Saturday, 15 November 2014

Targets In Through The Back Door

“The public aren't interested in robberies or burglaries. They want officers knocking on doors handing out leaflets.”

So said one of the superintendents on my borough recently.

I've written extensively in previous posts about how we still have targets despite the Home Secretary, Theresa May, ordering police chiefs to get rid of them in 2010, saying:

“Targets hinder the fight against crime.”

And again in 2012:

“Targets are an excuse for lazy management.”

To recap, early in 2014 the Police Federation asked Metropolitan Police Service officers for evidence that they are being set individual targets, and over three hundred responded, explaining common themes, such as:

“My sergeants run a naming and shaming list, saying 'If you're at the top you're the nuts. If you're at the bottom you're poo!'”

Officers explained how they are censured if they don't “bring in the figures,” despite that most police police-work, such as standing on crime scene cordons and dealing with traffic collisions, fires, transporting prisoners an so forth, doesn't generate performance figures.

If they fail to produce the figures they are often given 'punishment postings'. This could mean for example a month of attending only the tedious and unproductive calls, or a month working in custody or standing on crime scenes.

Metropolitan Police Federation Target Culture Report

Career-advancing courses, such as driving training, are withheld unless they produce sufficient number of arrests, stop-searches and intelligence reports.

Anecdotally it's my experience that following extensive media criticism early this year, many of these Metropolitan Police sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors seem finally to be resisting the temptation to constantly lampoon their officers for figures, at least as far as the usual arrests and stop-searches are concerned.

Police managers being police managers, the instinct for targets is starting to displace in other directions. The Metropolitan Police Service has a spreadsheet program called AirSpace, which was created as a helpful task management tool. In the manner of such things within the Met Police, it was quickly perverted into another means for performance-recording – one of numerous such systems.

Airspace has a facility for maintaining a list of contacts, and senior officers at New Scotland Yard are now requiring that local teams grow these lists. One of the borough's Local Policing Team inspectors told us recently:

“I want five hundred names added to the contact list by Christmas this year and a thousand by Christmas 2015.”

She wants officer knocking on doors every day taking people's names, telephone numbers and email addresses, but sometimes people don't want to hand over these details.

Another example:

Some of the Local Policing Teams are coming under management pressure to spend hours each week standing at the end of one-way streets mercilessly handing out £50 tickets to cyclists riding on pavements or cycling the wrong direction. No discretion is allowed and the tickets awarded are totalled up at the end of the week and sent to the inspectors and chief inspectors.

It is so disappointing that the police managers simply can't seem to help themselves. They have never been taught how to properly manage – making intelligent and creative decisions, and utilising their staff with respect and responsibility. Chasing figures seems to be the only technique they seem to have in their toolboxes.

I know what I'll do: create a new target!
I'll slip it under the radar – nobody will notice.

Well I've noticed and here it is in a blog post. I wonder what other targets are being brought in through the back door?

People might tell surveys that they want to see more cops around, but that's because they want the cops to reduce crime. Knocking on doors and handing out leaflets won't achieve anything useful:

“Hello love. You've been burgled? Sorry to hear that, but look – have a leaflet.”

We need officers free to do their jobs without their hands tied or spending hours doing unproductive nonsense like handing out leaflets. Even if people indicated that they prefer officers door-knocking to locking up burglars and robbers, it's our job to interpret that and discern what they mean.

To protect themselves from criticism or advance their promotions, Metropolitan Police bosses fall over backwards to give people literally what they say they want. They evidence this in writing as if it were a productive crime-fighting achievement.

But, if we take our policing responsibility seriously, we need to give people what they NEED, not what they think they want. We who investigate the crimes know more about it than residents in communities. And when we speak with them it's clear that they know that.

People don't want our managers to slavishly make us act out word-for-word what the public satisfaction polls seem to say.

Returning to our senior officers' managers' orders to grow our lists of community contacts the only benefit of generating these vast lists is the ability to send out occasional emails giving crime prevention advice. But this is only an incidental benefit, not the root motivation for the information-gathering exercise.

We can certainly grow a contact list to a size arbitrarily plucked out of the air in order that our inspectors and chiefs are able to 'prove' their productivity to their managers' satisfaction, but this isn't going to catch the burglars...