Some new (old) ideas for Policing

So, it would be amiss to criticise SF for a failure to produce any ideas on policing without suggesting some, so here’s a brief attempt.Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point gives a compelling account of how New York tackled its crime epidemic during the 90’s (the original New Yorker article that led to the book can be found here, and follows a similar theme). The book offers Broken Window Theory as the method for achieving a tipping point in crime. Broken window theory states that small crime acts as enabler for big crime; having a “broken window” in a street suggests it may be easier to get away with a crime. By tackling the small problems, we tackle the bigger ones.

It’s an interesting theory, but as you can see if you follow the Wikipedia link above, like all theories it has it’s critics. However, I’m not so sure it matters if the overall theory works; despite the recent spate of murders in West Belfast, low level antisocial crime is much more likely to be encountered on an everyday basis and much more likely to cause a climate of fear. So it’s worth looking at the policy prescriptions.

  • They announced a policy of zero tolerance. I think this is significant in itself: I think it is important that the expectation for crime is set at: you will get caught, and you will get punished.
  • Low level offences, however trivial, were rigorously enforced. If you peed on the street, you were going to jail.
  • Steps were taken to facilitate that. The biggest barrier in arresting someone for small crimes was the trip to the station involved and the level of paperwork that needs processed. Buses were turned into mobile police stations, and the paperwork reduced to increase turnaround time. I suggest in our society, human rights issues may also be a problem, and some protocol would need developed to deal with that.
  • Random “safety checks” were implemented to try and proactively look for and deal with low level crime, stolen cars, or drink driving. This tied in with a pattern of a more general increase in activity – more arrests, more cars stop, more moves against drug dealers.
  • Resources were targeted at problem areas.Computer models were used to map patterns of crime, and resources targeted at specific areas. It’s unlikely that sophisticated models would be needed here, but the principle is the same; put people where needed. There are again sensitivities here (on both sides) that would need some thought, but I don’t believe that it should be used as a blocking issue.
  • There was a steady increase in the number of police on the street.

Most of that is sensible, I feel, and none of it is rocket science. Some might see it as a lurch to the right, but I think the biggest mistake made on the right in terms of crime is ever tougher sentencing (particularly if it involves mandatory sentencing) regardless of how much sense it makes, what reoffending rates are like or how overcrowded the prisons get. This doesn’t deal with that: the target here is simply to ensure that the current law is better and more consistently enforced, and proper expectations are set.

I have another idea too: totally ditch current drugs policy, but that’s for another day. What do you think needs done?

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  • yep

    yep, legalise ecstacy, i agree 🙂

  • Turgon

    One factor in the incidence of criminality in parts of Belfast and elsewhere which cannot easily be ignored is the simple fact that the IRA and loyalist terrorists murdered a number of RUC officers who were performing ordinary policing activities.

    Unsurprisingly this destroyed the concept of having policemen on the beat and preventing, detecting and deterring minor crime.

    Into that vacuum stepped the paramilitaries with their own perverse version of “justice.”

    The concept of neighbourhood policing was all but destroyed in parts of Northern Ireland. Now we still have SF constantly complaining and trying to trip up the police rather than acting as a constructive yet at times critical supporter. Until republicans begin to address such issues, bleating about policing and justice and proposing assorted models from elsewhere is froth and hypocrisy. I cannot remember many public representatives in New York ever having supported murdering NYPD officers.

  • Kensei

    Turgon

    I know that laying the entire breakdown of the Relationship between the police and the Nationalist community at the door of the IRA would suit your world view, but the truth is somewhat more complex than that. The problems with policing extend to long before the current Troubles, and during them the police could do much harm to themselves. In the 80’s my uncle phoned the police because of problems my family was having with new neighbours that had moved to the street. The police asked him why he did get his own ones to sort it out.

    The police have plenty of bridges to build within Nationalism. But in a sense, this is backward looking. I don’t particularly care about perceived hypocrisy or bleating. I am concerned here with how the policing policy in the North could be imporved, and the results better.

