David G Green
Sunday May 18, 2003
Many police officers feel they are over-stretched, under-paid,
and under-appreciated. Are they right?
As recently as 1996, 64% of people told the British Crime
Survey that the police did an 'excellent' or 'good' job.
The latest figure for 2001/02 has fallen below the halfway
mark to 47%. But looking at the record of the British police,
it is surprising that public confidence has remained so
high. Since 1950, the likelihood of a crime being cleared
up by the police has decreased by 46%. In 1950 45% of recorded
indictable crimes were cleared up; by 1999/2000 the clear-up
rate had dropped to 24%.
For some crimes the deterioration has been well below the
average. Since 1950, the clear-up rate of burglaries has
decreased from 33% in 1950 to 13% in 1999/2000. And for
robberies, since 1950, the clear-up rate has decreased from
54% to 18%.
During that period, crime (recorded by the police) rose
rapidly from about 500,000 crimes in early 1950s to a peak
of 5.6m in 1993. Today the figure is 5.2 million, ten times
the 1950s rate. A major explanation for falling police performance
is that they have simply been overwhelmed by the amount
of crime. If we go back a little earlier to 1931, there
were three crimes per year in the whole of England and Wales
for every police officer (59,000 officers had 159,000 crimes
to deal with). By 1971 97,000 police officers had 1.6m crimes
to tackle (17 crimes each) but by 2001, 126,000 police officers
had to contend with over 5 million crimes (44 crimes each).
However, the police have made matters worse by the manner
in which they use the scarce time at their disposal. A common
response has been to focus on 'serious' crime and to leave
'trivial' offences to take care of themselves. This understandable
reaction turned out to be the diametrically wrong thing
to do. And just how wrong was demonstrated by the New York
police in the 1990s.
Few cities faced a bigger crime problem than New York in
the early 1990s. Its lawlessness had become a taken-for-granted
feature of movies of the period. In 1991, for example, there
were 99,000 robberies in New York City. But within a few
years a rapid reversal had been brought about, so that in
2002 there were only 27,000 robberies. New York's annual
robbery rate (540 per 100,000 population) is now less than
London's (620). The revolutionary change in police tactics
associated with Mayor Giuliani and police chief, William
Bratton, became known as 'zero tolerance' policing but its
essence was not police strong-arm tactics. Bratton preferred
to call it 'community policing' and George Kelling, the
intellectual who inspired the reforms, called it 'broken
What did they do? An increase in police numbers was important.
In 1993 there were 28,700 police officers. Giuliani was
elected in 1994 and had increased the number to 30,500 by
the end of the year. In 2000 there were over 40,000 police
With the larger number of officers at their disposal, Giuliani
and Bratton re-policed 'harmless' quality-of-life social
nuisances and 'victimless' crimes that nevertheless were
the seedbed of those crimes that did have victims. Among
those targeted were prostitutes soliciting on the streets;
people taking and selling drugs on the streets and in the
parks; graffiti artists; drunken youths; loud users of 'foul
language' in public; unauthorised street sellers; squeegee
men; aggressive beggars.
It was found that fare dodgers were also pick-pockets,
aggressive beggars spent part of the day begging and part
shoplifting, and drug dealers pursuing a 'victimless' crime
were quick to use violence when crossed. Getting prostitutes
off the streets reduced the atmosphere of disorder that
provided cover for drug dealers, who left. Prostitutes'
clients, who would not want to tell the police they had
been robbed, were easy targets for muggers and car thieves,
who also left. The streets were once again occupied by people
who wanted to go about their own lives, respectful of other
people's rights to do the same. Washington Square Park was
typical. It was dominated by prostitutes and gun-carrying
drug dealers so that no ordinary person went there, except
by mistake. The police put a permanent command centre in
the park and it became available once more for use by local
students from NYU, residents, office workers and tourists.
The police in Britain have been reluctant to learn these
lessons. One police officer who did implement them in Hartlepool
and Middlesborough was hounded out by senior colleagues.
However, Ray Mallon had become a local folk hero and was
quickly elected as Mayor of Middlesborough, where he has
had a good deal of initial success and popular support in
pursuing this approach once again.
