July 03, 2006

"Only broken windows policing can solve crime"

In The Business, Blair Gibbs explains changes in police practice that led to reductions in crime in the US.
Broken windows theory argues that the police have failed because they have become purely reactive. Instead, they should seek to prevent serious crime by paying attention to minor problems because these so-called quality of life issues (such as vandalism, litter or graffiti) degrade neighbourhoods and send signals that more serious crime will be tolerated.

Broken windows theory demands a return to the beat-based policing in tune with the original principle upon which the police were founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 – the prevention of disorder. This not only reassures the public but generates a huge increase in street-level intelligence. The police get to know who the troublemakers are and persistent criminals who commit a huge number of crimes are identified and incarcerated.
Gibbs explains that
This style of policing is not simply about more “bobbies on the beat” making huge numbers of arrests (although some increase at the outset is typically required). It is about the police putting themselves in a position to prevent crime and to get back control of the streets by “managing” criminal behaviour. This cannot be done from patrol cars. It is about altering the environment so that it favours the law-abiding, strengthens symbols of authority and helps to erase the low-level disorder that fosters high crime by challenging it at every opportunity or, as former head of the NYPD Bill Bratton puts it, “relentless follow-up”. Foot patrolling, harassing prostitutes, moving drunks on, picking up touts and beggars, and doing it constantly. Not very sexy work, but absolutely vital; and if the police slacken off, crime goes up again.
Effective information management alongside increased use of prison brought crime in New York down by two thirds in less than 10 years – and, says Gibbs, it’s stayed down.

Unfortunately, he says, in 10 years the British police have not learned the American lessons. "They remain purely reactive, obsessed with traffic duties and response times, and overall poor performers (low rates of detection, too few arrests, not enough time spent on patrol)."

So why don't we see change in the UK? Partly because the police are reluctant to admit they've got it wrong. But there's also a political reason:
It is surprising that so little has been said about who actually controls our police. There is both rising dissatisfaction with high levels of crime and the performance of the police, but at the same time, no political initiative (even from politicians aware of the system’s failings and desperate for ideas) to rectify this by following the US example and giving the public power to hold the police accountable.

Tony Blair says he wants a justice system more in tune with victims – he could start by giving citizens the right to determine how their own neighbourhoods are policed. In New York, crime fell every year while Mayor Rudy Giuliani was held accountable at the ballot box for the performance of the police commissioner he appointed, and the policing revolution they together pioneered. Britain’s current police leadership have clearly failed and won’t reform, so the public should have the right to demand that they are replaced by those who want to apply the broken windows policing the UK both needs and desires. Kelling’s point was simple: the true inheritors of Peel’s philosophy of preventative policing are now Americans, not the Met. It is time to bring home the broken windows revolution by making the police democratically accountable.

Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph feature shows how concerned people are about crime. And this is why this piece is here - this blog opposes these ill thought out police mergers, but it also supports more democratic control of the police.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home