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My colleague @manosdaskalou’s recent blog Do we have to care prompted me to think about how data is used to inform government, its agencies and other organisations. This in turn led me back to the ideas of New Public Management (NPM), later to morph into what some authors called Administrative Management. For some of you that have read about NPM and its various iterations and for those of you that have lived through it, you will know that the success or failure of organisations was seen through a lens of objectives, targets and performance indicators or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In the early 1980s and for a decade or so thereafter, Vision statements, Mission statements, objectives, targets, KPI’s and league tables, both formal and informal became the new lingua franca for public sector bodies, alongside terms such as ‘thinking outside the box’ or ‘blue sky thinking’. Added to this was the media frenzy when data was released showing how organisations were somehow failing.
Policing was a little late joining the party, predominately as many an author has suggested, for political reasons which had something to do with neutering the unions; considered a threat to right wing capitalist ideologies. But policing could not avoid the evidence provided by the data. In the late 1980s and beyond, crime was inexorably on the rise and significant increases in police funding didn’t seem to stem the tide. Any self-respecting criminologist will tell you that the link between crime and policing is tenuous at best. But when politicians decide that there is a link and the police state there definitely is, demonstrated by the misleading and at best naïve mantra, give us more resources and we will control crime, then it is little wonder that the police were made to fall in line with every other public sector body, adopting NPM as the nirvana.
Since crime is so vaguely linked to policing, it was little wonder that the police managed to fail to meet targets on almost every level. At one stage there were over 400 KPIs from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, let alone the rest imposed by government and the now defunct Audit Commission. This resulted in what was described as an audit explosion, a whole industry around collecting, manipulating and publishing data. Chief Constables were held to account for the poor performance and in some cases chief officers started to adopt styles of management akin to COMPSTAT, a tactic born in the New York police department, alongside the much vaunted ‘zero tolerance policing’ style. At first both were seen as progressive. Later, it became clear that COMPSTAT was just another way of bullying in the workplace and zero tolerance policing was totally out of kilter with the ethos of policing in England and Wales, but it certainly left an indelible mark.
As chief officers pushed the responsibility for meeting targets downwards through so called Performance and Development Reviews (PDRs), managers at all levels became somewhat creative with the crime figures and manipulating the rules around how crime is both recorded and detected. This working practice was pushed further down the line so that officers on the front line failed to record crime and became more interested in how to increase their own detection rates by choosing to pick what became known in academic circles as’ low hanging fruit’. Easy detections, usually associated with minor crime such as possession of cannabis, and inevitably to the detriment of young people and minority ethnic groups. How else do you produce what is required when you have so little impact on the real problem? Nobody, perhaps save for some enlightened academics, could see what the problem was. If you aren’t too sure let me spell it out, the police were never going to produce pleasing statistics because there was too much about the crime phenomenon that was outside of their control. The only way to do so was to cheat. To borrow a phrase from a recent Inquiry into policing, this was quite simply ‘institutional corruption’.
In the late 1990s the bubble began to burst to some extent. A series of inquiries and inspections showed that the police were manipulating data; queue another media frenzy. The National Crime Recording Standard came to fruition and with it another audit explosion. The auditing stopped and the manipulation increased, old habits die hard, so the auditing started again. In the meantime, the media and politicians and all those that mattered (at least that’s what they think) used crime data and criminal justice statistics as if they were somehow a spotlight on what was really happening. So, accurate when you want to show that the criminal justice system is failing but grossly inaccurate when you can show the data is being manipulated. For the media, they got their cake and were scoffing on it.
