Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


The police and crime mapping: and another perspective from the Observer

The Observer newspaper has an article today by Nick Cohen – a truly criminal approach to policing – which looks at the broader question of policing, and how setting targets can have a negative effect on other aims. It seemed worth quoting in the context of the earlier discussion about why the Met police appear to be against crime mapping (even if other regions have dipped their toes in).

Cohen writes:

Last week, Harriet Sergeant of Civitas described a police service which was close to incapable of doing its job. In a think-tank pamphlet, she delivered a devastating condemnation of an enclosed and self-referential bureaucracy which operated without regard to the wishes of the people who paid for it.

We now spend proportionately more than any other developed country on policing, she pointed out. The Home Office used targets to run it and delivered funding and bonuses to chief constables who filled its ‘sanction detention’ arrest quotas.

The first perverse consequence was that although the public expected the police to keep the peace, an officer who successfully stopped trouble was not rewarded because no trouble meant no arrests. More seriously, the police played the Home Office game by going for trivial offenders rather than serious criminals. Solving the case of a child who steals a Mars bar earned as many points as solving a murder. It made more sense to arrest rowdy children for ‘harassing a tree’ than to begin the hard work of tackling a potentially homicidal teenage gang.

Chris Dillow, author of New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism, describes Brown’s Mullettry as a marriage between Old Labour’s Fabian belief in the centralised state and Thatcherites’ worship of management consultants. Between them, they have spawned a bureaucracy which despises democratic accountability and, worse, does not and cannot work.

(“Mullettry” isn’t a reference to hairstyles, but to the senior officer to the fictional Inspector Frost.)

The whole article’s worth reading and considering while asking the question: would this police force want to release the data on crime mapping?

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