Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Policing by platitude?

People now have less faith in police and policing than they had once upon a time. An example of this appeared in a recent Telegraph article by Byrony Gordon, who had witnessed a violent attack in a London street:
On the television, in video games, and on the news – this week, we saw CCTV images of five women attacking a stranger in Grimsby – the sight of people acting like feral animals no longer has the power to shock.

Certainly not the police, who reacted to the phone call from the bus stop as if it were the shipping news. There was no sense of urgency.[...]

On Thursday, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O'Connor, said that serious assaults were being written off by police when they should be properly investigated, possibly in an effort to meet Government targets. In one case a man needed six stitches to a head wound after being beaten up; it was GBH, but was recorded as "no crime".

A particular facet of the problem - and one which is particularly relevant to Scotland's current debate about the ill-effects of alcohol - is the policing of late-night drunken behaviour in city centres.

In the same newspaper Libby Purves said:
This year, I walked a 10-hour shift with a policeman on a Friday night in a provincial town. I learned that "drunk and disorderly" is no longer a routinely arrestable crime (frankly, there just aren't enough cells). On a beat like that, by midnight D & D is more like a general description of everybody in sight.
By the same token, a contribution left on this blog in relation to the problem said:
The reason why the police don't routinely pick up people for being drunk and disorderly these days is because there are so many more drunk people - because people drink much more than they did in the past.
Which perhaps gets to the crux of the issue - a crime is more widespread, thus that's a reason to ignore it? That's maybe why it's become more widespread; as it's increased in frequency, police increasingly turn a blind eye to it, therefore creating a vicious circle and further compounding the problem.

One aspect of the official response to the crime problem is to shift some of the blame onto the public. For example, a senior Strathclyde Police officer recently suggested that older people returning to late-night central Glasgow could help reclaim the streets from the drunks, but this seems to get the cart before the horse. Indeed, a restaurateurs' representative responded, in a letter to the Herald:
Chief superintendent Anne McGuire refers to the atmosphere in Glasgow at the weekend as boisterous and refers to a state of mind where people are fearful and intimidated. In doing so, she describes a set of circumstances whereby those participating are responsible for a good old-fashioned “breach of the peace”.[...]

There is no realistic chance of less “boisterous” people flocking back into Glasgow in order to cure this problem for the police, it is up to the police to deal with it first and create an environment where sensible people would want to spend time.

I agree whole-heartedly that people come into town in order to socialise, and that it would be a huge deterrent to turning up in the town centre already drunk if offenders knew there was a very real threat that their night would be cut short by the police.

By the same token, Dundee's lord provost recently said, in relation to a crackdown on crime and anti-social behaviour:
There are too many people who are willing to hide behind their curtains and make anonymous phone calls but not really get involved in taking on the problems. It is time for the people to stand up and be counted and show more co-operation with the police.
However, this was made in the context of a 'here today, gone tomorrow' crackdown-type initiative, although rather than just a good old-fashioned 'blitz', or whatever, the current clampdown is led by no less than a Community Engagement Team.

But it is perhaps this kind of transient, headline grabbing initiative that deters people from taking a stand; maybe there are ample police officers around at the moment and this should encourage people to put their head above the parapet but, on the other hand, when the Community Engagement Team is engaging with some other community, what happens then?

Unfortunately the main concern of councillors seems to be to the usual one of telling us what a good job everyone in authority is doing, and shifting the onus on to the public to maintain the momentum once police numbers are reduced, but without addressing why people might be reluctant to do so.

Of course, the lord provost infamously managed to have riot police sent to question a retired Dundonian soldier who had called him an "embarrassment" in an email, thus he seems unlikely to appreciate how vulnerable ordinary people feel about sticking their necks out.

And in view of some of the evidence cited above, is it any wonder that many people doubt the efficacy of policing anyway, and a degree of public mistrust has built up regarding the whole political/policing edifice? Of course, the official response largely ignores the real world realities and anxieties. Instead, we have the likes of this from police in response to a Dundee shopkeeper "being subjected to taunts of racial abuse and intimidating behaviour from children as young as eight":
We are proactively working in a partnership approach with several other agencies to work in the community.


Indy said...

Whether people ever really were routinely picked up for being drunk and disorderly is debatable but it would certainly be completely impractical now.

If police were to arrest every person who was drunk and disorderly on a Friday or Saturday night they would be so busy carting them back to the police station and finding space to hold them there would be no police available to respond to 999 calls. It is just not practical.

You could I suppose use civilians to do the job - community wardens perhaps. It would be a good form of shock therapy if drunks got lifted or even issued with a summary fine every time they set a staggering foot out the pub door.

But by God what outrage there would be. I can just imagine the screams of political correctness/nanny state gone mad. If people don't have the right to get rat arsed on their own streets what's the world coming to etc.

Because that is the underlying issue - people do not think that it is a crime to get totally drunk and fall about the place and even if they were arrested they would still not think it was a crime.

Driving a car while drunk, beating up your wife while drunk - yes almost everyone would accept that those are crimes. But being out of your face staggering down the street - sorry but very few people would recognise that as being a crime.

There is no point blaming the police for that and you can't blame politicians either. They are not responsible for that state of affairs, they are simply responding to it.

subrosa said...

When did the word shame drop out of our vocabulary?

The Righteous are winning hands down. 'Let the poor we darlings get bleutered they're only young'.

Where do they get the money from is one of my questions?

Indy said...

They don't need much money, that's the problem - you can get 6 cans of lager for £1.50 at major supermarkets. Top that up with strong white cider at around the same price and you can get completely rat arsed for three quid.

Stuart Winton said...

Indy, as you may have noticed I've responded to your comments in a blog post.


Indeed, but stigma has been stigmatised!!