Crime and Punishment

by Daniel on July 14, 2003

This series of reports in the Guardian is incredibly worthwhile, not just as an insightful piece of reporting on crime in the UK, but as a general example of what goes wrong when you try to manage things “by the numbers”. In general, if business school taught me anything it’s that companies with no strategy process of their own end up being managed by their most junior budget analyst (because he’s the one who writes the report and therefore picks the ratios to concentrate on), and it appears that something similar goes on in the public sector. While we’re on the topic, a couple of other fun facts for UK criminology nerds:

1. A prize for the first confirmed sighting this week of a report on the Home Office crime figures which attempts to find an explanation for the “massive increase” in the murder rate in the UK without the author realising that all 215 of the murders attributed to Dr Harold Shipman over a fifteen year period were booked in the 2002/3 numbers because that’s when the total was finally established.

2. One of the big driving forces behind the misbegotten policing “reforms” detailed in the Guardian article above was an “epidemic” of street crime in last year’s figures. It was particularly noted at the time that thefts of mobile phones had gone through the roof …. oh dear. It appears that more than half of reported mobile phone thefts and up to 10% of the total reported street crime in London is the result of people claiming to have had their telephones stolen in order to claim on the insurance. It gets worse … there is a distinct suspicion that some of the less reputable mobile phone shops are encouraging people to do this, in order to get the insurance companies to unwittingly subsidise upgrades in an increasingly competitive phone market. I’d always wondered how the industry was going to finance the transition to 3G handsets …

Both of the anomalies above, by the way (as well as the fact that, after a few years’ campaign to improve reporting levels, it is now the case that domestic violence accounts for a quarter of the violent crime in England and Wales, much more than anywhere else), can be avoided by serious researchers by always using victimisation survey data wherever possible.



Dan Hardie 07.14.03 at 5:59 pm

Yes, but….
If we’re going to object to centralised control of the Police, fine- but then we have to ditch centralised *funding* of the Police. Where I am now, I don’t have access to a decent stats library, but if the Police are in line with other supposedly ‘local’ services, than more than 80% of their funding comes from central government revenues. If central government pays the bills, then central government damn well ought to have a say in how the cash is spent.

If we’re going to have local control of the Police, as Davies might be advocating, then there will have to be root and branch reform of Police Authorities- which at the moment are not elected bodies, although Councillors are among their members, and which are pretty unforthcoming about their activities, even by the standards of British governing institutions. And there will also have to be local funding of the Police- ie all from Council Tax or similar.

Davies might be advocating ‘neither of the above’ but rather what you might call ‘institutional autonomy’- ie the Home Office- funded by general tax revenues- ponies up four fifths of the costs of the various local Police forces, but senior Police officers are free to make whatever decisions and manage in whatever way they see fit, and the Home Secretary must not dare to express public displeasure with a Chief Constable.

Now do we want this? Judicial independence is one thing, but complete independence of the Police? What if some local Force decides to run an abusive paramilitary style ‘reaction force’, on the lines of the French CRS or the ’70s UK Special Patrol Group? What if a local force gets totally out of hand, either slackly allowing crime to flourish, or practising thuggery and corruption, or both? If the Home Secretary’s job is to pay the bills and keep his mouth shut, and the Police Authority are the same old group of Councillor Bugginses and Local Worthies, who exerts any control over badly run or politically biased Police Forces? It may be hackneyed, but quis ipsos etc etc. And Davies doesn’t, so far as I remember, mention that the major influence on senior coppers is the Association of Chief Police Officers, which forced out John Alderson in 1981 for being too liberal on blacks, young people etc, but had a decided tolerance for the Old Testament views of James Anderton a few years later. Do we leave it to ACPO to decide who runs Forces, and how?

My take on the Armed Forces would be that senior officers are generally more intelligent, and certainly more knowledgeable in their field, than the politicians set over them. Who do you think is brighter, and who has seen more difficult situations: Geoff Hoon or General Mike Jackson? But I don’t see the Guardian asking for the Army to be set free of centralised political control, for the best of democratic reasons.


dsquared 07.14.03 at 8:16 pm

I’m not advocating anything except reading that article …


rea 07.14.03 at 10:58 pm

Probably a lot of this blog’s US readers will be trying to figure out why Dan Hardie thinks local control of the police is dangerous.


Jason McCullough 07.14.03 at 11:45 pm

One of the extremely amusing differences between the US and Europe. Would you rather have corrupt, good-old-boy locally-owned police, or disinterested and unremovable nationally-owned police?


Andrea Harris 07.15.03 at 6:20 am

How about neither?


Dan Hardie 07.15.03 at 11:31 am

D-squared: I know you’re not advocating anything except reading the article. But the guy who wrote the article is advocating more than that, and as you may have noticed, you and he share the same surname.

>Probably a lot of this blog’s US readers will be trying to figure out why Dan Hardie thinks local control of the police is dangerous.


Dan Hardie 07.15.03 at 11:37 am

>Probably a lot of this blog’s US readers will be trying to figure out why Dan Hardie thinks local control of the police is dangerous.

Learn how to read. I am all in favour of local control of the police, as I said, if that is democratic. Control of the police by the Police Authorities, as currently constituted, would be about as democratic as the Florida recounts of 2000. There are elected councillors on the PAs, but they are appointed to the PAs by the local Party Leaders, and cannot be directly removed by the voters. There are also a large number of local Establishment figures, appointed by means which are never disclosed to the Lower Orders. There is no Freedom of Information Act in the UK, so we have no way of knowing what the PAs decide on as policy.
And the worst of all worlds would be what Davies (that’s Nick the Guardian hack, not D-Squared) seems to be, er, advocating: ie that the Chief Constables can do what the hell they like and the rest of us trust to their good instincts and have no say in how we are policed.
Yup, good plan.


dsquared 07.15.03 at 12:24 pm

>>and as you may have noticed, you and he share the same surname.

Historical note: I hadn’t noticed. I wondered why you were calling me “Davies”. I’ll get my coat.


rea 07.15.03 at 7:33 pm

Dan, no insult intended–it is just that a lot of the US readers of this blog have no idea how the British government works at a local level. The US, of course, has locally controlled police, but in most instances there is at least potentially some kind of democratic accountablity.

And probably most US readers would guess that Geoff Hoon is the late lead singer of Blind Melon . . .


Ampersand 07.16.03 at 1:28 pm

While I agree that victimization surveys are generally to be preferred, I’m not sure that they’re the best instrument for measuring murder rates.


Matthew 07.18.03 at 12:15 am

D^2, can I claim the murder prize? Thursday’s Sun on p.12 has, and I quote, “murder, manslaughter and killing of infants JUMPED by 18 per cent, from 891 to 1048”

Two columns later it has “And ministers insist the murder rate appears distorted through the inclusion of the 172 victims of” blah blah blah.

Ok..they didn’t not realise. But putting it way down after the bullet pointed “18% rise” and the phrase “insist” surely gets me half the prize?


Jeremy Leader 07.18.03 at 12:43 am

Let’s see, we’ve got “Dan” commenting about an article by “Davies”, but neither of those individuals has a squared D in their name.

I get confused so easily!

Now all we need is for someone named Nick Hardy to show up.

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