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The pathology of performance management: obscuration, manipulation and power

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. 

#CriminologyBookClub: The Guest List

As you know by now, a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Hence the creation of #CriminologyBookClub! Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all eight bloggers contributing! This title was chosen by @svr2727and is our 12th book. Read on to find out what we thought….

I took one look at the cover and didn’t think the book would be for me. The cover gave the impression it would be scary, and I don’t do scary. One of the reasons for book club is to read things we wouldn’t ordinarily go for so I started reading – and couldn’t stop. The bitesize chapters not only enabled me to pick the book up more frequently, but they also made me want to keep reading. I would tell myself ‘just one more, another, last one now, this is definitely the last one then I’ll make tea/go to sleep/get out of bed. The second thing I liked about it was that the narrative viewpoint changed each chapter, flitting between the perspectives of each character. However, what was odd that I felt no strong connection to any of the characters. I am a pacifist and would not wish anyone dead in real life, but I desperately wanted Will to be the one to die. It was quite obvious he was a wrong ‘un early on. Each of the characters had been victimised in one way or another by Will at some point in their lives but it was almost as if the author wrote in barriers to building empathy with them, either in their personality or their actions. Jules was stuck up and pretentious, her sister wouldn’t tell us what was wrong with her for a long time, Johnno was complicit in the death of a child and we didn’t know about Aoife’s connection until the end. I liked this. It ties in nicely with one of my favourite concepts in victimology, Christie’s (1986) theory of the ‘Ideal Victim’, the idea that people will not fully be accepted as a victim unless they exhibit particular characteristics and behaviours. The book therefore tied right into my criminological interests. They say never judge a book by its cover and in this case the phrase could not be more accurate.

Christie, N., 1986. The Ideal Victim. In: Fattah, E. (Ed.), 1986. From Crime Policy to Victim Policy: Reorienting the Justice System. Basingstoke: Macmillan

@amycortvriend

The most recent read for Book Club was very hard to put down, and equally difficult to pick up. Let me explain. Once reading, the story is interesting, swapping between narratives is ingenious but also frustrating as you don’t ever get a full picture. The characters are vile, so once the book was put down, I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to them: I did not warm to any of them, even the ones I think I was supposed to like. However the story was well worked, I did not see the many twists coming and I was exceptionally satisfied with who the unfortunate ‘victim?’ was. Overall it was a brilliant, fast-past read: I just wished I liked the characters! Looking forward to reading more of her work!

@jesjames50

The Guest List is a good book for those that enjoy reading books of the thriller genre. Whilst reading this book you really feel that anticipation that you get from wanting to know what will happen next. The book illustrates some interesting themes about wealth and privilege. This is not really a book that is suited to my own tastes, as I tend to read books where the characters are likeable. Although, with a thriller, disliking the characters means that its feels ok if any of these dreadful characters are then brutally murdered.

@haleysread

The story is told from the point of view of several different characters and has some clever twists that keep the reader guessing until near the end. Whilst I liked the style of writing, I wasn’t as enamoured with the storyline or the characters who seemed to display some very stereotypical traits. An enjoyable book but it just wasn’t different enough for me to consider it a ‘must read’.

@5teveh

This is a proper old school “whodunnit”, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, particularly in terms of tying up most of the loose ends. The atmospheric island, full of dangerous hazards and damaged people takes you on a journey. Clues aplenty abound and you get the chance to explore each of the characters in terms of their back story. Like many of the others in the Criminology Book Club, I didn’t like the individual characters, far too reminiscent of the Bullingdon Club. and other arrogant influencers…. Nevertheless, I enjoyed using my wits to follow the clues and work out who was going to be murdered and who did the deed. Ideal reading for holidays, or during a pandemic lockdown!

@paulaabowles

I really enjoyed losing myself in this story and read it very quickly. It was very atmospheric and I could really picture the island and the venue and the stormy weather. It all added up to create a real sense of foreboding. I enjoyed the way the story was paced – the flashes of the present interspersed with the back stories and leading up to the conclusion. It was also interesting to be trying to solve the crime and figure out who was the victim simultaneously (I didn’t solve it, I’m terribly bad at whodunnits but I still really enjoy them anyway!). I didn’t feel much empathy towards any of the characters however, and so by the end I didn’t really mind who did it!

