variety of different surveys.

Don’t be fooled by the title – the ‘agenda’ is not one of actually ‘focusing’ on what ‘citizens’ want, it’s about honing media responses and assessing the reassurance gap and producing justifications for things like PCSOs and Neighbourhood Policing – and making sure we stay one step ahead of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Some of the people we contact have recently been victims of crime. We will select a certain crime type and call everyone who has suffered from it 24 days after the report was logged.

I was given the job of overseeing this. A few things about it puzzled me.

‘How do we decide which crimes we’re going to call people about?’ I said.

The answer was, we find out which crimes the HMIC are focusing on and follow their lead.

‘Right… why 24 days?’ I said.

Because HMIC phones victims at 30 days, and the first HMIC question is, ‘Have you had any contact with the police in the last 30 days?'

Mayor Pipe would probably like to see the 'reassurance gap' closed in Hackney. In the Gazette he wrote: "Crime in Hackney is falling at a record level, with 10,000 fewer victims than there were five years ago."

This is not a view that is shared by Hackney residents. The Place Survey England - Headline Table Results 2008 (which came out last month) shows that only 26% of Hackney residents agree that the police and local authorities have done a good job in the borough. (It also found that 56.4% of respondents "think that drug use or drug dealing is a problem in their local areas" - exceeded only by Newham and Tower Hamlets 60.7% and 60.5% respectively.)

With a 'reassurance gap' like this will the Mayor be tempted to push Hackney police into PR rather than crime solving and prevention?

The possibility that this is happening already appears to be illustrated by another statistic in Place Survey of England. When it asked Hackney residents if they agreed "that the police and other local public services seek people's views about anti-social behaviour?", the answer was that 28% of Hackney residents knew that their views on crimes were being sought.

This sits uncomfortably next to the 26% figure for Hackney residents who think that the police and the council are doing a good job. The fact that more people aware of the effort to communicate than of a good job being done must be frustrating - if it is correct. But it seems unlikely that people will change their views unless the 'seeking of views' transforms into the 'forming of views'.

With 56.4% of Hackney residents thinking "that drug use or drug dealing is a problem in their local areas" only a change on the ground sounds like it will make a difference and that won't be helped by PR.

If Gadget's allegations about surreal bureaucratic tail chasing are even half true then may be it would be a good thing to know exactly what demands - if any - Mayor Pipe can lumber on Hackney cops.

Under the influence

I've used this quote before but only because it's so disturbing. It is from Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey's judgement following Birmingham's notorious 2004 electoral fraud epidemic:

"This (the failure of the police to investigate electoral fraud) is not helped by the invidious position in which a police force is put when investigating electoral fraud in a local authority context.

"The alleged fraudsters may, after all, be members of the political authority to which the force is answerable. The noble cop who fights corruption at City Hall at risk of his career may well be a staple of Hollywood movies but he is much rarer in real life."

I am not suggesting that Hackney Council is corrupt or under investigation - the point is that a respected judge believes that the police are subject to influence by local politicians. That however professional or knowledgeable a police force may be, their task can be made more difficult by the demands of politicians. Mawrey's quote is just demonstrates that the power exists.

The question is how is this power used and what kinds of influence does someone like Jules Pipe have over the way the borough is policed? If the political agenda is as far removed from the requirements of good policing as it was in The Wire, may be we should be worried. But it would be good to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment