Monday, 21 April 2014

Your Local Station Has Closed? Hey Presto! – A Reduction in Crime.

Dominic Casciani has written a review article for BBC News:

BBC News: Did removing lead from petrol spark a decline in crime?

However I'm not sure why, because this matter was thoroughly examined by George Monbiot back in January 2013:

George Monbiot: The grime behind the crime

I speculate that Dominic Casciani is revisiting the same material purely to support his Radio 4 programme on the subject. I do wish the BBC would generate it's own ideas.

Anyway, the suggestion is that lead in petrol leads to criminality and therefore the removal of lead twenty years ago is responsible for the alleged current reduction in crime. Lead is a neuro-toxin and could certainly be a contributory factor, but I have another theory as to why the UK recorded crime figures have reduced over the last few months. Here's a link for reference, but let's remember that police crime figures aren't worth the paper they're written on.

The Guardian: England and Wales crime falls to lowest level in 32 years

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, desperate to shore up his decaying stewardship of the Metropolitan Police Service, hasn't held back from claiming that he is responsible for the declining UK crime figures. This is highly unlikely, but to explain I have to again talk about Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model (LPM). This is his brainchild – the Brave New World of policing we have been working within since June 2013.

Recorded crime has not dropped because of the efficacy of the Local Policing Model, but for the following two reasons.

Crime has reduced because (1) the LPM now forces the public to jump through hoops when they wish to report crime, and (2) the LPM has eliminated the time available for officers to go out and pro-actively find crime.

Let's consider the first issue - obstacles preventing the reporting of crime:

Sir Bernard has closed stations and front counters with alacrity – on my borough the availability to the public has reduced by two-thirds. It's hard to find an open station, especially after 5pm.

The public must now request an appointment and hope that the attending officer's previous appointments have not overrun. The appointments are hourly and the officers often cover half a borough on foot, with perhaps 40 minutes travel time between the appointments. Inevitably many overrun and those later in the day are therefore cancelled.

I often see members of the public with their perplexed faces pressed against the glass of the closed front counters, wondering Where are the police officers? Many of them give up when they learn they must travel miles to the nearest open station or jump through the hoops of the appointments system.

The second issue - officers no longer able to pro-actively seek crime:

Tom Winsor's edict to get officers out of the back offices has had an unintended consequence. Instead of removing officers in 'back offices', Sir Bernard has closed the highly productive Beat Crimes, Case Progression Units, and other so-called 'back office' teams. These took possession of volume crime investigations and dealt with the prisoners – freeing other officers to patrol and do pro-active work, such as drugs warrants and removing dangerous dogs from their owners.

A valuable secondary function of the now non-existent Beat Crimes and Case Progression Units was that they provided investigative training for new officers.

These burdens now all lie squarely on the shoulders of the Local Policing Team officers, who are expected to do everything, and remember that the simplest prisoner can rarely be dealt with in less than six hours.

Summing up:

Under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, officers find less crime because they have no time to go out looking for it – they are instead tied up with appointments and drowning in volume crime. Instead of searching drug dealers on the street, or interrupting the drug supply chain by closing crack houses and executing warrants, they now visit café after café to check CCTV for wallets left on tables. Ironically, those officers who were moved to bolster the Local Police Teams now spend much of their time replacing desk-bound officers across the borough who are sick or on leave. This is because the LPT is treated as the 'go-to' team – a pool of resources that inspectors can dip into at will.

The appointments system has roughly ten slots each day, therefore a maximum of ten crimes can be reported per Disappointment Car. It's a bottleneck designed into the system – it regulates the rate at which people can report crime. No matter how much crime is happening, the individual crimes cannot be reported faster than ten per day. Also, the public don't expect to leap through hoops, so they sometimes just give up.

We spend less time out looking for crime, and the public can't report it!

Hey presto – The figures show a reduction!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Lose Those Pointless Senior Ranks

How might the dysfunctionality be fixed? The domestic violence policies and Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, for example, are far from fit for purpose.

The Metropolitan Police hierarchy is such an absurdly high tottering structure – eleven ranks from Commissioner to constable – the likes of Simon Byrne and Bernard Hogan-Howe can never know what happens at the ground level.

Sir Bernard and his entourage are held responsible for failures so they understandably want to control everything. However, because they are so remote, they put great store in targets and performance figures. These are poor proxies for the real business of policing, but are the only information that can be easily measured.

Unfortunately, as I've explained in earlier blog posts, these proxies are almost meaningless.

What happens in practice is the Commissioner creates a philosophy, or brand. The two or three ranks below turn this into a broad set of principles. The two or three ranks below then convert these into a package of actions. Finally, the lower three ranks attempt to carry out this, now highly theoretical, scheme. Examples are Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, or Sir Paul's Single-Patrolling.