@saffrongarside

This was an enjoyable read. We follow a group of characters that are going on a very secluded island, off the coast of Ireland to attend a super exclusive and lavish wedding. The groom is portrayed as handsome charismatic man and he is also a reality TV star. The bride is portrayed as a smart, successful, and rich women……It appears they have everything one would desire.

The story is regressive as it starts with a murder at their wedding, but then you are quickly thrust back to the events leading up to the point of the murder. Each chapter is written as a point of view from the guests at the wedding. This is a great addition, as you see the development of the characters and the secrets, mysteries, and tensions between them. I would like to point out that none of the characters were particularly likeable. I won’t give away any spoilers, but based on their behaviour throughout the book, I would not have felt sad if any of them were the victims of the murder and it seemed they were all capable of being the murderer. However, you will be kept guessing, and you won’t find out until the last few chapters of the book.

I loved that you are pulled in the weary atmosphere of the story, and at times I could almost feel the cold air and hear the waves crashing on the rocks. This mystery thriller definitely whisks you away.

If you are looking for some light summer reading, I would highly recommend, you will not be disappointed.

@svr2727

You are invited to a friend’s wedding in a remote island off the cost of Ireland and with the group of people that one is more obnoxious than the other, would you consider going? This was the question playing at the back of my head whilst I am reading this fast-moving whodunit thriller. The scenery is very pulpable and quite reminiscent of the Victorian crime novels; the mist that covers everything allowing crimes to happen whilst the guests look on terrified. Is this an accident or one of many to come? This is a tried and tested recipe brought into the 21st century, although I wonder if anyone can survive this long anymore without Wi-Fi! The story for the fans of the genre is culminating to an expected end with some interesting twists and turns. In the end I was just left wondering, why I did not care for any of the characters!

@manosdaskalou

In case you struggle to imagine the island at the centre of The Guest List…thanks to Quinn and Paisley for their fabulous works of art.

Paisley age 6
Quinn age 8

Do we have to care?

In recently published The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions the responsible minister admitted that “victims of rape [are] being failed”.  This stark admission is based on data that indicates that the current situation on dealing with rape is far worst than 5 years ago.  The ministers are “ashamed” of the data but luckily in their report they offer some suggestions on how to improve things; what to do to bring the conviction rates to the 2016 level and to move more cases forward for trial, leading to successful convictions.  At that point, the report presents the Criminal Justice System [CJS] as a singular entity that needs to address the issue collectively.  This, in part, is a fair assessment although it ignores the cultural differences of the constituent parts of the system.  Nonetheless, the government has identified a problem, commissioned a report and has a clear “ambitious” plan of how to address it.     

The report indeed presents some interesting findings and I urge people to review it whenever they can (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/end-to-end-rape-review-report-on-findings-and-actions).  We know for example already that the number of cases that went into prosecution were low; in the last years this has become even lower.  That despite the prevalence rate remaining more or less the same.  Victims report that they are treated poorly, not believed arguing that the investigative model needs changing.  No wonder the ministers appear apologetic of the situation.  A headline crime category that is likely to cause an uproar and whilst thinking of the political fallout they come out in support of the victims!  Who wouldn’t?  Supporting a victim of crime, any crime is one of the main objectives of the CJS; once they have handed out retribution and prioritised on making an example of specific crimes and focusing on particular criminals, then their focus is on the victims!  The findings were expected, but even so when reading about the higher vulnerability of disabled women to rape and sexual abuse, underscores the systemic failure to deal with this crime.  It does not read like care!             

If I was an agitator, I would say that a criminal committing rape has less chance (statistically) to be convicted than someone who commits theft; but then I will be making a criminological cardinal sin; conflating criminalities and confusing the data.  In our profession we deal with data all the time.  Many of them come in the form of metrics looking at the way different crimes are reported, recorded etc.  We also know that context gives a perspective to these data.  Numbers may look the same, but that is arguably part of the problem.  It does not take into account the source of the data and their circumstances.  Not all numbers are the same and most importantly they do not measure similar trends.  The way the success rates are to be measured is not dissimilar from before and without owning a magic ball, it can be foreseen that rape will remain as is.  Of course, the metrics may change colour to signal improvement, but that will not alter the fundamental issues.    

On the day, one may have their car broken into, to report the incident can be a requirement from their insurance if they are to cover the cost.  On the day, the said person got raped by a current/former partner the matter is not about insurance.  These acts are not similar and to treat criminality as a singularity draws up uneven comparisons.  In this case we have a list of recommendations trying to ameliorate the bad metrics.  What are the recommendations?  The focus is again on the police and the Crime Prosecution Service [CPS] and the court experience the victims will have.  Again, indicates that these institutions have been criticised before for similar failings.  The change of practices in the police does not go as far as exploring the institutional culture.  The CPS’s requirement to do more is tied with the successful cases they will prosecute.  The need for the two organisations to work together more closely has been a discussion point for the last 20 years; as for the better experience in courts, it is definitely welcomed but in recent years, Victim Support as an organisation was stripped bare, the additional services cut and the domestic violence shelters disappearing.  The call for more services was continuously met with the offer of voluntary organisations stepping in, into such a complex area to provide help and support.  One may think that if we are to prioritise on victim experience these services may need to become professional and even expand the current ones. 

Lastly in this document the tone is clear; the focus yet again is reactionary.  We have some bad data that we need to change somehow; we have got some clear action plans and we can measure them (as the report intimates) at regular times.  This approach is the main problem on dealing with rape!  It does not offer any interventions prior to the crime.  There is nothing to deal say with rape culture, the degradation of women, the inequality and the rape myths that women are still subjected to.  Interestingly there are mention of empathy toward the rape victim but there is not a plan to instil empathy for people more widely.  No plan to engage the educational system with respect for the other (whoever the other is; a woman, a person of colour, disability, different origin) regarding sexual behaviours.  The report tenuously mentions consent (or lack of understanding it) instead of making plans how it can be understood across.  Unfortunately, this crime reveals the challenges we face in the discipline but also the challenges we face as a society that has traded care for metrics and the tyranny of managerialism.    

Visiting the Zoo: a staple of privilege

Whilst the current weather may not imply it, we are into the summer months! At this time of year staff and students begin to take a much needed and well-deserved rest after the challenging academic year we have all faced. With this time, holidays, day trips, meals out, picnics, walks and many more joyful pastimes begin to fill up the calendar, although many of us find ourselves quite restricted due to the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, we should all make the most of the time off to re-charge and spend time with our loved ones. For myself and my partner, this meant a day trip to Whipsnade Zoo!

Whilst the weather app assured us it would not rain, we spent a fairly windy and wet day walking around Whipsnade Zoo viewing the animals and all in all having a fabulous day. The schools are not out yet, therefore most visitors were adults on annual leave, individuals who I assume are retired, or parents with small children. We had plenty of space and time throughout the day to see the animals, read the information plaques and enjoy a wet but scrummy picnic. I dread to think what it would have been like in the height of the summer holidays!

But where am I going with this other than to brag about my fabulous day at the Zoo and what has this got to do with checking our privilege? Well, it begins with the cost to entire said Zoo. I have not been to a Zoo since I was in my school years. We used to visit Colchester Zoo most summer holidays with the Tesco Clubcard vouchers, which in a nutshell meant you could exchange Clubcard points for vouchers/tickets which included the Zoo. Therefore a trip to the Zoo when we were younger cost petrol money and a picnic (which was always done on the cheap). This is an affordable day out, but we were only a family of 3 (1 adult and 2 children), so not that many Clubcard points required, and quite a minimal picnic. Also we were fortunate enough to have a car which is not the case for all families. So even with the vouchers and picnic I cannot help but reflect and think how privileged we were to be able to visit the Zoo.

The Zoo trip this week cost just short of £50 for a student admission and an adult admission. I did think this was quite a lot. I think about what the cost would be for 2 adults and a child (or multiple children). Already this is gearing up to be an expensive day out. The Zoo has lots of interactive parts for children to engage with and learn from, and of course they have animals. But is the Zoo really aimed at educating all children or is it only those children whose families can afford it (E.I children belonging of a certain socio-economic status)?  Once we arrived at the Zoo and looked around the carpark we couldn’t see a Bustop. What about the families who cannot afford a car? The food outlets were extortionate: £4 for a coffee!! Its cheaper in the West End! The same statement although different prices applies to ice-cream. I feel good that we have taken our makeshift picnic and flasks with us: but what about those who cannot?

The long-winded and verbose point I am trying to make is that even everyday things require us to check our privilege. I spoke to my partner on the drive home about the beauty and wonder of the Zoo and how we are fortunate to be able to go and how I was fortunate to go most summers as a child. But once the Clubcard vouchers stopped, so did the trips to the Zoo. There are many who are unable to enjoy the Zoo, to gain from the educational experience of learning about the animals, what they eat, where they live etc. And I can’t help but reflect and wonder is this establishment really inclusive to all? Is there something society can do to break down the class barriers which appear to be present when planning a trip to the Zoo?

#CriminologyBookClub: Bad Day at the Vulture Club

As you know by now, a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Hence the creation of #CriminologyBookClub! Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all eight bloggers contributing! Our latest book was chosen by all of us (unanimously)  after we fell in love with the first instalment. Without more ado, let’s see why we all adore Inspector Chopra (retired) et al. and why we’re all so very sad to reach the (temporary, we hope!) end of @vaseemk2‘s wonderful series:

The final of the Chopra series was delightful. As with the previous books, the story is a crime novel but there is a continuance of a broader (and arguably) more damaging topic, social harm. I found this book so interesting to read as Vaseem shines a light on Parsee culture that was unknown to myself until reading this book. Although this is a series of fictional books, parts of these books are based on real life events and I think this allows for a lot of reflection. I finished the book thinking about the plight of the vultures and the impact that this has on humans. Book Club is yet to find another book that we all collectively enjoy, let alone a series. This series is wonderful.

@haleysread

The fifth book of the series introduces us to the community of the Parsees. Inspector Chopra is exploring a world full of secrecy, hidden messages and innuendos. Is it a family dispute gone wrong or an attack on a small community that is flickering away? The victim is powerful, well respected and without any obvious foes. Maybe the death is an accident or one of those unfortunate events? Chopra doesn’t think so! With the help of his pet elephant he uncovers the truth, despite the authorities’ incompetence collecting evidence and the need of many in the circle of suspects to withhold information. This is a more mature outing of the detective as the case makes him question his own mortality when he is faced with ancient customs. The team remains the same although the addition of a recovering vulture makes the group as surreal as ever. The dialogues are lively and the exchanges are sharp but in the end, what is the truth? Who is going to crack when Inspector Chopra reveals “whodunit”?

@manosdaskalou

As a latecomer to book club, this was my second of the Chopra series and once again I loved it. @vaseemk2 writes in such a way that he brings everything to life with vibrancy. This book featured a vulture who developed a personality of its own and just like the previous book, I enjoy the characters of the animals. Aside from the characters, the author is very good at introducing real life events or people. This book introduced the Parsee community which I had not heard of and it encouraged me to go away and learn more. I am looking forward to playing Chopra catch up over summer.

@amycortvriend

I approached this book with mixed feelings. I desperately wanted to immerse myself into the sunshine and colour of India. However, I also was very aware this was the (current!) last book in Vaseem Khan’s awesome series (I am seriously hoping for many more, take note @vaseemk2!). Fortunately, I forgot the latter, as I immersed myself in the former. As with previous Inspector Chopra cases there is the theme of institutional violence, of ordinary people, elephants and vultures subjected to the vagaries of powerful people. In 1967, Howard Becker asked “whose side are we on? and answered, the powerless. Vaseem’s series takes the same approach, there is a sense of camaraderie and empathy towards those who are different, those who are outside of mainstream society, the underdogs. Whether they are eunuchs, Parsees or even vultures, compassion is present in Chopra et al.’s responses and actions. Although gutted that the series has come to a (temporary!) halt, this book was a joy to read. I’m going to miss all the characters but will simply pretend they’ve gone on a holiday!

@paulaabowles

Bad Day at the Vulture Club was yet another wonderful investigation involving the Book Club’s favourite motley crew! The story was intriguing, the characters charming (although some of them not so much), scenery vivid and as always, overall utterly brilliant! This is the last book in the Inspector Chopra series, so far, and if I’m being overly critical it did not feel like an ending. Maybe there will be more to come? Hint Hint @vaseemk2!

@jesjames50

Having read the previous books in the series and having become embroiled in the Baby Ganesh Agency’s quirky and endearing machinations, I picked up this final book with eagerness, anticipation and dread in equal measure. Why dread, well it’s the last in the series (I know I’ve already said that but its worth restating), no more Insp. Chopra (Retd), no more Ganesha, Poppy, Irfan or the erstwhile Rangwalla. As we have become accustomed to, the book paints a colourful and wonderful picture of Mombai and its inhabitants whilst also providing saddening detail of the darker side of corruption and desperate poverty. With the usual twists and turns, injections of humour and triumph coupled with some interesting historical backdrops the story line is both intriguing and captivating. Another page turner, but as each page disappears, so too is the recognition that it is all going to come to an end. Whilst all the characters deserve a well-earned rest, it would seem a travesty for the redoubtable Insp. Chopra and his less than ordinary sidekick Ganesha to permanently retire

@5teveh

Goodbye for now, Inspector…….