    Third, you’re mostly wrong anyway. From the New Yorker article linked above:

    There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to hear rapid fire, like you would hear somewhere in the jungle in Vietnam,” Inspector Edward A. Mezzadri, who commands the Seventy-fifth Precinct, told me. “You would hear that in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville and, particularly, East New York all the time.

    Hardly a model of community policing or the bobby on the beat. And while I doubt there’d be any elected representatives lining up to suggest killing the police, you’d have to guess that there’d be a fair number within that community with less than a great deal of concern for the NYPD.

    So anything constructive to add? What would you do to improve policing here?

  • percy

    correct Turgon,
    In South Armagh, if you’re from well-known criminal families but support SF, this equates to being “good republicans”
    But, oh dear, If you don’t support SF, then the same type of criminal families are ” bad republicans” or just dissident criminals, vipers etc.

    SF are not taking a lead, and showing by example.
    This is the problem kensei

    and You couldn’t make it up.

  • New Yorker

    Kensei

    Another part of the “Broken Window Theory” is that when you catch someone for a low level crime and check the record, often they have committed more serious crime as well. The person who urinates in the street may be a suspect in a robbery.

    The importance of the police walking their beat in communities can not be overstated. Presence of police deters crime.

    Turgon is correct that the police need full and unqualified support to be effective, especially from all politicians and community leaders. People in communities usually know who might have committed a crime and they need encouragement to come forward and tell the police all they know and never fear retaliation for doing so.

  • Turgon

    How would I improve policing here?

    I would find that difficult not having committed any crimes and knowing no criminals. What then could others do?

    Well I guess if SF started giving proper help to the police it might help. Maybe if Conor Murphy stopped calling a young man who was murdered a criminal. Maybe if he did not run off to an illegal organisation and then come back announcing that republicans were innocent of the crime.

    Maybe if my local MP suggested that people should give evidence about dissident republicans to the police. The dissidents who have repeatedly tried to murder police officers in Fermanagh.

    Maybe if SF helped constructively with crimes such as Mr. McCartney’s murder and the Omagh bombing by encouraging their members to help. Maybe if they had not accepted back into membership those people whom they temporarily removed after Mr. McCartney’s murder.

    Maybe if Gerry Kelly had not been involved in talking to a witness in the McCartney trial.

    You see you can bleat all you want asking what I can do to help the police. All I can do is what I have always done: obey the law and what I would do which is report any information which might be useful to the police.

    I think those are pretty constructive suggestions. I can add little else as I have never been involved in any criminality and do not associate with criminals.

    The question is: When will republicans do the same?

  • Mark McGregor

    Kensei,

    However, there are some republicans and they seem to be willing to become more visible and vocal with initiatives like the ACAD that are rejecting British policing on ideological and practical grounds. Also, the raft of letters and texts being allowed through by the BMG that reject the current SF promoted arrangements seem to indicate rejection of British policing exists in a broader sphere.

    As for your suggestions – I’ve never had any interest in how the British police Ireland, never will but I don’t see how repressive heavy handed policing fits comfortably with any form of republicanism.

  • percy

    Turgon,
    In as much as loyalist criminality exists, I suppose you can say that the political leaders of unionism aren’t giving it any cover; but they’re not doing much about it though either.

    However I’m a SF supporter and probably the harshest critic of my party.
    The forked-tongue approach by the leadership of SF as to the examples you’ve provided above, is very worrying and not confidence building.

    I know when I hear “the police are being heavy-handed” it means “they’re lifting our lads”.

    It drives me crazy, because it sooo wrong.
    The dissidents know this too, and it makes them ever more determined not to support SF or the Police.

    We need real leadership from SF, and we’re not getting it with the current top team.
    Maybe new ones like john o’dowd will be different; but that’ll take a generation, which we haven’t got.

  • Mark McGregor

    ACAD should be ACPAD

  • percy

    Mark take the trouble to define your terms, just once and then we’ll know what they mean:

    ACPAD and BMG .. ???

  • dewi

    Great to see you blogging Kensei but please cool head – I’m still on Chekov and Nic Whyte’s Serbian row….blasted difficult to keep up.

  • Mark McGregor

    Percy,

    Sorry.

