Politicians, police & crime

Are politicians the right people to run our police?

On 15th November the way our police force is run will change forever.  We will be choosing an individuals for the post of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) for our local force.  The PCC will control the police budget and have the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable and will work with others involved in criminal justice.

Separation of power

In the UK we have long had a clear separation between the government on the one hand and the courts and the police on the other.  This separation is important in maintaining a healthy democracy.  We do not have show trials where corrupt politicians control the courts and police.

Indeed Martin Bell has said ‘I cannot think of a role less suited to a party politician than that of a PCC’.

For years Lincolnshire’s police have been overseen by an Independent Police Authority. The Police Authority is made up of elected Councillors from a wide range of political parties together with 8 independent people. The 8 independent people are appointed for the knowledge, skill and experience they bring to the oversight of Lincolnshire’s police.

It was not possible for any individual, private organisation or any political party to exercise improper influence over the police.

Would you trust a politician anyway

In recent years public trust and confidence in our political leaders and our politicians generally has declined not least due to the expenses scandal but also because of the allegations of ‘cash for access’.  There have been examples of politicians meddling in cases such as Boris Johnson alleged involvement when an MP was arrested.  The Levinson Inquiry heard how the police bucked under political pressure.

This is an unhappy background against which to suggest that politicians are the right people to run our police.  Even worse the new oath that any Commissioner will have to give says:

I will not seek to influence or prevent any lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest……

The word reasonable is open to interpretation.  I have the scars of a group of politicians thinking the police investigation into a corrupt County Council Leader was unreasonable; the judge and the jury did not and he was sentenced to 18 months.

They got is in this mess – a dysfunctional criminal justice system

Over the past few decades a criminal justice system has been overseen by politicians, from both major parties, in Westminster.  Between them they have turned a blind eye to repeat low-level petty crime and anti-social behaviour, attracting minimal consequences; even worse, allowing a system to develop which attracts derision from offenders.

First you may be reprimanded (several times), given final warnings and then formally depending upon age cautioned  and then eventually end up in court.  Court sanctions can be modest and even then often not complied with.  For example:

  • Around 25% of community service orders were not completed properly.
  • £50 million worth of fines were written off with over £600 million outstanding.
  • Over 50% of tagged offenders breach their curfew but provided it is for less than 12 hours are unlikely to face any great consequences.
  • Around 50% of penalty notice fines for minor shoplifting etc are ignored
  • Over 50% of those convicted of burglary do not get a custodial sentence
  • In spite of promises to the contrary there are no effective minimum sentences for carry a knife with 63% suffering no worse than a suspended sentence

The learned behaviour for this small group of individuals is one of petty crime pays, because the risk of real sanctions is frankly negligible.  There are no serious consequences to them – but there are to us; continuing petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

This can be borne out by the statistics.  Over the past 10 years there has been a 3 fold increase in people appearing in court with 15 convictions or more.

The sanctions available to the police and others who work hard in the criminal justice system are just not there.  Outrageously prison sentencing policy is driven by the number of places available, not protecting us.

The management of prisons is not much better.  Prisoners due for deportation have been routinely released.  If drugs are freely available in prison it is obvious that drug rehabilitation programmes will be less successful.  In some of our prisons random drug tests have had as high as a 30% failure rate; it is hardly surprising that only around 50% of the drug rehabilitation programmes are successful.

Worse, if it could be worse, our political leaders have failed to tackle and resource properly many of the ways to stop people getting into the criminal justice system in the first place:-

  • The vulnerable people in our communities such as those with Mental Health problems who need NHS and Social Care support, not the criminal justice system.
  • The need to turn young offenders away from crime, early in their careers.
  •  The scourge of drugs and alcoholism which drives high levels of repeat offending.

So what have the major political parties given us over the past 30 years or so?  A failure to stop people getting into petty crime and no real sanctions against them when they do.  It’s a win-win for offenders but not for us.

Put simply the politicians got us into this mess – why should we trust them to get us out of it?

5 Responses to Politicians, police & crime

  1. Rex_Imperator says:

    I understand your view that the criminal justice system is dysfunctional.. However, having been closely involved with the police and the courts service, I am not sure how a PCC, any PCC, is going to fix this. The public complains more about low level anti-social behaviour than major crime, because the former is what they experience. Courts struggle to find an effective way of dealing with the low level matters. ASBOs were not a resounding success, fines go unpaid and tagging is seen as an excessive restriction of liberty in relation to many crimes. The prisons are full, expensively run and not required for low level matters.

    • djbowles says:

      The PCC will have a statutory responsibility to work with others to deliver an ‘efficient and effective criminal justice system’. There will be a requirement to work with courts, probation etc. We will all want to do more to prevent ASB in the first place. One of the big problems in my opinion is that when it does arise not only are relatively soft sanctions applied but the response to breaching them is soft. We need to reverse that and there must be a speedy and severe response to breaches of tagging orders for example. I will be posting more on ASB on my blog over the next few days. Would welcome your comments.

  2. Dave says:

    I see a lot of what you perceive to be wrong with the current system & how politicians are to blame & on the whole I agree but as a serving Lincolnshire police detective I am interested to hear what the challenges are to the force & what your priorities will be if elected. I know what they are as I encounter them day in day out & I know where we go wrong & what we get right whether the ‘senior’ ranks agree it not. What do you intent to do to make a difference to the current structure?

    • djbowles says:

      As you will see I think the criminal justice system is dysfunctional. Too much time is spent chasing repeat offenders, the courts are too lenient and many people, for whatever reason feel out of touch with the police. Please feel free to contact me in confidence through email or the phone no. on this site as in the same way as I am interested in what the people of Lincolnshire think I want to hear from police of all ranks. Unless you feel free to talk about what gets in the way on a day to day basis we cannot fix the system for the better, whether it is Lincs police, CPS, Courts etc.

  3. Pingback: Who’s in touch with public opinion – even Sir Paul Stephenson agrees with me………. | Vote David Bowles 15th Nov 2012

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