Another great addition to the inspector Chopra series. More wacky characters, great comedy, and a great mysterious plot. I have also learned some interesting things about India’s culture, which has encouraged me to do further reading.

Reflecting on my time reading this series, I have enjoyed every single book. Like the other 4 books prior, Bad Day at the Vulture Club gives you delightful excitement and adventure which is far from what has been present in real life. During uncertain times and difficult lockdowns these books have provided much need escapism. During the final chapters I did feel a wave of sadness, as I knew this was the last book in the series. But I hopeful we will see a return of baby Ganesh, Poppy and Inspector Chopra, as we have still not unlocked the mystery of Ganesh. I recommend the complete series, if you like courageous elephants and want a light hearted page turner.

@svr2727

It goes without saying that I loved this book. I’ve so enjoyed following the exploits of Chopra and Ganesha over the last year and a half and there’s definitely a bit of a hole in my life now! I’ll admit that I read it with trepidation – worried that something awful would befall the characters I had come to care about, given that it’s the final book in the series. But I needn’t have worried! I found myself once again immersed in a mystery and following the threads through India – learning loads about the country and the culture on the way. I almost loved the vulture as much as I love the elephant. I really hope this isn’t the last we hear from these characters!

@saffrongarside

We shall leave the final thought to some younger fans of Baby Ganesha and the Vulture….thanks to Quinn and Paisley for their fabulous artistry

Not so Priti politics: setting a clear example

Of course Priti Patel the home secretary is correct when she declared that England fans have a right to boo England football players taking the knee before the England versus Croatia match on Sunday.  Correct that is, in considering the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 10, Freedom of Expression. This being encapsulated in our own Human Rights Act 1998. But whilst, the home secretary considers such booing, lets call it a form of protest, acceptable, she then adds that the ‘taking of the knee’ is simply ‘gesture politics’ and finds this form of protest unacceptable.  The players and others through television advertising have made it clear that the statement is not political, it is simply a reminder of the need to tackle inequality and racism.

So, I’m left considering this, according to Priti Patel, it is acceptable to protest against those that oppose inequality and in particular racism, but it is not acceptable to protest against that in equality and racism.  The first is a right, the second is some form of gesture politics.  Ms Patel doesn’t end it there though but bemoans the Black Lives Matter protests and the ‘devastating impact they had on policing’.  Somehow, I think she’s missed the point.  If it is simply about the resources required to police the BLM protests, well the right of expression you say people have (you can boo if you want to) was simply being exercised and the police have a duty to facilitate those protests, devastating or not.  If the devastation was about some other impact such as morale, then I think a bit of introspection wouldn’t go amiss. There is far too much evidence to show that the criminal justice system and the application of policing in particular is unequal, unfair and in need of change.   

The home secretary is ultimately in charge of policing in this country.  A politician, yes, but also supposedly a leader, who should be leading by example.  What sort of example have her views set police forces across the country?  Carry on folks, this is just gesture politics.  No empathy, no understanding and a devil may care attitude, suggests that tackling inequality is not on the home secretary’s, let alone this government’s, agenda.  This is not politics of the right, this smacks of politics of the far right.  This is something we should all be worried about.  

Thinking Criminologically: Engaging with darkness

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPn5dvawbDqU&psig=AOvVaw0yd1_IN4i6nvRNKI_g5i7z&ust=1624102316299000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAoQjRxqFwoTCLCyseeKofECFQAAAAAdAAAAABAf

Often when you mention the word criminology to lay people outside of the academy, the initial response is “ooh that’s interesting” or “that sounds exciting”. The next step in the conversation usually reverts to the most extreme forms of interpersonal violence, murderers, serial killers and so on. For many, criminology appears to be the home of “whodunnits”. People talk of Ted Bundy, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rose West and want to know why they did what they did. For decades, the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper has been pored over by authors, television makers and the general public. For those who choose to engage, we have seen the female victims of this unknown man, eviscerated, degraded and ultimately slain, again and again for the reader/viewers’ delectation. This is not criminology.