    ACPAD – Ardoyne Concerned Parents Against Drugs

    BMG – Belfast Media Group (Andytown News)

  • percy

    Thanks 🙂

  • cynic

    Kensei

    Sorry to be so negative but here goes.

    “They announced a policy of zero tolerance.”

    That is a joke in NI. Try getting the PPS to prosecute “trivial” offences or District Judges to deal with them. It just won’t happen.

    “Low level offences, however trivial, were rigorously enforced. If you peed on the street, you were going to jail.”

    Again, even a first offences of assault or burglary here isn’t likely to see a jail sentence, especially for young offenders who commit most crime. What will get you jail time in the USA may mean a fine here at best (if you don’t just get a warning). From a young age, criminals are therefore conditioned by the system to believe that they will never face a real penalty. In the USA jail also means jail and they don’t get 50% remission. There is a “3 strikes and you’re out” mandatory life sentence for 3 times felony offenders. You don’t get that here even for murder!

    Also, if they try to enforce trivial offences, the Police will have the ‘community leaders’, Police Ombudsman, Policing Board, Politicians, HIHRC and all the other quangos on their backs moaning that its unfair, unreasonable, disproportionate, discriminatory, etc, etc, etc

    “Random “safety checks” were implemented to try and proactively look for and deal with low level crime, stolen cars, or drink driving. This tied in with a pattern of a more general increase in activity – more arrests, more cars stop, more moves against drug dealers.”

    Ah ….you mean harassment based upon stereotyping. Just because I am 16, out at 3am driving a Vauxhall Astra GTi while wearing a balaclava , hoodie and gloves you have no right to think that I am behaving suspiciously.How dare you. Get me my lawyer, social worker and the Human Rights Commission.

    “Resources were targeted at problem areas.Computer models were used to map patterns of crime, and resources targeted at specific areas. It’s unlikely that sophisticated models would be needed here, but the principle is the same”

    Except that the oveall level of recorded crime in NI (yes, read that again and look at the figures) is so low that the models probably wont work here – there isn’t sufficient critical mass of data. And the only way to feed the systems all the information on “crimes” that aren’t recorded now (ie all the anti social behaviour problems) would be to tie officers up in more paperwork. See above.

    “There was a steady increase in the number of police on the street.”

    It wasn’t steady. It was a massive 40% increase quite quickly

    As a time when PSNI has downsized from 15000 staff to perhaps 8000 and where huge amounts of resources are spent on historic enquiries, public enquiries, providing information to 101 quangos supervising various aspects of the police service, etc etc this is unrealistic. Numbers are falling not rising and because most of the older / more experienced officers left under Patten most of the police now providing the front line service have very little experience.

    I am being cynical in all of this but not by much. It’s not just about the Police, its about the whole dysfunctional multi-layered system of checks and controls which are designed to ensure they everything the police do is supervised in detail – but which all interact to make them ever more ineffective.

    It’s not not just the police we need to reform – it’s the whole system. I am NOT suggesting a free for all but I don’t see any of our politicians supporting what’s really needed here. It would upset too many vested interests.

    By the way, some of the real reasons Bratton was so successful were perhaps

    1 they started fron a very low base with huge levels of crime, so early gains were easy

    2 there was a 40% increase in Police numbers in a very short period of time

    3 they had a clear policy of really holding senior commanders to account and firing those who officers who didn’t deliver (but try that here and wait for the Judicial Reviews and Tribunals)

    4 implementation of the policy coincided with the end of the crack epidemic that swept NYC in the mid 1980s and which led to a huge increase in murders. As crack use fell in the early 1990’s ‘broken windows’ got the credit for the fall in violent crime.

    Unfortunately after Bratton was sacked (for looking too good in the media and eclipsing the Mayor) things began to unravel a bit. There were with various allegations of rights abuses, ‘perps’ shot dead without reason, fiddled figures, criminals being fitted up etc. Hey, perhaps it does sound more like here after all.

  • Kensei

    Turgon

    Sorry,boss, you’re coping out. I have never committed any crime either but I am perfectly capable of reading, thinking on the issues and trying to suggest things might be done better. Some of it may be calling the police to account rather than singing their praises. That ultimately helps the police, and everyone here.

