This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
The film about Ann Barnes, Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner, continues to provoke comment on the ether and airwaves. She is yet to issue any form of response, I understand (although correct me if I am wrong). One reaction was even in the air yesterday when someone flew a plane over Kent Police HQ towing a banner suggesting she might like to consider resigning.
There appears to be an emerging consensus that Channel 4 have done something of a hatchet job in the editing suite and that Ms Barnes was somewhat, shall we say, optimistic that they would not do so. There is probably much more positive footage left out than was put in.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of facts from the programme that have not been much commented upon: Ann Barnes (as former Kent Police Authority chair) was against the introduction of the PCC based governance model. And, when that campaign was lost, she spent £50k of her own money to get elected. This is not a direct quote but I suspect that Ann was "damn well sure that no one else should get in!" In this respect she was an honourable campaigner and won, against the odds, in very Tory Kent.
But let's be very clear: there are very few politicians (having consented to do so) who might be filmed and very selectively edited who could then not be made to appear somewhat lack lustre. Heck, if there was a documentary about the council meetings I attend, I dread to think what might be the result! And I think you could apply this to almost any job. How many of the police officers and others who have been roundly condemning Ms Barnes, would be happy for a camera crew to follow them around and use extracts at will...?
Now, I know this sounds like I am defending Ann Barnes. That is not my purpose and it is not my job: she will have to do that for herself. I am merely pointing out that a camera is by definition selective.
I am also not defending the PCC based governance model. In this respect, I am at one with Bob Jones, PCC for West Midlands who has done his best to make a poor model better by introducing multi-party governance boards across his patch. You can read his comments on 'Meet the Commissioner' here. The PCC model is going to have to be refined. (Read my previous blog as to one big reason why.)
But...! The idea that the police should somehow be independent from public oversight is a non starter. And when I read tweets which say something like "this is what you get when you mix politics and policing", I quietly fume! Policing has always been political: the job of the police is to enforce laws created by politicians (etc).
Moreover, the police services (and wider justice system) spend a great deal of taxpayers' money and deserve to be held to political account for this. The idea that the police should be accountable only to themselves is, frankly, ludicrous. Would we let any other arm of the state to float off into some unaccountable nook away from the glare of public concern? No, of course not.
As I said previously, Ann Barnes has some brilliant recovery to perform.
But the #documockyoumentary is not a reason to abandon all political governance of the police service. It is a reason to examine, once again, whether investing so much power in a single individual is a wise way for such governance to be enacted.
Friday, May 30, 2014
But last night's programme was a slow train wreck. Actually, it wasn't even that slow: within the first sixty seconds we were shown Ann attempting to describe 'the onion' and the layers of policing tasks & priorities. The comparisons made to 'The Office' and 'Twenty Twelve' began here.
My friend and colleague, Bernard Rix has already blogged about the programme and I commend you to read what he says. As an advocate of the PCC structure and one who has met many PCCs, he says authoritatively that last night's programme is not representative of the fine work being done by other PCCs around the country. And I also agree with him that the programme does not represent the good work being done by Ann Barnes herself. But, as I tweeted after watching the programme late last night:
I will be interested to see whether any other PCC dares to put themselves forward for a similar documentary... Or perhaps, as I also tweeted:
I wonder what other PCCs will say about last night's programme. Bob Jones (West Mids PCC) has said he will and Matthew Ellis (Staffs PCC) already has:
So what are the lessons to be learnt from all this? Here are mine:
- Democracy, public accountability and good governance are too precious to be left in the hands of a single individual.
- Democratic decisions need proper scrutiny: if they remain in place, Police & Crime Panels need to be reformed urgently
- Good governance needs commitment, passion, listening and strong ethical values... but careful analysis, circumspection and raw nous are also essential
- PCCs will be in place for at least 2 more years: they are the only game in town when it comes to the governance of policing and wider crime (CJS) services. They deserve professional respect and support. (But, and both Bernard and I spotted this, they do not need deference of the kinds that appeared to be on display in last night's programme)
- Flip charts are dangerous pieces of equipment, to be used only by the properly trained...
There is some brilliant recovery to perform.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
I have some questions for which I would be grateful for some answers. Many thanks.