Criminology recognises there are no winners in crime, only people left shattered, those devastated by their actions or those impacted by criminality. People are left bloody, bowed and bereaved through victimisation by individuals, institutions and the State. Yet just look on a bookshops ‘Crime’ shelves or flick through the programme schedules and you will find no sign of this. As a society we revel in this darkness and package it as entertainment. This is not criminology.

On the news we see discussions around crime and criminals. What should we do? Shall we give the police yet more powers? Shall we give those oh so lenient judges less leeway for discretion? Should we lock the offenders up and throw away the key? Should we bring back National Service? What about a boot camp? Should we consider bringing back the death penalty? How can we teach these people a lesson they won’t forget? Notice that all of these suggestions are designed to be more and more punitive, no discussions are focused around purely rehabilitative programmes, defunding the police or penal abolition. This is not criminology.

The problem with all of the ideas contained within the preceding paragraphs, is they are entirely negative. Criminology despite its focus on crime, criminality and criminalisation, has a positive focus, motivated by empathy and non-violence, if not pacifism. It is about trying to understand complexity and nuance in human and institutional behaviour. It is not interested in simplistic, quick fire, off the cuff answers for crime. It is forward looking, unconcerned with the status quo and more focused on what ought or might be. It intrinsically has social justice at its heart, an overwhelming desire for fairness for everyone, not just some. This is criminology.

This month is Gypsy, Romany, Traveller History Month, this week is also Refugee Week. Both are groups rarely treated fairly, they are criminalised and subjected to victimisation by individuals, institutions and the State. Their narratives have profound importance to our society. These experiences are far more central to Criminology than who Jack the Ripper might have been. This is criminology.

Also the beginning of this week marked the fourth anniversary of the disaster at Grenfell Tower. The graffiti above (I know, @5teveh and @jesjames50!) seems to capture the feelings of many when we consider this horrific tragedy. I taught for the first time on Grenfell in 2020/2021 and again this year. Both times I have been wracked with huge concerns around whether it was appropriate (many of our students are intimately connected), whether it was too soon and whether I could teach around the disaster with sensitivity. Running counter to this was a strong belief that criminology had a duty to acknowledge the disaster and enable our students to also make sense of such horror. In classes we have utilised poetry, music, graffiti and testimony in sessions to give us all space to consider how we can respond as a society. The biggest question of all, is what would justice look like for the bereaved, the survivors, friends, families and neighbours, the first responders? Some of that discussion is focused on the Grenfell Inquiry but far more is on how we can support those involved, what kind of advocacy can we engage with and how we can all raise our voices. As a society we cannot bring the dead back to life, but we can insist that the survivors and their families get meaningful answers. We can also insist that we make room for these individuals and families to have their voices heard. We can demand that fundamental changes are made so that disasters like these do not happen again. That we learn valuable lessons. This is criminology.

Unfortunately, experience tells us that previous victims of similarly horrible disasters do not receive anything that approximates justice, consider the events at Hillsborough in 1989. Likewise, as a society we do not seem able to learn lessons from inquiries, think about the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Peter Connelly. Nevertheless, as humans we have huge capacity for change, we do not need to keep repeating the same behaviours ad nauseum. As scholars of criminology we are well placed to argue for this change, to understand holistically, the complexities of crime and deviance, to empathise and to make space for marginalised voices to be heard. In addition we must be prepared to challenge and advocate for change. Some of us may be pacifist in orientation, but we must never be passive! This is Criminology.

A smorgasbord of thought (AKA a head full of magic)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/2823810363https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/2823810363

Its been a few weeks since I’ve written a blog and whilst there are plenty of topics to pick from, I never quite got my head round writing about anything in depth. I’ve thought about a lot, I never stop thinking about a lot, some it meaningful and some of it not. I like to think that some of the stuff is quite profound but that’s just in my imagination, I think. Anyway, rather than trying to put together some deep and meaningful narrative about the state of the world I thought I’d provide a few highlights.

When I read Jes’ blog the other week about graffiti, I couldn’t help thinking that we do far too much to try to justify and somehow nullify the effects of criminality. For all our theorising and empathising as criminologists, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that crime results in victims and being a victim of crime is at best an unpleasant experience.  So, I have to disagree with Jes on one point, grafitti is not art, its criminal damage, vandalism if you like. Very rarely have I ever gazed upon a graffiti covered bridge, wall, shop front, shutter, railway station siding or railway carriage and thought to myself, wow that’s nice. Let’s call it what it is.