Why not halve the distance between the top and the bottom? Eliminate those highly-paid ranks that achieve little but insulate the Commissioner from the rank-and-file: Chief Inspectors, Chief Superintendents, Commanders, Assistant Deputy Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners. These cosy layers ensure that Commissioners' schemes are disconnected from reality.

With a much flatter hierarchy the top bosses might better understand and be motivated to take into account the experiences of the officers at the coal face. Those constables struggle to make the policies work, fighting against day-to-day realities.

This leads me to the other factor. The senior managers never feed the constables' experiences back into their grand schemes. They are unwilling to tweak and amend the policies to get them to work. Once begun they are always cast in stone, and so ultimately every top-down scheme fails. I don't care how many graphs and spreadsheets the Commissioner can produce to 'prove' otherwise. My colleagues and I witness the consequences at the ground level.

Bill and Melinda Gates run a multi-billion dollar charitable foundation aiming at helping impoverished people in the developing nations. They travel around Africa speaking to and living with the same people they are working to help. Bill and Melinda take note of what they learn and use this information to decide where the Foundation's money is channelled.

They only consider that a project has succeeded if they see a tangible result for money spent. They really care that the Foundation's work results in products that work.

Their reward derives from the satisfaction of creating these products and real improvements in people's lives. Met managers of all levels, however are satisfied if they simply gather enough performance figures to keep their managers happy. The senior officers consider it a success if they have the figures to generate graphs and spreadsheets demonstrating they have achieved notional reductions in crime and increases in public confidence.

There's a huge difference between these two ways of interpreting 'success'. One management style works and the other doesn't. The Met's approach flows from the fact the Met managers are embedded inside a reward structure that recognises only one thing: achieving targets – arrests, detections, stop-searches.

As long as this reward structure continues nothing can change. We will continue along this trajectory of rewarding managers for figure-gathering. Sir Bernard claims 'Victim Focus' is everything, and yet every officer would say we are not at all in the business of focussing on the victims. We are hounded daily for figures. Figures are everything.

If an S-grade – a rape for example – has reached 59 minutes with no officer free to attend, it is down-graded to an E-grade (48 hours attendance target) and becomes simply another appointment in the Local Police Team's diary.

Technically the attendance target was hit, but this is poor consolation for the victim. We have totally failed insofar as Victim Focus is concerned. An officer should have been with the victim within 60 minutes, not 48 hours.

We are trapped inside an obsession with figures and the fear of not achieving those figures. Failure means promotions withheld.

A change in attitude can only flow from the mentality of the person at the top – the Commissioner. He or she needs to set an example all the managers and constables can follow.

The Met functions to a degree but could do far better.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Figures Prove It's Working!

Panicked by suggestions from the public and media that Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model is a shambolic failure, Simon Byrne – the Assistant Commissioner, soon to be Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary – has been holding public meetings.

The meetings were attended by community members, press and cops. One of my contacts described to me how, prior to the arrival of the public, an inspector organised a police-only 'briefing'.

“We need to make this look good,” he told the assembled constables. “If you are asked questions, give the impression that it's working well. Reassure them and don't say anything negative.”

A constable told me afterwards:

“He was asking us to lie to people - sickening. Our job was to make Simon Byrne and the Local Policing Model look good.”

The officer explained that people looked askance, but Byrne just kept pointing at his graphs and repeating himself:

"Look at the figures - they prove there are more officers out there. The figures prove it's working!”

The Local Policing Model certainly might function if it received a little tweaking, but Sir Bernard refuses to accept that there are problems. "Nothing will be changed" we are constantly told. This shows an ugly element of police management: a fear of losing face. Senior bosses think that acting upon constructive criticism means losing face. They therefore refuse to accept any useful constructive criticism, of which there is plenty coming from the constables struggling to make it work.

Simon believes his graphs really do indicate increased patrolling and more effective policing. His a certainty is an interesting symptom of the dichotomy between senior management and rank-and-file:

Their spreadsheets and graphs are the senior bosses' reality. To the guys and girls who are hands-one with victims and criminals, the realities are the victims and suspects, the events they witness and the day-to-day organisational stupidity that threatens to drown them.

I don't blame Simon Byrne. It's understandable that he is unaware of the realities of policing, and that his perception of policing is riddled with misconceptions – he is nine ranks above a constable, so how could it be otherwise. It's unavoidable that all senior officers at that level are PR managers.

What is avoidable is that they force their policies through, ignoring feedback from the rank-and-file, and so fail to fix or discard their failing initiatives. They grit their teeth, ignore reality and keep presenting their graphs.

That is unforgiveable.