1) If the UK votes to exit the EU in a future referendum, how long do you think it will take to negotiate bilateral agreements on (say) trade, healthcare for domiciled Brits (etc.) with all the countries with which we currently enjoy such agreements on the basis of our shared EU membership?
2) How proportionate is this length of time matched with the resources available in the FCO, BIS & other Whitehall departments, do you think? Will you be campaigning to stop cutting those departments over the next few years?
3) What promises can you make to people living in Spain and elsewhere in the EU about what will happen to them eventually, and in the interregnum period while these agreements are being negotiated? (Ditto businesses trading with the rest of the EU?)
4) Post exit, as it were, what will happen to all the EU citizens currently living and working in the UK? Will they have to go back to the EU country from which they came? What happens if they are a child who was born in this country but whose parents are (say) Polish?
5) Where on your website, is all this explained, in detail?
This is the third of my recent trilogy of blogs about UKIP. You can read the other two here: a deconstruction of the UKIP local government manifesto and a short story about love, hate and love again.
UPDATE 1147 310514: Good article by David Arronovitch in the Times yesterday:
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
“It’s good music isn’t it?” I said.
She turned, smiled and paused. I was able to look into her eyes properly for the first time. Unfashionably, I almost swooned.
“Yeah. I see them all the time.”
She was about my age. Her accent was something Eastern European. She turned back to look at the band. I felt I had to find out:
“So, do you know someone on the band?”
“Yes. That’s my twin brother playing the flute.”
“He’s good!” I said. “Do you play, too?” feeling both relieved and excited that my initial suspicion was correct but in a way that now opened a door.
“I used to but now I am too busy with my studies. You?”
A question to me. Great! This could turn into a conversation, I thought.
“Nah. I am like Simon Cowell: good at spotting talent but devoid of it myself!”
She smiled and looked at me again. This time it was a more searching look. I felt I was being appraised. We spent the rest of the evening chatting: me finding out about her life and her about mine. It was easy. She was charming. And I got to look into her eyes: lots.
She was studying psychology at Birkbeck, with an aim to become a clinical psychologist. Her brother spent his time odd jobbing and playing music. Her Mum was an accountant, and her Father had died a few years previous. Some kind of industrial accident. They had all moved over to the UK a few months ago so that her Mum could build a new business, providing help and advice to other small businesses. They were Romanian.
We exchanged numbers at the end of the evening. I was debating how long I should leave it before calling her. I left it two days. Too long, as it turned out.
When I called, an older woman picked up the phone.
“Hallo? This is Peter. Is that Cosmina..?”
“No. This is her mother. Who are you?”
I swallowed a small lump of fear and explained. And then I heard what had happened. The night after we had met, Comina had been watching her brother playing in another bar and there had been a fight afterwards. Something about her brother making eyes at a young woman, all Romanians being rapists etc etc etc… Comina had rushed in to break up the fight.
She ended up losing one of her beautiful eyes.
I went to see her in hospital. It was our first date. I returned the next day, and the next, and the next.
And that was ten years ago. We now live in Bucharest, in a cosy flat in the suburbs. Comina works as a clinical psychologist helping people come through traumas. She says that her range of brightly coloured eye patches help people to open up. I manage a music bar in the city where her brother often plays. I have made it my personal aim, to make my bar the one with the most love, the most laughter and the best music in Bucharest. We have two twin girls aged 3 and half. They have their mother’s eyes.
I don’t go back to the UK very much these days. Ever since the referendum and the Tory/UKIP coalition: for me, there is just a little too much hate and spite lurking on street corners. Even though the result of the referendum was (just) a vote to stay in the EU, this hasn’t stopped the government finding ever more contrived ways to make life hard for people: especially migrants.
So I have chosen love and live a rich life in Romania. I know I am rich because I am happy with what I have: a good family, good friends and much laughter.
And my daughters’ smiling eyes.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
And I would be the first to hold up my hands and admit to doing some of this as well. But on the basis of the European parliamentary and local government election results, this strategy may well not have worked as well as perhaps we had hoped. As in football, have we been 'playing the man not the ball'?
A couple of days ago, I tweeted:
Unsurprisingly, this provoked some strong responses from some but received the affirmation of several people too. So in this spirit, I thought I would do a bit of analysis of UKIP's 'Local Manifesto' (which I have downloaded before they remove it from their website... so email me if this has happened since I wrote this blog).