I think it was the same week that I read a post on ‘LinkedIn’ about the silence surrounding the murder of Julia James, a 53-year-old Police Community Support Officer.  The silence the author of the post was referring to was the contrast between the public response to Julia James’ death and that of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive.  No vigil, no public outrage, no ‘claim the streets back’.  I wondered what dictates the public response to such horrific events.  Is it age, occupation, circumstance or just timing?

I watched the news this week somewhat bemused by the response of some industry chiefs and business owners.  The airline industry is less than pleased with the government’s approach to relaxing of restrictions around travel and some business owners are apoplectic about the fact that the removal of restrictions might be delayed. It might be a bit simplistic to state this, but it seems that they value business more than lives.

As for those that went on holiday abroad, thinking they wouldn’t need to quarantine when they came back only to find that the rules changed, and they now have to.  More fool you, maybe I’ve missed a trick here, but I don’t think the Covid virus and its mutations will wait for you to enjoy the rest of your holiday before spreading a little more. Don’t complain about quarantine nor the cost of testing, you put yourself in that position, now take some responsibility and suck it up instead of blaming someone else.

In a conversation, a friend of mine told me ‘the problem is people don’t like being told what to do’. This was said in the context of Covid and our discussion about the idiots that think any rules or guidance just doesn’t apply to them. The comment did however make me think about a paper I read some time ago by Storch (1975).  When the new police were introduced into this country in 1829, there were few who looked upon them favourably.  One of the main issues was simply that the populace did not like being restricted in their ‘immoral or illegal’ pastimes. We can have a debate about who makes the rules but it seems to me the most pressing point is that little has changed. Take off the rose-tinted glasses, there never was a golden era of policing, the police have never been liked and never will be.  I wonder how the population would act if there were no police though?

I’m a little weary now, all of this thinking and writing has worn me out. Time for a lie down in a darkened room.

It’s different now… it happened to me

A few weeks ago, @paulaabowles shared an article on the Criminology Facebook page which posed the question of whether graffiti is art or crime. My response was art. And like all art, not all variations, interpretations or styles are for everyone. I know I can look at some graffiti and be quite taken aback at the brightness, boldness and creativity which shines through. I can also look at some and go ‘eugh’. However I have the same reactions to various classical and well-known pieces. My unrefined self does not get all the hype about a number of Picasso’s works (possibly all the ones I have seen). Nevertheless this is the beauty of art: it is down to individual taste.

So for me, I was fairly certain on my opinions and convictions towards graffiti as an art form, and as an example of the CJS further stigmatising and criminalisation young people’s behaviours: something I am certain we are all quite familiar with at this stage in our criminological journey. However those beliefs and informed views were put to the test over the Bank Holiday (BH) Weekend, and in all honesty I think I am still trying to get to grips with them. It is different now…. It happened to me.

Some context: as those of you who have read various blog posts from myself will no doubt remember, my partner runs a small kiosk near one of the Royal Parks in London. Often during the weekends and summer months, I provide an extra pair of hands to help clean and serve during the busier periods. And as a result of the pandemic, my partner finds themselves going from a team of 4 down to just them, and me when I am able to support: this was the case for the BH Weekend. Off we popped, down to London for a day of serving hotdogs, drinks and ice creams. However our day was thrown off course by some ‘ugly’ graffiti all over the front of the kiosk.

My partner was angry, and felt personally attacked (not really sure by who- but guess that’s besides the point). It is not the first time the kiosk has had graffiti on it, but it is the first time I have seen it in person and witnessed my partner’s response. Rather than starting our working day and opening up, we had to clean the graffiti off. My partner set to this: just over 3 hours later some of it has been removed, but so has some of the kiosk’s paint. It looks a mess. We are now at midday and we cannot afford to remain closed and keep cleaning. We have lost 3 hours of trading time to try and remove it, only to remove some of it and some of the kiosk’s paint. I am informed that we shall need to go to B&Q to try and find some graffiti remover: Capitalism wins again! But seeing my partner cleaning for 3 hours, losing the trading hours and for this end result: I can’t help but feel angry, frustrated and in want of some kind of justice. It’s different now… it happened to me.

