The dishonest politician's guide to the police

Professor Tim Hope
Thursday, 20 November 2014

The publication on 18 November 2014 of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s final report of an inspection of crime data integrity in police forces in England and report – Crime Recording: making the victim count – prompted me to reflect upon how successive governments have corrupted the police for political advantage. Here’s how to go about it: 

1. Give the impression that you know how to reduce crime (but don’t be too specific)

Say that the police service is your main means of reducing crime; don’t discourage the police from their cherished belief that they are the 'Thin Blue Line' against disorder, and that the public loves them for it. Feed the police a lot of barmy ideas about how effective in crime fighting they could be (and watch them quietly squirm in the certain knowledge that much of what they do, or you can think of, has no impact on crime whatsoever).

2. Pretend that police recorded crime statistics are a true measure of crime and of victims’ needs (but don’t believe this yourself; use your own surveys)

Reinforce this with performance targets, actual or implicit; these should not be too much of a stretch. Even better, they should merely match your best guess as to how much crime would continue to reduce if nobody did anything (in the eventuality that crime went up instead of down, blame the police for not doing what you said they ought to do).

3. Pretend that the police don’t belong to you anymore

Pretend that they are accountable to the public through directly elected commissioners (but know that these panjandrums can be brushed aside if needs be, since nobody actually voted for them; don’t give them any means of holding their police services to account for their performance; then set them to squabble over the funds you will be doling out – you’ll get a better bargain that way). Nevertheless, keep a tight hold on the purse strings, and on all the data and analytical skills you need to assess police performance.

4. Start waving a big stick

Make the Chiefs’ salaries dependent upon their performance; pay them like CEOs (to inspire the envy of the ranks) but let a few of them go, to keep the rest in line; start hacking-away at the perks of the job that have built-up amongst the rank and file, while squeezing the middle-managers who are trying to run the show; abolish the closed shops that had run the police, including the Old Boys’ Network of Chiefs and ex-Chiefs, and put the Bloke with the Hatchet in charge of the inspections.

5. Don’t bother to upgrade the skills of the rank and file police officer

Establish a College of Policing that doesn’t hand-out degrees to its undergraduates; make sure you maintain a lower level of entry and training qualifications into the police service than are asked by the other safeguarding services with whom the police collaborate on a daily basis (just to reinforce their inferiority complex); and focus on the traditional policing skills (so that you can then emphasise the low-grade nature of the work, and employ cheaper labourers from the private sector).

Wait and see what happens

Once you have implemented all of the above, wait and see if your own measurements of crime go down (don’t let anyone doubt that your measuring instrument is anything other than truly comprehensive and unimpeachable). If crime goes down, take all the credit for the reduction; say that this is what you paid the police to do (if it goes up, blame the police for not doing it).

Once you’re confident that crime is going down long-term, start wondering out loud why we still need all those police officers (the public think there are lots of them because you’ve trumpeted expanding police numbers in the past). Say that you can’t trust them to do a good job anyway. Start talking about all those crimes and victims that don’t need Bobbies on the Beat (but don’t do much about them).

Talk about how the police must also share the pain of austerity cuts, look for efficiencies, etc. like everyone else. Actually abolish all those performance targets and red tape because what police officers really want is to be out there on the front line fighting crime (instead of sheltering from the elements inside a warm, comfortable police station with their workmates).

Sit back and wait for the police to start fiddling the figures to make themselves look better, knowing that they have always done this, ever since there were figures to fiddle. Withdraw the auditing that kept the fiddling in check; say that the police ought to be trusted. If the police have been too enthusiastic in massaging the figures in the way you’d like, so that they give the game away and it becomes apparent that police recorded crime has gone down too rapidly, blame the police for short-changing victims (don’t admit that you’ve always turned a blind eye to this sort of thing in the past).

Rub your hands with glee when the fiddling comes to the surface: now you no longer have to listen to those tedious Chief Constables going on about how much work they need to do, demanding more recruits, and so on, because their evidence is no longer credible (you’ve previously said that policies must be evidenced).

Selectively shine a torchlight into the affairs of a few police forces in areas where your voters (honest taxpayers) are concentrated; let a few scandals come to light, a few brave whistle-blowers sacrificed (knowing how nastily they treat ‘traitors’, you can then further dramatize the Chiefs’ iniquity at the same time as you leave the whistle-blowers hanging out to dry); let some bemeddled police chiefs face a public grilling (knowing they’ll put their foot in it), and get your parliamentary supporters to bay for blood.

Finally, you’ve left the police without a leg to stand on, so that you can then blame them for their own failings, safe in the knowledge that your voters in the leafy suburbs won’t notice their absence when you cut their numbers. Watch your approval rating rise for cutting public expenditure.

Meanwhile, let the real victims of society rot; the inner city poor (who don’t vote) can be left to their own devices; do nothing about the hatred and violence festering away; do not exempt the safeguarding services from the cuts; make it difficult for the police to protect the vulnerable or prosecute those who harm them; and then blame the police for dimming the Blue Lamp in the face of the futility of it all.

Either way, it isn’t YOUR fault, and that’s all that matters….

For Heaven’s Sake, give us a Royal Commission to sort out this mess!

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