There’s still a big difference, in terms of getting something done, in most western democracies, in comparison with those countries with ‘wasta systems’ in which you have to find out who to bribe and who you can work with. Matters such as this are factored into doing business in BPEST schemes of one form or another. I can’t think inward investment to the UK is at all concerned with having to buy off police officers, though I can name a few Merseyside and GMP officers who were caught taking bribes from rackets.
There is some academic talk that we have moved from ‘bad apples’ to a ‘rotten orchard’. I can throw up a couple of dozen papers in a quick search. The picture painted is more one of skilled incompetence, gaming and performance management, dotted with vignettes such as a gay detective furnishing the flat he shared with a drug-pusher, on duty sex with slags, deals with bent solicitors, evidence fabrication and problematic confessions and disclosure and the use of informants. Considerable discussion of the impossibility of making complaints against police is also present, a matter substantially clouded by the obvious presence of a lot of very dubious complainants.
The real issues are much wider than naive notions that our cops are widely on the take or abusing power. I noticed an MP in the papers the other day saying that whistle-blowing is a duty and that those who don’t blow-out bad practice and corruption, or cover it up should be prosecuted as vigorously as the wrong-doers. Correct, of course, yet this comes from an MP who did not expose, along with all the rest, the expenses scandal. Worthies across our public sector take “bungs” much more serious than Paul Stephenson’s arrangement to get himself fixed up for duty and don’t have his record in turning down bonus payments on principle. The ‘rotten orchard’ is more ‘something rotten in the State of Denmark’ than about the police as a corrupt organisation.
‘Statistics’ have an inglorious past dating to the Athenian Democracy, and as a scientific term a glorious one – we conflate the two uses very much at our peril. There is no scientific basis for any ‘numbers of the State’, whether on crime, education or economics. Across the EU most ‘headline crime’ is down (robbery, domestic burglary, motor vehicle theft and homicide) though violent crime and drug trafficking increasing and the overall total up slightly from 2000 to 2007.
More complex figures demonstrate the UK is in line with the rest of the EU. I have not found much explanation for any of the decreases. Stealing cars is much more difficult for joy riding than during my service. Burglaries from shops dropped substantially just before I joined, as shops fitted alarms and more wealth could be found in houses. We could list a lot more potential reasons – my local Bobby is convinced the burglars now do more shoplifting and so on. I have the feeling that the blackhole of crime will turn out to be in anti-social behaviour and fraud. The analysis I would expect in scientific statistics is noticeable by its absence. For typical comment, Robert Reiner’s ‘Crime and Control in Britain’ (SociologyVol. 34,No. 1,pp. 71–94) is reasonably inclusive.
In sociological terms there is a lot of valid argument that the rich are getting richer and we are creating a society of more marginalised people, especially young men likely to commit what we define as crime. We should be in sensible debate on this, but instead have sloganised politics and ignorance. Not least, how do we do anything about full employment when ‘rich money’ says we can’t make decisions about our own society because it doesn’t suit them and they will leave, collapsing the economy and leaving us incapable.
New definitions of ‘organisational police corruption’ (and I don’t mean dross like institutional racism) are possible, available and needed. This need to be concerned with the wide corruption of our society and the role of policing in the criminal justice system as a whole. This is true of organisations across our public sector, whether in public or private hands. The current norm in all organisations is to deny wrongdoing, cover it up and send out public messages on ‘learning lessons’. The odd scapegoat is offered, and even some of these sue (Shoesmith?) successfully. Before resignations and proper investigations (very rare I expect), the disgraced or honourable were great leaders worth every penny of massive salaries – yet once gone we don’t miss them.
What’s lacking in our public dialogue is easy access to facts that would allow costed alternatives we could vote on. Instead, we rely on myths like ‘great leadership’ and allow tiny groups to make decisions – collections of these tiny groups have routinely upped their salaries and earnings whilst slashing the rest. They have become accountable to each other like any aristocracy. And such groups have been anything but honourable in history.
Our police would be a good place to start organisational renewal based on transparency and a New Deal on wages and conditions of employment. What stops this if there is nothing to hide?