But what realistically would justice be in the scenario? What do I actually want as a result? I have no idea. I asked my partner who said they just wanted them ‘not to do it’. It is private property, will my partner call the police? Nope: just nuisance annoying behaviour, but not much anyone can do about it. I feel less inclined to call it art. I like my partner’s use of ‘nuisance’ behaviour: it feels very accurate. I do not think my partner was targeted, I think it was available as a surface to be used for that individual or individuals to express themselves. But I am shaken in my previously held convictions. Shouldn’t something be done. We lost 3 hours of trading, the kiosk now needs to be repainted and we shall need to purchase some graffiti remover. All for some expression of ‘art’? Shouldn’t there be some kind of repercussion?

I am not too sure. I also know when this has happened before, and I have not been present to witness the impact it has on my partner and the kiosk I have been very nonchalant about it. ‘Oh dear, that’s frustrating’, ‘ah well, never mind’. But being there and seeing it: I view it differently. And this is something many of us come to grips with when considering hypothetical moral situations and larger ethical questions. We think we will act one way, but if it happened to us: it is quite possible our opinions, informed views and beliefs would change. I still think graffiti is art, but I am not so convinced in my previous assertation that it is not a crime…

Alex park: a space of criminological interest?

Almost every day I walk my puppy in the local park. Most days I go around 6-7am when there’s barely anyone around. He’s made a couple of dog friends and we often stop for a chat. It’s tranquil and calm. I’ll listen to an audio book or the birds. The dog mother of Hazel the Italian greyhound tells me which birds are calling.

Prince

Usually in the evening we go to a huge field so he can quite literally run rings around me. A few weeks ago, we broke tradition and went to the local park in the late afternoon. I had spent the entire day in front of a screen and needed a break. We got to the park and it was different – it looked different, sounded different, and felt different. The sun was out so of course it was busier, and as you’d expect after school there were children playing on the skate park and the playground. There were about a dozen dogs in the dog park (it’s not as fancy as it sounds – just a patch of grass where the dogs dig holes and fetch sticks). Prince was a bit overwhelmed and so was I – at this point I hadn’t seen so many people in one place since pre-covid!

Sunrise in the park

I soon learned that I couldn’t let Prince off his lead on a Monday because the mess from the weekend (even before the outdoor rule of six) would not yet be cleaned and he would eat everything. One Monday he walked an entire lap of the park with a croissant in his mouth that was bigger than his head. Another day he picked up half a joint of cooked meat. I noticed the signs of people having good (and not so good) times, particularly after sunny weekends. Sometimes when it’s warm there’s groups of men fishing, pulling all-nighters, smoking cannabis and drinking. Once, we followed a trail of blood around the path and although it could just as easily come from a child after a fall, the empty, broken alcohol bottles led me to imagine scenarios of violence.

Dog munching on the litter

During my visits to the park over the last few months I have seen evidence of alcohol and drug use, and possible violence. In May last year, there were reports of gunshots fired, leading to a man being arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm. Quite worrying considering I live only a couple of hundred metres away. There have also been incidents involving youths wielding baseball bats and setting fires before attacking firefighters.  I had a look at the crime data for the area but Greater Manchester Police have had some IT issues affecting data from 2019 onwards (that’s another story…), however older data showed a pattern of anti-social behavior, arson and a few violent offences as well. This is all very different to the place of tranquility I visit daily with the puppy.

Someone had a good night last night

The next day we returned for our early morning walk and I reflected upon the changes in the character of the park and the actors and events that create this. I started thinking about criminology and the environment around us, about how places can change so much throughout the day and across the seasons. I thought about situational crime prevention. My work brain truly switched on and I stopped hearing the birds and started seeing the CCTV and the lighting. I thought to myself that I would not go to the park when it gets dark but if I did, I would stay in the lit areas where the cameras could see me. I would stay away from the groups of fishermen because they were sure to be drunk and stoned by nightfall. I haven’t seen them behave in a threatening manner although I have overheard verbal threats. They are usually asleep when I walk by but as a single woman I’d think twice about walking past a group of lively, drunk men at night.

Fishermen are behind me in their tents. Sometimes the dog wakes them up.

This local park is just one example based on my observations, but the question is, is it a criminogenic space? Or am I criminologist who sees things of criminological interest in everything, everywhere? Or a woman who constantly assesses personal safety? Luckily I haven’t had enough thinking time and space to ponder these questions otherwise this would have been a long read.

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