UK: How Not To Run a Police Force

by MELANIE PHILLIPS September 25, 2010
A quite devastating report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has admitted that the British police have staged a 30 year ‘retreat from the streets’ and abandoned the public to endemic thuggery which has blighted the lives of millions of people.
This report, by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor, is a stunning admission of what can only be described as systemic professional collapse. The picture he paints is of a society whose most vulnerable inhabitants have been simply abandoned because the police have, as he bluntly observes, ‘defined disorder down’ -- and effectively out of existence -- as they have looked the other way.
The kind of yobbery he is talking about is, as he says,  
a cumulative, corrosive issue that undermines the ability of victims to live in peace.
Yet the police by and large don’t take it seriously. The principal reason is that anti-social behaviour does not fall into the category of ‘crime’ – and therefore does not register in the crime statistics. And since for years now the police have tailored what they do in order to be seen to be meeting crime statistics targets set by the government, the victimisation of whole communities by yobbery has gone unaddressed.
As a result, the report discloses that, even though some 70 per cent of people say they have been the victims of anti-social behaviour and it accounts for a full 45 per cent of calls from the public, the police fail to respond to some 50 per cent of these calls.
Moreover, only a quarter of the 14 million incidents that occur each year are reported to police because many victims feel their complaint will be ignored. So we can now see how the official crime figures are hopelessly unreliable. The true extent of crime in Britain is very much worse than official figures suggest. And one of the main reasons for the discrepancy is the collapse of faith in the very people who are supposed to be protecting the public from that crime.
The toll of misery caused by this collapse of the policing ethos is appalling. Individuals, their families and their houses have been targeted for years by thuggery that make victims prisoners in their own homes. More shockingly still, many if not most of these victims are poor and, even worse,
29 percent of our victim survey identified themselves as having a ‘long standing illness, disability or infirmity'.
So the most vulnerable are being the most badly victimised and the most badly ignored by the police. And the unrelieved despair caused by such victimisation and neglect has resulted in a few tragic cases of suicide and violent death.
In other words, managerialism – that benighted doctrine that lies behind target-setting, regulation and the management consultancy-speak that has helped bring Britain’s public services generally to their knees – results also in violence, intimidation and even death.
But it’s not just top-down managerialism. There’s also a problem of bottom-up incompetence:
Out of 43 forces, only 22 have IT systems that help them to identify and prioritise repeat calls, at the time of the report being made, and just 16 forces can effectively identify vulnerability. This falls to only 13 forces that can effectively identify those most at risk, repeat vulnerable callers, at the time the call is made.
The fact is that, over the past three decades or so, PC Plod has simply lost the plot. There have been many reasons for this: a denigration of policing street experience in favour of increasingly ideological academic qualifications as the criteria for promotion; the undermining of justice and morality by ‘victim culture’ and human rights law; the savaging of police attitudes by the politically correct inquisition; the politicisation of the upper ranks and their kow-towing to Whitehall interference and managerial gobbledegook.
The result of all this and more has been a wholesale demoralisation of the British police. At their best, they are magnificent. The HMIC report itself records that, where the police do address anti-social behaviour, there are is high level of public satisfaction. And some senior officers’ feet remain firmly on the ground. See for example, the remarks by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson,  who responded to the HMIC report by admitting that
a ‘psychological contract’ between police and the public over tackling street yobbery has been broken
and that
officers behind desks often leave members of the public to face petty thuggery alone. in general.
But in general, the police are now lions led by donkeys. And they have lost sight of what policing in Britain always saw as its priority: not the detection of crime, but the prevention of crime and the maintenance of public tranquillity. It was that perception which made the British police unique in the world. And it has been lost. To his credit, Sir Denis appears to understand this. There is surely real anguish here when he writes:
We need to examine the impact of the drift away from maintaining order by presence, persuasion, communication, cajoling and when needed coercion, though often short of physical force, to a model principally geared around control and the use of powers.
What he is describing is not just a discrete problem of police strategy. Nor is it merely an erosion of the professional ethos of policing. It is the brutalisation and disintegration of a once gentle, civilised, orderly country – whose gentleness and orderliness derived from a shared understanding of the necessary limits of behaviour, of the need for discipline of self and of others, of a shared sense of connection with others, of the fact that policing needed to be carried out not just by men and women in uniform but by parents and teachers and bus conductors and park attendants and society in general, all pulling together in pursuit of a common interest.
As Sir Denis O’Connor has said, individuals and communities must re-establish acceptable rules of behaviour for those in public spaces or impacting on their neighbours. But as Sir Paul Stephenson has said, individuals and communities need the police to back them up in doing so.
The formal and informal policing of a society is a symbiotic process. The erosion of the one causes the erosion of the other. The crisis of British policing is a symptom of the wider crisis of Britain’s fractured society.          Contributing Editor Melanie Phillips is the author of the powerful and frightening "Londonistan" which can be purchased here and she blogs at The Spectator.

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