But it isn’t just about the data being accurate, it is also about it being politically acceptable at both the macro and micro level. The data at the macro level is very often somehow divorced from the micro. For example, in order for the police to record and carry out enquiries to detect a crime there needs to be sufficient resources to enable officers to attend a reported crime incident in a timely manner. In one police force, previous work around how many officers were required to respond to incidents in any given 24-hour period was carefully researched, triangulating various sources of data. This resulted in a formula that provided the optimum number of officers required, taking into account officers training, days off, sickness, briefings, paperwork and enquiries. It considered volumes and seriousness of incidents at various periods of time and the number of officers required for each incident. It also considered redundant time, that is time that officers are engaged in activities that are not directly related to attending incidents. For example, time to load up and get the patrol car ready for patrol, time to go to the toilet, time to get a drink, time to answer emails and a myriad of other necessary human activities. The end result was that the formula indicated that nearly double the number of officers were required than were available. It really couldn’t have come as any surprise to senior management as the force struggled to attend incidents in a timely fashion on a daily basis. The dilemma though was there was no funding for those additional officers, so the solution, change the formula and obscure and manipulate the data.
With data, it seems, comes power. It doesn’t matter how good the data is, all that matters is that it can be used pejoratively. Politicians can hold organisations to account through the use of data. Managers in organisations can hold their employees to account through the use of data. And those of us that are being held to account, are either told we are failing or made to feel like we are. I think a colleague of mine would call this ‘institutional violence’. How accurate the data is, or what it tells you, or more to the point doesn’t, is irrelevant, it is the power that is derived from the data that matters. The underlying issues and problems that have a significant contribution to the so called ‘poor performance’ are obscured by manipulation of data and facts. How else would managers hold you to account without that data? And whilst you may point to so many other factors that contribute to the data, it is after all just seen as an excuse. Such is the power of the data that if you are not performing badly, you still feel like you are.
The above account is predominantly about policing because that is my background. I was fortunate that I became far more informed about NPM and the unintended consequences of the performance culture and over reliance on data due to my academic endeavours in the latter part of my policing career. Academia it seemed to me, had seen through this nonsense and academics were writing about it. But it seems, somewhat disappointingly, that the very same managerialist ideals and practices pervade academia. You really would have thought they’d know better.
Summer is here and as we try to destress from another annus horribilis …let us play a game. This is one of the mental games we play in a way to understand a discipline shrouded in mystery and speculation. You will need no pen, nor paper, just your imagination and a few minutes.
Clear you mind, isolate your thoughts and give yourself 5 minutes of time to complete. It is all about your imagination.
Think of a criminal. Try to think of their face first. What do they look like? Imagine their face, their eyes, the nose and the cheekbones. Hair colour and style. How’s the neck, the body type, the hands, the legs. Can you tell their gender, age and their race? Any other features? What are they wearing?
Now try to keep that image in your mind. You have conjured your criminal and you ought to give them a crime. What crime has this person committed? Was it their first crime or have they done the same crime before? What made them do the crime(s) they did?
How do you feel about them? What do you wish to be done about them? What is your solution to your imaginary villain? Do you think there are others like them, or was this the one that once removed from your imagination will become unable to generate more images?
Our mind is truly wonderous. It can conjure all sorts of images and for those of you, who, managed to engage and to get through the questions and to develop your criminal, well done.
This approach was used when investigators tried to help people to recall events following a crime, usually involving violence. The questions are reasonable, and it allowed you, at least those who tried, to form an image and a backstory. This approach was later discredited, purely because it allowed our stereotypes and prejudices to come to the surface. You see this game is not about crime; it is about your perception of crime. It is not about those who do crime, it is simply about you.
Bring back to mind your criminal. Your details and characteristics are the projections that you make on what you think about the other, the criminal. For example, did you think of yourself when asked to imagine a criminal? What you don’t think you are a criminal? Ah, you are one of those who think they have never committed a crime. Ever! Are you sure? Not even drinking in the park in your teen years, or a little bit of speeding away from speed cameras?
