Old Wine In New Bottles

Ecclesiastes 1:9

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

“We are not returning to how we did things before. We are moving forward in a familiar way.”

“We are not retreating. We are advancing in a new direction.”

“Old wine in new bottles.” The practice of taking something old and dressing it up to look like something new.

I have had the pleasure of reading “Policing 2020” by the “charity” The Policy Exchange. This is the think tank preferred by the Govt, appears to dictate policy and refuses to disclose who funds it.

Let me take you back in time;

In the early 1990’s a young and fresh faced officer vaguely similar to myself covered what was then called section. I was a day to day, deal with anything, omni-competent police officer. I had a specific foot beat allocated to me. That is where I was expected to be unless incidents dictated I was elsewhere.

Car beats were made up of several foot beats. For example I walked the F1 foot beat but F car covered F1, 2 and 3. This doesn’t mean that there was a foot patrol on all 3 beats. There wasn’t. My sub-division had 6 car beats and 13 foot beats. There was generally an officer for every car beat, 2 officers to crew the sub-divisional van and 2-3 walkers who would walk town centres unless deployed elsewhere.

In addition to this there was an “area” department. Essentially a community contact role. Officers dedicated to a car beat permanently. They knew their patch to a greater in depth knowledge than anyone else. They knew hot spots, developing patterns and everything they had to know about their crop of resident villains.

We also had a crime prevention officer for the sub-division. Ours actually won many awards for his pro-active and innovative approaches to reducing crime and the fear of crime. He was up to date on all the latest technology and gadgets. He was a contact source for useful information and advice for a whole host of matters.

Intelligence and information sharing was crucial. Area officers would identify problems developing and tackle them. They would share this information to section patrols who would put greater presence in those areas and the crime prevention officer would look at solutions for victims and how to prevent offences in the future.

In later years a variable shift pattern came along. Officers overlapped at busy times. This meant twice as many officers than usual were on duty. The incoming group would take responsibility for the beats and the overlap officers would tend to known problems and specific operations to prevent crime. Essentially being in the right place at the right time. This was enhanced further in later years by computerised crime pattern analysis.

No system is ever perfect. There were cracks and crime still continued but this is because villains “try” to stay one step ahead of us otherwise their source of income drys up. It’s a game of cat and mouse. Sometimes we make gains and at other times we suffer losses.

Switch back to present day;

Policing 2020 says;

“This paper aims to galvanise that debate. It is an attempt to encourage debate and forward thinking amongst police decision makers by putting forward a view of what successful policing in 2020 may look like.”

Having read chapter 1 I fail to see any forward thinking to spark debate.

It states that in 1993 forces only employed 1% of police officers on crime prevention. This figure is factually incorrect. I suspect the Audit Commission report claim of 1% relates to our dedicated crime prevention officer. Every police officer who dons a uniform is engaged in crime prevention. Just standing on a corner could prevent an armed robbery that we will never know was planned. As detailed above, countless officers were deployed to tackle and prevent crime and so the claims made are flawed.

It then highlights that only one of the 190 training modules for probationers is on crime prevention. One would argue how much is needed. Should we offset drug offences in favour of crime prevention? Should we drop sexual offences instead? Police officers need to know the law. A thorough understanding of law and offences builds crime prevention into every officers armoury automatically. Specialist knowledge and/or experience will engender broader thinking in the minds of officers in relation to problem solving and younger recruits delve into the knowledge of more experienced officers on a daily basis. The report specifically highlights crime prevention as a key factor yet ignores these basic truths.

The report goes on to mention COMPSTAT meetings. A means of challenging officers about results and key performance indicators. Is this not what the government have realised to be folly and moved us away from?

Chapter 1 then goes on to discuss in detail a new specialist role of CPO’s ( ironically – Crime Prevention Officers). It describes nothing more than what a traditional area officer was doing in the 1990’s but has glamourised it with a hefty influence on clever technology. It talks of greater remuneration for such officers, a tenure of 10 years and that promotion to higher ranks would be barred unless an officer had CPO experience. Their caveat though to support their direct entry endorsement is that these fine individuals parachuting in at Supt would only need a “posting” as part of their induction. Sounds like one rule for the masses and another for the “considered” elite to me.

The Policy Exchange then shows the gaping void in its comprehension of operational policing;

“PCC’s should consider equipping CPO’s with body cams to provide evidence of incidents and gives greater protection to perform single patrolling which increases visibility.”

This observation is vacuous. Officers in a number of forces use body cams already so this is nothing new. The fact that the report thinks this should be done by 2020 indicates that by that time the suggestion will be out of date by 8 years! I fail to see how a body cam increases ability for single crewing. I’m sure the officer out on his/her own with a body cam who gets beaten, stabbed or killed will be pleased that whilst they had no back up at least the cam may have captured some evidence. A body cam is a great tool for collecting evidence but an officer in trouble needs extra pairs of hands and back up. Something that cuts and single crewing policies are making harder every day.

The final part of the chapter paints a wonderfully rosy picture of a typical day for a CPO. It immediately shows lack of law knowledge when it highlights a 30% spike in muggings. Every police officer knows that mugging is not an offence. It’s theft, theft from person or robbery. Never mugging. The Policy Exchange version is below in italics. A more realistic version by me is in bold.

