Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Instead of reducing crime, police officers have colluding – in their own departments, and sometimes with criminals – to reduce records of crime. Whilst the individual responsibility of these police officers cannot be exculpated, the political pressure placed on the police service, cascading down through the ranks, must be examined.
Targets were enforced upon police boroughs, as Peter Barron explained to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), where “they can only afford to have X number of burglaries per day, X number of robberies per week”. It is the first Peelian principle that police forces exist to “prevent crime and disorder”, but it is ludicrous to place such precise targets. Crime is meant to be prevented through community co-operation and the persistent cultivation of order. In London, these targets would emanate from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. James Patrick notes that an absurd target – 20% reduction over the next four years – came from a speechwriter’s mistake: “Genuinely, that is the anecdote as to how that target arose”.
Such targets can only be achieved by misreporting incidents. Fraudulent fashions are often fused with grotesque phone calls to pressurise victims into relegating allegations and other misdeeds, which became encouraged, rather than punished, within the police. Mr Barron said:
They are asking for a 20% reduction in crime, what they think they are asking for is 20% fewer victims. That translates to “Record 20% fewer crimes” as far as ACPO and senior officers are concerned. The number of victims remains exactly the same; they just do not get recorded.
This failure to properly register crimes leaves real but unrecorded victims without care or support, and distorts other policing methods – as best practices drown in dissonant statistics.
All governments want to cut crime. Safe streets and idyllic lives are potent political messages. A government’s narrative rests upon positive crime statistics, just as it does for economic data. Bernard Jenkin MP, the PASC Chair, said:
Personally, I would like to apologise on behalf of politicians of all parties, who are responsible for creating this atmosphere in which targets must be achieved, creating the perverse incentives that have created this situation.
This political transgression into policing minutiae is outrageous, and should attract opprobrium. Our system of governance rests upon the mutual independence between the government, the police and the courts. The government writes laws, the police uphold those laws, and the courts hold swift and fair trials, and delivers punishments.
All officers who have engaged in statistical fraud, bribery and harassment should face disciplinary hearings and trials, with leniency shown to those officers who willingly submit themselves. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) should be empowered to investigate statistical and procedural malpractice, along with the suggestion of the PASC Chair: the repeal of Section 29 of the Police Reform Act, allowing whistle-blowers to go straight to the IPCC. The government should consider moving Incident and Crime Registrars to the vigorously independent Office for National Statistics. Politicians should be brought to this inquiry, to examine the corrosive effect of political pressure.
Establishing this eroded independence would help restore ethical policing, which has deteriorated thanks to perverse incentives encouraging endemic fraud and crime. Our police service should return to its founding principles, and become the best again. This is a dark age, but we may soon be blinded by light.