Some interesting comment and discussion over the past couple of days at the ACPO conference. Theresa May’s speech has been well covered but there are some points worth a more detailed look.
The central theme of the Home Secretary’s speech – and the one that provoked the most discussion – was the assertion that the police force’s mission was “to cut crime. No more, and no less.” The speech started with praise for Craig Mackey and how his force (Cumbria) dealt with the recent mass shootings, the floods and the school coach crash…but only one of these could be described as a crime. Even within a tragic event such as the shootings, much of the police’s activity was not aimed towards cutting crime, but dealing with the bereaved, the wider community and providing public reassurance.
None of this should be taken to mean that cutting crime is not important – it is. Robert Peel understood this when he said that “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.” What is important is the recognition that modern policing is about cutting crime and much more.
The other point that has received wide coverage is the scrapping of the public confidence target. There have been concerns over how this target was measured for some time, but the central issue of public confidence was seen by many within policing as a positive area to concentrate on. Despite media coverage, and possibly some confusion in forces themselves, the loss of the target does not mean that public confidence no longer matters.
What we need to remember however is why public confidence matters. Of itself it is fairly meaningless; someone feeling confident does nothing for policing or wider society unless that feeling of confidence translates into actions (‘outcomes’ in the jargon). Richard Crompton (chief constable of Lincolnshire Police and the lead for ACPO on Citizen Focus) talked about this at a breakout group. His contention is that confidence is all about reducing murders, preventing terrorism and tackling the most serious and organised criminal gangs. The logic goes that when the public feel able to influence and engage with their local police, they will in turn be more confident, and consider the police a legitimate source of support. (This is another of Peel’s principles – the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval).
Legitimacy therefore leads to more public involvement, including a willingness to pass on information and to act as witnesses, which in turn impacts upon all crime. After all, every terrorist has a neighbour, every murderer walks through a community and every organised crime gang needs to sell their drugs or traffic people somewhere.
So the next time someone says that public confidence no longer matters, ‘cos the Home Secretary says so, challenge them. Confidence is vital – just not as an end in itself.