Page one: says immigration is "crippling local services". Of course no evidence is provided to back up this claim. And, local authorities, can do little about immigration since that policy is in the hands of the national and European governance structures. But 'tick' to blaming others for the problem of schools being over subscribed or the extra pressures on social care services (which, of course, would fold without workers from the EU and elsewhere...)
Page two: we get "An Open Door To Crime - 28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London. Romanians come second on the list of foreign nationals arrested by police for serious crimes. This includes 142 rapes, 10 murders, 666 sex crimes, 303 robberies, 1370 burglaries, 2902 acts of violence" Do you see what I mean by 'hate'? Now I don't know how accurate these figures are (Based on the rowing back that Nigel Farage had to do last week on similar claims) - probably not very. But just imagine for a moment, instead of the word 'Romanians', the word 'Jews' was inserted... Do you see where I am coming from here..? Now for all I know, in London, Jews have committed 142 rapes too. Or 14, or 1000 or whatever... The chances are that you could take any group defined by nationality, ethnicity, sexuality (etc.) and throw similar figures around: but they are all meaningless unless comparisons are made and proportionality clarified. And did you notice the one glaring omission in this statement: there is no timescale. For all we know these figures could relate to the last six months, 2 years or even the last century. This is all classic 'blame the other' stuff that also lies at the heart of racism and fascism.
Page three: there is a letter from Mr Farage. I could spend a week analysing this! But I won't. But I will highlight just one sentence: "If we want to keep the National Health Service free, prevent developers from concreting over the countryside and protect our pensioners and our young people seeking work, something must be done." This is from a party that has/had/will have again maybe a policy on charging people to go and see their GP. Their policy pages are pretty short on detail at the moment, but there is previous... And as for the rest of the sentence, who doesn't want to protect pensioners (patronising though that sounds...!) And the classic "something must be done!" Absolutely! I will always vote for a party that believes in doing something... anything... something!!!
Page four: (although I am losing the will to live here...) has several "we believe" statements such as "Council tax should be as low as possible" and "We need more police on the streets, cracking down on crime and anti-social behaviour". Um... is there any party that doesn't believe in this? "Right brothers and sisters, I move we raise council tax to the highest possible level because that will surely get us re-elected next May. Who's with me?"... Oh and UKIP opposes "excessive housing development, wind farms and HS2". But not fracking strangley. So page four is full of vague, vacuous, claptrap.
Page five: begins with the stunning words "If you vote UKIP - you get UKIP". Huh?! There was I thinking that if I vote UKIP I get the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Thanks for the helpful clarification. The page goes on "We refuse to be politically driven or ‘politically correct’ and will always stand up for local people and common sense, rather than toeing the party line". Not politically driven... what??!!! This is in the middle of a manifesto that more or less links everything back to EU membership. And we know about political correctness, I can appreciate the honesty of this statement. And they won't toe the party line... so UKIP is not a party? If that is the case, should they not all be standing as independents?
Seriously about to give up now... but I will press on just a little bit more... (Pages 6 & 7 are a poster)
Page eight: highlights six priorities. 1) Local referendums. For these to have the effect they want, this would require parliamentary legislation. Therefore this is an impossible priority for UKIP to implement even if they ran a council. 2) Regain control over development. Again they are making a promise here that a local authority could not deliver on. Another impossible priority. 3) Prioritising services for local people. You know what I cam going to say here: another impossible priority without primary legislation. 4) Moving government closer to the people. This is one they could actually do. But it will cost money and they are already committed to keeping council tax as low as possible... 5) Spending our money at home. Doesn't this sound so good: using that word 'home' is so convincing isn't it? Except of course, local government does not have the power to change the budgets for overseas development and EU membership. Another impossible priority. And finally 6) Fighting crime and anti-social behaviour. Strangely local authorities have very influence on sentencing or deportation policies... But tackling 'nuisance neighbours' can be addressed by local councils in the few council houses that they have left. But again, show me any political party that does not want to address anti social behaviour. The trick is knowing how to do this effectively... nothing on this is here. So in sum, if these are UKIP's six priorities for local government, they need to get a GCSE in constitutional politics so that they know the limits for what councils can do.
