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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.
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
During the past year, like many, I have certainly had more time on my hands, I’ve started a plethora of hobbies (some more successful than others) but a constant past time for me has been reading. In the past I’ve sporadically read a few classic fiction books but this year that I’ve been focusing on nonfiction literature.
This book focuses mainly on the American police force in a historical and contemporary context. The book tackles some of the big topics in current policing such as the school to prison pipeline, the war on drugs, prostitution and mental health. In each chapter, the author critiques current policing strategy and gives recommendations towards effective reform.
Of course, it is important to note that this book comments on American policing strategies and discusses social issues from a western, North American perspective. However, the book at times, does become relevant to UK topics. Comments about the war on drugs, the criminalisation of the homeless, immigrants and prostitutes and political policing are some examples.
“Tactical equipment with semi-automatic weapons”Vitale, A., 2018. The end of policing. Verso Books, p.65.
There was one main part in the book that stuck out to me. In the School to Prison Pipeline chapter, the author gives a quote from an annual convention held for police officers based on school sites (known as Resource Officers). The book says it mainly consists of military contractors selling security systems to schools, a keynote speaker, specialising in anti-terrorism describes American schools as all containing ‘the next Columbine’, that every officer must be a ‘one-man fighting force’ and that police officers in schools must always wear full ‘tactical equipment with semi-automatic weapons’.
The author used this example in an extremely effective way, commenting on how the very nature of policing must change. It was written that currently, the police force is inherently a force and that the ethos of policing along with the ‘warrior mentality’ is part of the reason that policing in America is not as effective and beneficial as it could be to its citizens and communities.
With the continuation of social and racial unrest in America, the topics raised in the book could not be more relevant. The most interesting thing about this book was that it presented concepts and opinions I had never thought of before, and whether or not I was in agreement with the points raised, it became an extremely thought provoking read.
I guess that if escapism is more of your reasoning for reading this, perhaps, isn’t the book for you. The author speaks about the harsh reality that certain communities face when it comes to American policing and society.
Some Main Takeaways
Since beginning to take a greater interest in nonfiction books, I’ve realised how beneficial it is to to take note of differing opinions. The beauty in any social science is that one topic can have many opinions attached to it and often, opinions that differ from your own can be the most interesting and thought provoking ones. On the whole, the author presented quite a lot of concepts that I agree with, which made for a passionate read and the opinions I did not agree with, opened up opportunity to research and further understand.
This book has called into question some of my own opinions and thoughts around police reform. Perhaps more police training, more funding and education within the police force cannot fix an institution that was formed to essentially supress and control some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups of people.
I’m a great believer in human rights and when the topic comes up, I make it clear to my students that you either buy into human rights wholeheartedly or you don’t buy into it at all. There is no halfway house. You cannot pick and choose which bits you like, or decide that there is a time limited offer, a bit like a sale, on one month but not the next, and then on again. Nor can you decide that such rights only apply to some and not others (Home Office take note regarding refugees and asylum seekers). But the more I think about human rights the more I question how rights can work on an individual level without impacting on others’ rights.
A good example is the protests over the last year or so, particularly during ‘lockdown’. I ought to hasten to add before someone protests vociferously, that this blog is not about the validity of the subject matter being protested about. The blog is simply about how the exercise of rights that we hold so dear, can and do impact on other’s rights.
The government and its agents have a duty to ensure that human rights are facilitated as best as possible. Whilst there are some caveats, this duty extends to taking positive steps to ensure that we have a right to protest, a right to associate with whom we like, a right to express what we want to express and I would suggest above all else a right to life. I have prioritised the right to life but, in the arguments about the rights to protest, few if any question the impact that such protests have on that one fundamental right.
And I can hear the arguments now, what the people are protesting about is far bigger, too important not to be allowed to protest. The argument can even be extended to the fact that the protests are about the right to life, a valid argument. So, it is ironic that protesting about the right to life impacts on others’ right to life. If you don’t agree then please tell me what the purpose of ‘lockdown’ was if it wasn’t at least in part to save lives. The problem with protests, peaceful or not is that they do not suddenly happen in one place, people are not just beamed in. Would be protesters have to get to the venue thereby creating multiple opportunities for the spread of Covid. But even when we are not in ‘lockdown’, many protests have a detrimental impact on the rights of other members of the public through the disruption caused. In exercising fundamental rights, we trample on the rights of others. Whilst we may agree with the sentiments of the protests, it is and should not always be the case. Protests are not always about what we hold or ought to hold dear, in fact sometimes the opposite.#
I cannot say I am in favour of the new proposals to regulate protests, but I do understand the rationale, at least in part. I also understand the concern and the possible impact on our freedoms. But I find it somewhat bemusing that so many are quick to criticise and yet so few offer solutions. One day, when I am particularly annoyed about something and decide to join a protest, I wonder whether I will think about other people and the rights I am depriving them of?