    SF have been fairly consistent since they accepted policing here that anyone with issues should contact the police. Yes, there are have a few places where you could say they could have done better, but we are in a transitional phase. It is perhaps tougher for Republicans than you comprehend, and goes against the grain of 90 years. But suppose SF did everything you wanted. Would it solve all our crime problems? Could things still be improved? Try honestly answering those questions, and getting past the rage.

    Mark

    I feel that if we get the devolution of powers, we have enough control to may it worthwhile to bend the ideology for pragmatism’s sake. You may not care about administering British rule, but you have to care about people getting killed, antisocial behaviour in our streets – nationalist, unionist or other – people’s homes being broken into. Or else you do not deserve the title “republican”. Certain tings can be done from community or grassroots activism, but it is pure naivete to suggest that crime can really be tackled without the weight of the State behind it.

    Much of this could be applied to the Southern Administration anyway and both SF and Eirigi are supposedly All Ireland organisations. But then, I have a nasty feeling you are going to tell me you don’t care about Irish rule in Ireland either.

  • Kensei

    Cynic

    Some fair points.

    To respond:

    Peeing in the street meant a night in the cells more than the a custodial sentence. I don’t think that unduly harsh sentences are necessarily any more effective for low level crime. If you act like a moron in the streets and get fined all your beer money, well you might be as likely to give up being a moron than if you were repeatedly put in the slammer.

    Do you not feel that the great value of having a local justice minister is their ability to take on special interests? I’m stating we need a change in policy, not the same thing done by different people. In a sens I think SF could probably make the best justice minister — they are probably best placed to tackle some of the things they’ve stoked on the way up.

    You are right in that there are potential human rights issues, court cases and the like. I see this as an issue to deal with in setting the policy — practices that minimise the chances. It is important that those accountability mechanisms are there, because abuses can and have happened.But we shouldn’t fear them, and we should use them as a good reason to develop better policing. Opportunistic attacks will never be completely eliminated, but if the police work is good, they’ll eventually be vindicated.

    I think there are things we could do to reduce the burden of paperwork. Technology could perhaps be used to speed things up. But as recent collapsed trials have shown, some of this is important. I don’t know the detail behind the paperwork, but the argument should be to make it smarter, more effective than just moaning to have it removed.

    Accountability is important and we have to deal with out past. I don’t think it makes sense to tie these issues together. If money is needed for more officers, and the political will is there, then the we can budget accordingly.

    Policing in New York continued to increase throughout the 80’s and 90’s AFAIK. As I said, there are criticisms of the theory, but some of the factors you mention were ther same across America, and crime fell further and faster in New York, In any case, it focuses on low level crime, which is one of our big problems. If it tackles that and no more, then it is still worthwhile.

    In any case, there is some more issues falling out of this anyway. Now someone just needs to take it up :). Fatalism is rarely a good attribute in politics.

  • Steve

    Turgon
    The concept of neighbourhood policing was all but destroyed in parts of Northern Ireland.

    Wouldnt be because the police murdered, and physically and emotionally assaulted people for 80 years for the grand crime of being catholic would it?

  • NP

    Turgon : “I would find that difficult not having committed any crimes and knowing no criminals. What then could others do?”

    Kensei “ive never committed a crime”

    Are you having us on ?
    no contact with any crime no matter how trivial.
    Youse lads must be from very sheltered back grounds.

  • Pete Baker

    Ken

    “..low level antisocial crime is much more likely to be encountered on an everyday basis and much more likely to cause a climate of fear.”

    Interesting reach for the Broken Window approach..

    But aren’t you forgetting about the previous big idea.. You haven’t mentioned it in the original post.

    Whatever happened to Community Restorative Justice?

  • ??

    “The police have plenty of bridges to build within Nationalism.”…

    You mean the same nationalism that done its best to murder as many police men and women as possible during the troubles, maybe nationalism needs to apologise for its murderous bigotry, that would be a start

  • MARTFART44

    why apologise…they got rid of plenty of shit which if it hadve stayed may have prevented us getting a new police force. well done ra

  • Comrade Stalin

    kensei, thanks for the very constructive thread.