Page nine: is immortalised by the introductory statement "UKIP Councillors are expected to follow the best interests of their constituents". Hang on, who or what is expecting them to do this? I thought they weren't a party which toed the party line... etc? As for the rest of the page, I am not sure where to start. How about "Mending potholes should take priority over council vanity schemes." That sounds good doesn't it! If I had written this page I would have added "Providing care for vulnerable people should take priority over cushions for councillors, because in my day, councillors were expected to live in a hole in t'road and eat gravel for breakfast!" ["Luxury!"]
Page ten: has "some of the ways" UKIP will save you money. This includes, surprisingly "Leave the EU and save £55 million every day". And also closing "unnecessary central government departments and quangos". That is good, I do worry that I sometimes vote for parties that want to open unnecessary departments and quangos. And UKIP councillors will sell "unused state-owned property and assets". I can imagine the conversations now in the UKIP run local authority:"Eh, Cllr Smith, you know that luxury hotel on the edge of town that the council owns and nobody uses anymore, why don't we sell it off and reduce council tax?" "Cracking idea Cllr Jones! And while we are about it, we could put that big building next to the Thames in Westminster on the market as well!" "But we don't own it..." "So what, it is state owned?!"
Page eleven: is a membership application form. This includes the following:
It is not a very big box for the Honours, I tend to think... And should there have been a 'cash paid' box as well? Just asking...
Page twelve: has smiling photographs of people who have switched their allegiance to UKIP. Nice.
I could have written more, but aside from all the humour above, this manifesto shows a deep ignorance of the powers that local government actually has, it is full of vague promises that are little more than claptrap and, most disturbingly, edges into the darkness of blame and hate. I will end by saying that isn't it interesting that London, the most diverse part of the UK with probably more EU migrants than anywhere else in the country, showed the least support for UKIP. There is a big lesson here...
UPDATE 180714 | 1031: Just came across this excellent piece of research: Crime and Immigration: Evidence from Large Immigrant Waves by Brian Bell, Stephen Machin and Francesco Fasani. Their abstract says:
This paper examines the relationship between immigration and crime in a setting where large migration flows of fer an opportunity to carefully appraise whether the populist view that immigrants cause crime is borne out by rigorous evidence. We consider possible crime effects from two large waves of immigration that recently occurred in the UK. The first of these was the late 1990s/early 2000s wave of asylum seekers, and the second the large inflow of workers from EU accession countries that took place from 2004. A simple economics of crime model, when dovetailed with facts about the relative labour market position of these migrant groups, suggests net returns to criminal activity are likely to be very different for the two waves. In fact, we show that the first wave led to a small rise in property crime, whilst the second wave had no such impact. There was no observable effect on violent crime for either wave. Nor were immigrant arrest rates different to natives. Evidence from victimization data also suggests that the changes in crime rates during the immigrant waves cannot be ascribed to crimes against immigrants. Overall, our findings suggest that focusing on the limited labour market opportunities of asylum seekers could have beneficial effects on crime rates.So we await the policy announcements from UKIP - aren't they meant to be publishing a 'manifesto' this summer?
UPDATE 211014 | 1022: Just blogged again: 10 questions for UKIP. Just when are they going to come clean with all their policies?
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
The purpose of the Panel is to provide an independent forum that monitors and encourages constructive challenge over the way complaints and integrity and ethics issues are handled by the Force and overseen by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), In so doing, this will help ensure that Thames Valley Police has clear ethical standards and aspires to, and achieves, the highest levels of integrity and professional standards of service deliveryAnd I note that they have held their first meeting, where they talked about:
- Terms of Reference
- Introduction to Complaints Handling which included a summary of the complaints process and procedures followed by the Force’s Professional Standards Department (PSD). Reference was also made to the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and the programme of training for police officers and staff around the Code of Ethics. Members will be attending an Integrity and Ethics Training course in June.
- A brief introduction to the new Code of Ethics
- A summary of the PSD Complaints and Misconduct Monitoring Report from April 2013 to the end of March 2014
Thank you for your FOI request “please may I have a copy of the full Register / declaration of Interests of each of these people”
ANSWER: The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley holds no relevant information with regards to this request.
The PCC does have an opportunity to correct this. Maybe he is doing so as I write. I await to see...