Constable Natasha Greeny is a CPO in Bringforn. She has been well trained at what is effective in preventing crime and disorder and has been specifically chosen for the role because of her excellence in problem solving and relationship building. She begins her Friday night shift by using the mapping software on her tablet computer to plan her patrol. Having worked out the priorities for the day she then identifies the best ways to tackle them. Her intensive theoretical and practical training in evidence based crime prevention methods (including hot spot and problem-oriented tactics) are augmented by a set of easy to digest one-page summaries available on relevant topics and recommended recent papers suggesting new innovations and methods.Natasha has identified three priorities for the evening. Firstly, there has been a 30% spike in muggings over the last fortnight, around Bringforn High Street. When she arrives at the High Street she notices that whilst many of the roads have CCTV cameras, most are poorly lit at night making the images from the cameras unusable. She immediately sends a message to her liaison officer at the local council to request the broken streetlights are fixed as a matter of urgency. The request that is generated is visible to the public on both the police and council websites and is automatically updated on their social networking accounts.Next she heads to a licensed premise near a residential area which has recently been generating a significant number of calls for anti-social behaviour and underage drinking at the weekend. Having warned the new bar owner the previous week for serving alcoholic drinks to minors she heads in to see if they have heeded her warnings. Identifying that they have not, she decides to use a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) and fine the License Holder the maximum £150, with payment taken electronically on the spot. The electronic PND is automatically flagged to the Police Licensing Unit and they consider whether to take action against the premises. She stays near the premise until midnight to prevent any anti-social behaviour.Lastly, she heads to a high-crime residential street that has suffered a spate of burglaries over the last three days between midnight and 4 a.m. Given the significant evidence base for patrolling high-crime areas when those crimes are likely to occur, she spends the remainder of her shift patrolling this, and neighbouring streets. As this is a high-risk activity, she had decided she may need support and arranges for a back-up officer to assist her. When he arrives they patrol the street together. They notice two individuals they suspect of going equipped to commit burglary, and stop and search them on this basis. They find evidence of them having burgled a house previously that night and detain and arrest the individual.

and my truthful one;

Constable Natasha Greeny is a CPO in Bringforn. She has been well trained at what is effective in preventing crime and disorder and has been specifically chosen for the role because of her excellence in problem solving and relationship building. She begins her Friday night shift by using the mapping software on her tablet computer to plan her patrol. Having worked out the priorities for the day she then identifies the best ways to tackle them. Her intensive theoretical and practical training in evidence based crime prevention methods (including hot spot and problem-oriented tactics) are augmented by a set of easy to digest one-page summaries available on relevant topics and recommended recent papers suggesting new innovations and methods. Natasha has identified three priorities for the evening. Firstly, there has been a 30% spike in robberies over the last fortnight, around Bringforn High Street. When she arrives at the High Street she notices that whilst many of the roads have CCTV cameras, most are poorly lit at night making the images from the cameras unusable. Before she can attend to this via her tablet device a drunken fight develops along the road. She runs to assist and makes an arrest for common assault. She handcuffs the male and awaits a van which attends a short time later. The arrested person is taken to custody and she decides to do the paperwork for the handover. She has a tablet device and the directions are that she should complete the statement whilst out on patrol and submit electronically. She is on foot patrol and so has no vehicle to sit in whilst this is done. It’s also raining and she cannot provide best evidence when stood in the rain typing out a statement. Ever conscientious she decides to stay within her community and goes into a local restaurant, speaks with the staff and then sits at a table to complete her statement. Sadly at this point she finds her tablet device screen has shattered during the arrest and is not working. She will have to submit a report covering this damage and a replacement will take weeks. She knows that if she doesn’t do this paperwork now it will be at the end of the shift and incur overtime she will not be granted. She decides to walk to the station and do the statement and handover manually. Once complete she heads back out to her beat. She wanted to visit a a licensed premises near a residential area which has recently been generating a significant number of calls for anti-social behaviour and underage drinking at the weekend. However, a number of response resources are dealing with a serious assault and a crime scene. There is nobody to attend at a burglary on another beat. She is reluctantly diverted away from her prioritised tasks. She never gets to the bar and the owner continues to sell drinks to minors unimpeded. The burglary, victim care and crime prevention advice all take the best part of 60 minutes. She has to ring the crime through to HQ as she cannot use her tablet device. She then heads back out onto the streets. Maybe she can achieve her last priority. She heads to a high-crime residential street that has suffered a spate of burglaries over the last three days between midnight and 4 a.m. Given the significant evidence base for patrolling high-crime areas when those crimes are likely to occur she asks for another patrol. There are none available. She spends 15 minutes patrolling this, and neighbouring streets before being roped into a high risk missing elderly person with mental health problems. She is collected by a car to take her to the search area but enroute the person is found. However they have been arrested under s136 and the officers will need to remain with this person at hospital. This leaves a staffing shortage and so she is taken from core duties and asked to cover the car beat. She deals with further offences and disturbances and retires from duty at 0400hrs. She goes home and struggles to get to sleep. She is under pressure and worried. She has a COMPSTAT meeting in a few days with the Superintendent and he accepts no “I got diverted to other jobs because there were no staff” excuses.

New wine in old bottles? Definitely.

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