The most typical response of the police service to its
diminishing achievements has been to enforce performance
measures of every description. As the Observer special crime
supplement (27 April) showed, the life of a police officer
is dominated by targets and budgets. But do the targets
lead to an improved service? Ironically, the danger of focusing
on 'activity' targets was seen at the very outset of modern
policing in 1829, when Sir Robert Peel framed nine principles
of policing for the new London police force. The ninth principle
has been forgotten by today's aficionados of performance
targets: "To recognise always that the test of police
efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not
the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them."
Show it to modern Chief Constable, who has worked his way
to the top by demonstrating mastery of management jargon,
achieving target response times on budget, achieving 'step-change'
to schedule, or writing elaborate proposals for 'joined-up'
working practices, and you get a blank look. When ACPO meets
this week, perhaps they should take a look at the 1829 principles.
David G. Green is Director of Civitas: the Institute for
the Study of Civil Society. This article draws on The Failure
of Britain's Police by Norman Dennis, director of community
studies at Civitas. The Nine Principles of Policing can
be found online at www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/policeNine.php
David G Green
Sunday July 20, 2003
According to the latest British Crime Survey (BCS) overall
crime has continued to fall over the last year. Why? And
what does it tell us about Mr Blunkett's policies? The main
lesson is an uncomfortable one for people of a liberal disposition
who instinctively prefer to see offenders rehabilitated
rather than incarcerated.
Crime has fallen chiefly because more offenders are in prison.
In the 12 months up to December 2002 alone the prison population
increased by 3,563 to 69,612. This week it is 74,000. Yet,
the government has embarked on a policy of replacing prison
with 'intensive supervision' in the community, a strategy
that has already been tried in other countries, where it
was found to make little difference to re-offending.
To claim that increasing the use of prison reduces crime
is controversial. What is the evidence? Despite misleading
rhetoric about short-sharp shocks, during the 1980s the
Tory Government pursued an anti-prison policy and between
1988 and 1993 the prison population was cut by nearly 10
per cent. The crime rate reached an historic peak soon after
and towards the end of 1993 the policy was reversed by Home
Secretary, Michael Howard. Between 1993 and 2001 the average
number of people in prison rose from 45,633 to 66,300, an
increase of over 45%. What happened to crime over this period?
According to the BCS crime fell from 19.1 million in 1995
to 12.6 million in 2001/02. Was it just a coincidence? Armies
of academics argue the toss, but no one disputes that, while
in jail offenders cannot break into your house, whereas
when on a community sentence they still have the free time
to steal. Criminologists call this the 'incapacitation'
Even if no deterrent effect is assumed, the incapacitation
effect of imprisoning on average another 20,000 criminals
would have been substantial. How can we work out the incapacitation
effect? The Home Office report, Making Punishments Work,
estimated that the average offender carried out 140 offences
per year. The variation was large, and offenders who admitted
a drug problem, were committing an average of 257 offences
We can make a rough calculation of the incapacitation effect
of jailing 20,000 full-year equivalent offenders. If each
prisoner carried out the average number of offences identified
by the Home Office, then 2.8 million offences against the
public would have been prevented by 12 months in jail. If
they were high-rate offenders, the effect would have been
5.1 million offences. This would account for a large chunk
of the fall from 19 million crimes to 12 million.
Labour home secretaries know this and have continued Michael
Howard's policies, though reluctantly. Between 1997 and
July 2003 the prison population increased by 12,000. What
was the incapacitation effect of jailing these offenders?
If they carried out the average number of offences, then
there would have been 1.7 million fewer victims of crime.
And in the last year alone, the additional 3,500 prisoners
would have accounted for nearly half a million fewer crimes.
How much did crime actually fall? Since 1997, according
to the BCS, there have been 4 million fewer crimes per year.
And in the last year, crime fell by about 250,000 offences
to 12.3 million in 2002/03.
The Government is under intense pressure to improve public
services and, as both Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett secretly
realise, being 'tough on crime' is a lot more effective
in the short run than being tough on the causes of crime.
They also know that, if the Government is to keep crime
falling, it will need to build more prisons. Yet the policy
set out in last year's white paper, Justice for All, is
to replace prison with intensive supervision and surveillance
in the community. However intensive it might be, it is no
substitute for the almost total public protection afforded
Perhaps that is why the Home Office is projecting an increase
in prison places to between 91,000 and 109,000 by 2009.
· David G. Green is Director of Civitas: the Institute
for the Study of Civil Society