Still you do not consider yourself as a criminal, but as a person. Which is why criminality takes such a hold of people’s imagination. Criminals are always other people. Crime is something unthinkable. Our representation of crime is to evoke our fears and insecurities, as when we were kids entering a dark room. The mind is truly wonderous, but it can also make us imagine the most horrible things. Not that horrible things do not happen, but the mind reinforces what it hears, what is sees and what it experiences. If any of you have experienced crime before, the face of the person who victimised you may become traumatically etched in your consciousness. Part of that trauma will become fear; it is interesting to note that similar fear is experienced from those who have never been victims of crime.
Previously, I mentioned investigative processes. Our fear of crime and our desire to control crime has generated a number of approaches in crime investigation that have tried to unmask the criminal. Unfortunately, many of those were based on imagination rather than fact. Why? Because of how we feel about crime. Crime causes harm and pain and invokes a lot of our emotions. Those emotions when tapped by investigators blind us and release our darker stereotypes about the others!
This month, during the brief lull between the teaching and marking season, I had allocated myself a bit more free-time than usual. I have not been able to indulge in my hobby of travelling for a while, so instead of this, I have been watching travel related-television programmes with the hope that these will provide me with some kind of joy.
This attempt has been a partial success; an influx of comedy travel shows have worked wonders to uplift my spirits whilst simultaneously reminding me about the beauty of nature; animals, plants, sea, land…(and even humans).
Covid has taken over travel related news at the moment, but in ‘usual’ times it does not require much effort to come across travel documentaries or news reports that seem to encourage prejudice by depicting other countries and travelling as being strange or dangerous. I do worry that this type of coverage might discourage people from wanting to explore the world.
It is difficult to assess the extent to which the television influences our opinions, but when I was a bit younger and discussing my travel plans with others, sometimes I would be met with the following comments:
Response: I would love to travel but I can’t
Me: Why can’t you?
Response: It is dangerous!
Me: How do you know this?
Response: …It said so on the television
There are many genuine reasons that prevent people from travelling, such as, money, responsibilities, health, conflict, misogyny and racism etc. But I find the above reason to be such a shame.
I have encountered many myths over the years which seem to have been gained from watching the television. Here are some of my favorites:
Myth 1: If you see a [insert wild animal here], it will eat you alive
My experience: Take crocodiles for example, these are not as bad as they seem. Yes, arguably crocodiles are death machines but I have seen many in the wild and I am still alive.
Myth 2: The local ‘criminals’ are dangerous
My experience: On very rare occasions I have witnessed crime being committed whilst abroad. I once sat on a coach full of people who were attempting to smuggle cocaine to Brazil. I have also stumbled upon situations which the media described as ‘riots’ and I have also witnessed a few thefts. In these situations, the locals were not a danger to myself, but crime seemed to be a way of being able to afford to live or the result of the occasional angry outburst amongst crowds of protesters, motivated by frustrations with the state.
Myth 3: If you accept the hospitality of strangers you will be murdered in your sleep
My experience: The chances of this happening are very slim. Travelling tends to restore my faith in humanity, the people that I meet whilst travelling can be incredibly kind and helpful.
I found that whilst I was a student, I was able to travel to many places on relatively limited over-draft funds. I hope that the students that I teach are able to do the same, as travel really can broaden the mind. Although, maybe I am wrong for encouraging others to travel, as travelling also makes you very aware of the damage that has been caused to the world, and my own part with in it.
Back in 2007-8, I didn’t spend too much time watching the build-up to the presidential election. Until then, all I knew about America was that we’d yet to atone for our original sins: Enslaving one group of people, annihilating another, while lying and bragging about freedom, justice and liberty for all. Naw, America hadn’t never been great in any way I’d like to try again. My America had never been that, so nothing about 2008 betrayed that notion, even Obama’s candidacy.
Flash fast forward to a year later, for once in my life, America was finally great. This isn’t to suggest that America had suddenly become great, but electing and inaugurating Obama was a sure flash of greatness, a threshold that we’d crossed which distinguished us from the entire history of the nation hitherto. This is why the world celebrated the Obama candidacy – distinct from his actual presidency –the will to break from the white supremacist pattern of our original sins.