It is interesting to note this tweet from CC Gargan himself, a couple of hours before:
The link in his tweet, takes you this story in the Bristol Post.
The article begins with these words:
If Chief Constable Nick Gargan fancies a break from policing, perhaps comedy could be where a new career lies.It is difficult to know what to say in moments like this...
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Regular readers will know that I submitted a few comments towards the end of the consultation period in November last year. With a quick check through, it would seem that several of my comments have been taken on board, which is great.
Of course, it is now a question of doing something with this new code... Based on my recent research, the large majority of police services have got a significant task ahead of them.
But hang on, have we not been here before? There is this headline in the Mirror: Police forces fail to probe millions of offences fully, this one in the Guardian: Police crime figures being manipulated, admits chief inspector and even the Morning Star: Critics claim crime statistics revamp will mislead the public. These last three stories are dated 23/1/14, 18/12/13 & 31/12/13 respectively.
And then of course there is the two years of near hell that whistleblower James Patrick has been through over his blogging about the same matter.
And of course, this is really not a new phenomenon when Huw Evans is able to dig up the Audit Commission's report on the same matter from ten years ago. (Link is here). And if you follow Bernard Rix's retweet, you will see a whole discussion about when exactly the police began (as some would call it) "fiddling the stats".
So where do we go from here (again)? Bernard poses the challenge that the HMIC may not be asking the right questions. Instead of asking "to what extent can police recorded crime information be trusted?", Bernard suggests that the question ought to be "What are the cost-effective ways of improving the recording of police crime information?" as this question will lead to establishing what should now be done. (I tend to agree that the HMIC has probably already addressed its own question since the answer, quoting Paul Daniels, is 'not a lot'!)
I would say, let's start this from a different angle. I received an email from the Office of National Statistics the other day (23 April) in reply to my last email to them. I must say, that I am seriously impressed since my last email was not one requiring an answer but nevertheless a dedicated civil servant at the ONS felt moved to reply, 3 months later. (Thank you Meghan Elkin!) I have blogged about this before where I explain that I am investigating what resources would be required to use the National Crime Survey at the level of local police forces (so that PCCs could be held to proper account among other objectives). Here is her reply in full:
Firstly, I apologise for the delay in sending a reply to you.
We’ve considered how we might respond to your query that would be of most help to you. I hope the examples below are helpful in not only demonstrating the size of the sample required, but also how this varies across crime types. England and Wales figures used in the examples can be found in the published appendix tables: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-314526
Vehicle related theft has a relatively high prevalence rate. Vehicle related theft – England and Wales Year ending March 2012 5.4% Year ending March 2013 4.6%
The 0.9 percentage point decrease was statistically significant for England and Wales. To observe this 0.9 percentage point change as being statistically significant requires a sample size of over 8,000. The current sample size for a police force area is around 650.
Or alternatively, with a sample size of 650, we would need to observe a 2.6 percentage point decrease (from 5.4%) for the change to be significant. This is similar to the decrease observed between 2006/07 and 2012/13 for England and Wales as a whole.
Burglary has a much lower prevalence rate. Burglary – England and Wales Year ending March 2012 2.4% Year ending March 2013 2.1%
The 0.3 percentage point decrease was statistically significant for England and Wales. To observe this 0.3 percentage point change as being statistically significant requires a sample size of around 27,000.
I hope these examples are helpful in demonstrating that large sample sizes are required in order to trust changes in prevalence rates of crime as being true changes. The required increase would require more resources that would be available for ONS to produce figures with the same level of certainty at Police Force Area level as our current England and Wales figures.
Kind regards, Meghan
This is such a convoluted topic: I have even touched upon the whole issue of performance measurement and how targets twist & deform policing (and all other public services), even when the reasons for such targets are completely understandable (see this old article by Bob Jones, West Midlands PCC)
So, I will finish here (as other jobs are calling this May morning) with a response to Bernard's challenge to come up with a better question than his on what the HMIC ought to be investigating. Here is my suggestion that not only the HMIC should be looking into, but also the College of Policing, the Association of PCCs and indeed every police management team in the country:
How can we more reliably measure the impact of policing activities on the levels of crime in our communities so that we increasingly know what works and what does not?
And there is far more to say, of course...! When is this Groundhog Day due to end?!