Decriminalising the police (to let them get on with preventing crime)

A happy New Year to all the decent officers we can’t do without.  All our lives would be better if we could find a way for these excellent people to get on with keeping the peace.  I’d like to see a lot of policing decriminalised, from the odd bent cop who turns up to a lot of what makes up day-to-day coppering.  The aim would be to find a way to value police work and officers in a different way.  All very challenging, with a need to better understand the challenges on the street good officers put themselves in the way of far more than some.  The system will never be immaculate (except on HMIC visits), but it could be easier to work with, and both more democratic and effective.  What analysis there is tends to be managerial-financial, and needs to start with the street-level even for any of this to work.  My suspicion is that the discipline society needs cannot be enforced or encouraged by criminalisation.  This need not be some kind of ‘leftie liberal whinge’ as we could proceed with a view to coming down harder on disorder and dire behaviour.  We need something radical because our CJS is a busted flush.  We lack a real public dialogue on this and what really affects most of our lives.  In the meantime, brave men and women get it in the neck in a system that is ‘criminal’ in all the wrong ways.  Good luck to them.

The most discussed decriminalisation concerns drugs.  I’m generally in favour, because the ‘war on drugs’ doesn’t work, and is part of the creation of a wide criminal industry.  This, of course, can’t be the end of the story.  Apart from treating the issues through a medical model, there remain severe nuisance problems (not coped with well now) and criminal adaptivity (what rackets might be created and where would the criminality transfer).  Questions remain about how much of the bulk of current minor crime and violence could be subject to alternatives to police action if we could understand them differently and how new procedures could be effective and tough, rather than wet.  There are clues in the average IQ of people passing through police hands (dumb), the welfare sponsored, sub-minimum wage economies exploited by wealthy criminals and lack of alternatives in legal employment.

There seems little doubt that we have created a monster in our public services generally.  There is a fatal nexus of managerial over-staffing, over-payment and bent performance management that suits politicians in power.  I suspect even the financial drain of this exceeds all criminal industries put together, and that the real costs on moral and lack of necessary change exceed this in real, personal terms.  We end up with an excuse culture that is hostile to fair criticism and shuns responsibility.

There is a general tendency to set up an ‘evil poor’ as the problem, perhaps as minority groups have always been set up.  Yet it is other interest groups that grow richer.  We have an over-populated managerial-political class that interferes with everything, yet under-manages and creates systems that suit its needs, not the problems we face.  ACPO is a classic example, but only an example.

The decriminalisation process needs to replace current IPCC, HMIC and PSDs with a single body taking account of local public concerns (no elected police chiefs), victims’ representation and civilian organisation of complaints.  The rest is about getting a great deal of effective power to street officers through decriminalised processes as far as possible, in order to release our forces into work that is real policing, to break the cycle of hopeless, recidivist cases and drunken mile regulation.  It would be interesting to know more about who and what actually causes the need for so much expenditure on wasted cycles of recidivism in the tide of petty crime and antisocial behaviour, even to the extent of protest movements of those who feel there is no alternative to turning out on the streets, or into shops and businesses perceived as not playing fair.

The problems that need taking into account extend well beyond anything police officers do, and what we want them to be able to do and they cannot.  Glib phrases like ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ need to be treated as dire lies, unless they are costed and worked through in terms of how they are to be effective other than as political salesmanship.  What we have is complex problems that feed many vested interests and wallets.  We need a grip on what the costs of the vicious circle are and who is bearing them, who is retaining the money and whether any of the actions being taken are likely to reduce the costs or change any behaviour or quality of life.  I suspect the police fail so much of the time because they are dealing with symptoms not the disease and the real problems that should not, in the first place, be in their remit.

There is no point in doing projects that have massive and obvious costs we can’t afford so politicians can point to ‘success stories’.  We need to take the whole bag on and accept a change in balance on civil rights towards the maintenance of a right to quiet peace.  Things are so bad, we can’t even get this in many classrooms, let alone the drunken mile or next door to drug addicts.  The answers are complex, but we can’t even seriously talk and debate the problems.


2 thoughts on “Decriminalising the police (to let them get on with preventing crime)

  1. “…and criminal adaptivity (what rackets might be created and where would the criminality transfer).”

    Would they necessarily transfer anywhere? Or simply retain ‘black market supplies’, in the same way you can buy bootleg booze, or tobacco, or porn?

    It wouldn’t take so many, so there’s be a reduction in numbers. And the ones most likely to be cut out are the street dealers and runners. I wonder, would we see a rise in mugging and petty burglary as a result?

  2. These are the kind of questions we need to be asking Julia. Criminality is more ‘entrepreneurial’ than we give credit for. The risks taken in low-level crime are massive for generally little return. In the US, the average corner-boy is at more risk than a GI in Afghanistan, they get banged up for long periods, but the game goes on and on. We now have a long history of ‘burglary sweeps’ and other focused police activity allegedly reducing crime, but most of us feel it just goes ‘off balance-sheet’. We know we can reduce crime through special measures in one force, only to find increases in contiguous force areas. Decriminalisation, if we could really work out what this would be, would be tough and work through administrative law and changing markets. The debate is around, but you have to work hard to find detail rather than invective.

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