My MAGA Day 1:
There weren’t massive protests against president Obama on his very first day. Nay, his successful campaign was lauded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Flash further forward to now, and we have a president who picks with his allies, bullies his party members, dismisses people of color, chides poor people, taunts the media, teases any woman in his presence. We can’t call any of this ‘character’…unless it’s preceded by a bunch of bad adjectives, like his favorite for a non-compliant woman, “nasty.”
During Obama’s 8-year presidency, when it came to addressing ‘the people’, I could see that our leader was demonstrating what it meant to MAGA. He was capable of nuance even in cultural timebombs! When a white cop arrested an upstanding Black professor on his own porch, Obama invited them both over to the White House for a beer, and ostensibly to signal the need for racial reconciliation in critical justice in general, and, in particular, in Black folks’ dealings with the police. Later, when a Black teen was murdered by a rent-a-cop, Obama wept, and lamented that that could have been his son. ‘They’ chided him for racializing the issue. ‘They’ never see patterns, so entrenched are they in the myth of their own individuality.
Throughout Agent Orange’s presidency, when we being gunned down repeatedly by cops -in our own homes, out jogging, playing in the park, driving down the street, shopping at Walmart – 45 remained silent… that is until we took a knee. Back then, circa 2016, he and his klan caught all hell fire. When we started more openly defying white supremacy, ‘they’ had our names in their mouths like liquor. They ain’t had nothing to say about the value of Black life until that undeniable 8 minutes of 46 seconds of the symbolic hooves on our necks! Some say that was the breaking point.
Flash forward to today: Agent Orange may have to be carried out of the White House – in cuff hopefully – as he refuses to concede. What’s more, the nation has elected our second Catholic president, and our first women of color as vice president, and she’s the child of immigrants, too. Has America woken up from that sad slumber?
I don’t trust your god
Your god is cruel
Your god is mean
Your god allowed generations of your people to enslave mine
Your god made it okay to look into the Bible and see white power.
You prayed to your god with every slave you took.
You prayed that your catch would be bountiful, and
Your enslavers safe.
You’ve prayed that you would gain money, and fame, and power.
And you did.
Your god gave you everything.
Thanks to your god-given wealth,
You built church after church, and
Cathedral after cathedral, all around the globe,
So that everyone could worship your god.
You prayed that we’d all pay homage to a mean and cruel god.
Your god’s played a trick on you,
Convincing you slavery was god-like, that white was right!
That dark was evil, and so
Your god’s given you moral dominion over the darker peoples of the world.
You and your god dominate.
Don’t you know,
Your god’s cross was used to conquer the Americas, and
A church sits smack in the middle of west Africa’s biggest, extant slave castle!?!
Yes, your god was right there with you as you captured human cargo, and
Stored them right next to your church so they could hear you pray, and
Marched them out of the door of no return, onto feed your greed that your god sanctioned.
You grew fat, bloated with power,
Thanks to your god.
I don’t trust your god.
Nor should you.
Now, with every attempt we have to take back our humanity, you resist.
We say “Black Lives Matter,” and you pray they don’t.
You pray for a champion – a big man – to come down from above and save you.
And when that big, rich, powerful man does descend,
And threatens to shore off all apologists for your god’s cruel past,
You treat him as heaven-sent!
And call out all defectors from your church,
All those so-called Liberals who’ve turned away from your god.
You pray that this big man and his family will bask in the gains of your god’s glory.
That somehow this big man’s glory attests to your god’s power.
You cheer when that big man waves a bible at you, in front of any church, and
You tell yourself: “My God is good,” and
You run-n-fetch your god every time the big man blows the dog-whistle,
Which you hear clear as day.
Run. Stay. Sit.
You follow your god’s orders.
Free yourself from your old god.
To erase that history, to look away from those facts, you must also erase yourself…
Because slavery, and continued subjugation is not just my problem, it’s…
The Problem We All Live With.
It’s in you, too.