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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