Wednesday, 29 September 2010

'Retreating' police theory disproved by numbers?

Commenter Indy has taken issue with a section of Monday's post on policing and the alcohol problem. OK, it would not be difficult to raise questions about the following paragraph, but Indy's point was sufficiently dismissive that it's perhaps appropriate to address their response in this separate post. The disputed words are as follows:
Another major problem was recently highlighted by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary in England and Wales, who says that rowdy and abusive behaviour is a "disease" which has been allowed to "fester" because police have retreated from the streets in the last two decades, and there's surely little to suggest that Scotland is greatly different in this regard.
Indy's response is as follows:
Scotland and England have in fact been going in completely different directions on policing. Police numbers are falling in England - they have increased in Scotland and there has been a much greater emphasis on frontline policing since 2007. That has been very well commented on and analysed. How did you miss it?
First, it's perhaps instructive that in the wake of last week's story two thirds of the Sunday Post's 'email jury' agreed with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary's words. Granted, the newspaper's poll isn't particularly scientific - the Post has a lot of readers living outside Scotland for a start - but its conclusion surely supports the fact that my own analysis is hardly exceptional.

Second, Indy's primary point concerns police numbers, but the argument isn't just about force strength in terms of personnel; it encompasses a whole host of other issues such as policing style, bureaucracy, priorities, attitudes etc, previously addressed in numerous posts on this blog.

Indeed, Indy's response brings to mind an extended discussion we had last year on those very matters. Of course, the numbers question isn't unrelated to many of the wider issues, but merely increasing numbers doesn't mean that these problems are addressed.

Granted, Indy does refer to a "greater emphasis on frontline policing", but police in many parts of England have made similar points - and regarding other changes in direction such as community policing - but precisely what this means and whether it's effective is another matter. Indeed, in our earlier discussion Indy seemed quite blasé about police effectively ignoring the likes of drunk and disorderly behaviour, which is exactly the point that the Chief Inspector is portraying as a fundamental problem.

Fourth, what is the evidence to support Indy's point? Well I daresay they would refer to favourable crime statistics and the like, but as regards what's happened since 2007 it's self-evident that the long-term trend has been downward for some years, so the more recent figures prove nothing. (And, interestingly, Tayside Police's latest instalment in the good news states: "A "significant reduction" — 75% to 58% — was recorded in the percentage of people who had recently seen an officer patrol their neighbourhood.")

Moreover, as I've argued previously in relation to crime statistics, while it may now be considerably more difficult for a teenager with a screwdriver to TWOC a car - thus less recorded crime - on the other hand the ASB-type behaviour now perhaps indulged in as an alternative isn't really recorded as crime in the conventional sense, hence rendering the statistics meaningless in that regard, and also underlining last week's argument from the Chief Inspector.

Another interesting example is perhaps provided by the recent story about Fife Council attempting to remove a troublesome venue's liquor license - with the action misfiring due to a procedural wrangle - after it had called police out 45 times in one year. This will very probably represent the mere tip of the iceberg, because the case underlines that pubs and clubs will only involve police as a last resort, because they won't want to draw the attention of the authorities to their premises. And a related point is that much policing has in recent times been 'privatised' in the form of the private security industry, thus skewing any official figures. Moreover, if police are eventually involved they may be reluctant to press charges, because after all it's in their interest to minimise recorded crime; indeed, some senior officers are awarded bonuses on the basis of the official figures...QED?

Lastly, Indy's perspective fundamentally undermines the minimum pricing rationale - if a simple increase in police numbers is sorting things out, then why bother worrying about the price of booze? It's not all about health, surely?

Things may well be better in Scotland than south of the border, but on the other hand there's surely little to suggest that the relevance of last week's report to north of the border can be wholly dismissed.


Indy said...

Police numbers in Scotland are at a record high. We have never had so many police officers before. Never, ever, since records began. So you can't really talk about a downward trend. That doesn't make sense.

Clearly it will be difficult to maintain existing numbers in the face of massive cuts but I expect the SNP Government to give it a damn good try.

Your point about police versus minimum pricing also doesn't really make sense.

Getting drunk is not a crime.

Drinking too much is not a crime.

You can't arrest someone for damaging their own liver.

Although police can arrest people once they have committed a crime - and we know a very high proportion of people arrested particularly for violent crime are under the influence - they can't arrest them simply for having a drink in them on the basis that it makes it more likely that they will commit a crime.

If you are suggesting that we should start arresting people for having too much to drink - perhaps by breathalysing them - you are going way further than the SNP! We're just suggesting cutting off the supply of cheap booze - which is what the police themselves support.

Stuart Winton said...

Indy, I haven't for a minute disputed the increase in police numbers, surely?

The 'downward trend' I referred to relates to crime statistics rather than police numbers, and I don't think my post is in any way unclear about that.

As regards minimum pricing, I don't really get your point here either. How on earth have I suggested making the consumption of alcohol per se a crime? My point was actually about low-level crime fuelled by alcohol, which you yourself conceded last time round police effectively ignore, and in turn last weeks report lends some credence to this, as if we needed any more evidence anyway ;0)

I agree that policing can't directly influence the health aspects of alcohol consumption, but on the other hand if there was some penalty attached to the criminal consequences of excessive consumption then this would indirectly help address the health aspect.

IMO it's all to do with the wider issue of culture and social control, which isn't just about policing, but that certainly is a big factor.

For example, if these days we're not allowed to be 'judgemental' or 'stigmatise' people then is it any wonder that there's no shame attached to being blootered, indeed it's increasinlgy regarded as a badge of honour?

It may seem a bit cliched these days, but perhaps the SG would be better investigating why other countries with cheaper alcohol than Scotland don't have the same problems with excessive consumption - I suspect they'd find that they're more law-abiding socieities generally due to more stringent models of law enforcement and social control.

And against all that minimum pricing would make no more than a marginal difference to both the crime and health aspects of excessive consumption.