    One point :

    The importance of the police walking their beat in communities can not be overstated. Presence of police deters crime.

    “More police walking the beat” is a common slogan you’ll hear and read coming from politicians. It does give people a warm fuzzy feeling seeing the local uniformed friendly bobby passing along in the neighbourhood.

    In practice, a lot of police officers will tell you that making them walk a beat will actually deter their ability to deal with crime. If there’s a call about an incident which is more than a thirty second dash away, the police will be unable to reach it quickly and will have to radio a car to pick them up.

    I often wonder with these plans to try to improve policing, if anyone has thought of .. asking the police officers on the ground ? Have them do an anonymous survey and find out what they think is required to reduce crime levels, and feed that back into your policing policies.

  • rj

    CS

    You are right that a ‘bobby on the beat’ is not well placed for pursuing criminals. (Even more so when officers are stuck in small stations where nobody calls.) But there is a significant issue of being a deterrent by being visible and being available to get the feel of the community on their patch.

    We need a response capacity, but we also need community engagement – and that was a key problem during the troubles.

  • New Yorker

    Kensei

    The bottom line, and we all know it, is that SF does not support policing. At best they make mandatory weak statements. If they did support policing, there would be much less crime. Do they encourage people to join the PSNI? In some areas people are not joining the PSNI because of fear of retaliation that is either actively or passively supported by SF. If you truly want better policing, urge SF to support policing and they could start by helping people in their communities to sign on for the PSNI. It is long overdue.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    There can be little doubt that better co-operation and more joint operations with the Gardai would have a beneficial impact on policing, especially in border areas. It would not be wise for SF to suggest this – or anything else – that will be used as a further excuse by Unionists to obstruct progress.

    When policing is transferred to Norn Iron – a review of matters relating to policing can take place in a political environment where both communities can give them their full support.

  • Comrade Stalin

    rj, agreed. Visibility on the ground definitely helps. But does it actually lead, overall, to improvements in the detection/prevention of crime ? Without trying to be funny, there are other matters including the physical fitness of the officers that you need to consider. The anti-social teenagers know this and they know that they’ll get a good laugh by messing around and getting the cops to chase them, but not be able to catch them.

    In the problems I have experienced with antisocial behaviour in my local community, the cops are very sympathetic, but they seem to be bound up in regulations and guidelines. I live in an end-terrace facing some unused parkland. I was talking to the cops at the DPP one evening, and they commented “I hope you don’t live in that end house, I’m sure whoever’s there gets tortured”. I said that I lived there, and my problems were much the same as the other residents. The cop replied that there was only one certain way not to be tortured, and that was to move out. It’s almost like they have given up hope of being able to tackle the issue.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There can be little doubt that better co-operation and more joint operations with the Gardai would have a beneficial impact on policing, especially in border areas. It would not be wise for SF to suggest this – or anything else – that will be used as a further excuse by Unionists to obstruct progress.

    The way I see things here is that some day, somebody is going to have to crack down on the paramilitaries. There is an uneasy unwritten truce at the moment where the police appear to quite openly allow the paramilitaries to retain a degree of influence, and an “acceptable” low level of criminal activity, and indeed where the police actually delegate prevention of crime to the “community representatives”. That’s unacceptable and is going to have to stop, and until it does, we are always going to have a murky undercurrent of general criminality and misery for the vulnerable people on the receiving end of it. And frankly, I don’t see how introducing the Garda into the situation will help. There won’t be any difference between the Garda breaking in somebody’s door in Craigavon, and the PSNI doing it.

    When policing is transferred to Norn Iron – a review of matters relating to policing can take place in a political environment where both communities can give them their full support.

    I look forward to the day when the transfer happens, but to believe that we’re immediately all going to sit cross-legged in a circle holding hands and singing songs about how policing should be taken forward is rather naive. As I say, the matter which is highest on the agenda is taking down the paramilitaries, and that’s going to involve breaking down a few doors and cracking a few heads on the pavement. Neither the DUP constituency, nor the SF constituency, is going to be ready to put their support behind the necessarily heavy-handed methods that will be required to put a stop to the death driving and criminality that pervades our community here.

  • SF’s support for the police is limited. More often than not they merely call on criminals to ‘stop’ their activities rather than calling for information to be handed to the police. This is especially so when their republican fellow-travellers are involved.

    Was it not SF’s Michelle Gildernew who said she would not give information to the police if she knew the location of ‘dissident’ republican weapons?

    As to “zero tolerence”, it is mostly an non-starter given the presence of the Human Rights Act (a little concerning, to say the least, that this thread’s author is suggesting “protocols” to get around it).

    The Act calls, inter alia, for a balanced approach. Prison for low-level criminal damage is not balanced; pity, given that I for one would be happy to see the postbox paint brigade head off for a few months in clink.

  • Kensei

    Pete

    As far as I’m aware Community Restorative Justice is still out there, and I think that there could still be a role for it in the future. Even operating a zero tolerance policy, police cannot be everywhere, and there would remain problems within communities where a Broken Windows approach sits uneasily. If two families are feuding, for example, there is probably going to need to be dialog to really tackle the causes of the problem.

    I didn’t mention it because I’m primarily interested in new ideas and new approaches we can take. Actually applying in government would require a rounded approach to fit all these together. But this would just be the “brainstorming” stage.

    New Yorker

    Yawn.

    ??

    Nationalist != IRA man. And the Experiences of many ordinary nationalists of the RUC was, shall we say, not good. Thanks for the reflexive knee jerk response, though.

    CS

    I accept your point. But if we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that crime cannot be dealt with by just improving the facts and figures. Crime has feel fairly constantly for a long time, but if anything people are more fearful. We are interested in just improving crime but quality of life: if more police men on the beat changes the perception of crime, then that is a success.

    slievenanee

    I simply stated that we may run into human rights issues on this. Fine, that’s a known. How can we design our policy to minimise that, while still keeping our overall approach. You see problem, I see challenge and a chance to improve policy.

    Second, I never necessarily called for prison for low level criminal damage. I simply asked for the current law to be rigorously enforced, and the system unblocked to facilitate it. Tougher sentences may be appropriate, particularly for persistent repeat offenders, but that’s another debate. The call automatically for tougher sentencing is, in my view, reactionary.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Comrade Stalin

    Until the last element of the Peace Process is in place – the transfer of police and justice – the shortfall in legitimacy for the police will continue.

    SFs history suggest that ‘heavy manners’ is not in principle a problem for them but first there must be complete legitimacy bestowed on the forces of law and order before this is likely to happen.

    I have little doubt Hugh Orde and the Englezes fully understand this.

  • slug

    Kensei, congratulations on becoming a Slugger blogger. I am sure you will make a valuable and thoughtful contribution.

  • Pete Baker

    Ken

    It’s all very well adopting a ‘move along now, nothing to see here’ apporach in looking for “new ideas and new approaches we can take.”

    But by ignoring Sinn Féin’s previous big idea – Community Restorative Justice – and the reasons for its failure to address anti-social behaviour, you miss the bigger picture necessary to contemplating any plausible future policy approaches.

  • Kensei

    Pete

    Has it “failed”? As I said, it’s still out there, and still could provide useful service. It’s not really what I wanted to do here. I think you are confusing me with a Minister or a head of a policy unit. If I was, I assure you I’d looking at all these issues in the round. But I am just interested in throwing out a few ideas, seeing what people think, and having a little discussion around it. Perhaps it will give some smarter people than me some ideas. Perhaps not. I believe it was you who said to me you blog for your own interest, and have no intention of changing what you do. Well, looksie.

    Moreover, I left an open ended question at the end of this thread. Feel free to contribute something constructive, rather than yet another backlink. Or indeed, use your own privileges to open a thread on that topic. I’m sure you’d do a just peachy job on it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Until the last element of the Peace Process is in place – the transfer of police and justice – the shortfall in legitimacy for the police will continue.

    The fact that you are talking about this as if it is the remaining piece of the jigsaw shows that you’re out of your depth. The fact that we can’t get agreement on transferring the powers in itself shows you that we’ve still got a long way to go.