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Archive for the ‘Criminal justice’ Category

Tuesday
Feb 7,2012

On BBC London News today, I was asked about the terrorist threat, following the recent RUSI report.  I think RUSI are right to highlight the concerns about so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, but I also thought it was worth putting in context that over the last decade a citizen’s chance of being killed in any one year on mainland Britain as a result of a terrorist atrocity is about ten million to one.

uk-england-london-16937713

Let’s keep these things in proportion.

Tuesday
Feb 7,2012

The last hour of business in the House of Lords last night was given over to a – by Lords’ standards – bad-tempered debate on an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

The Government is proposing that certain categories of people who work closely with children need not be checked to see if they are on the barred list that says whether they are known to be a danger to children.  In particular, they will not be checked if they are subject to “supervision”.

The amendment was moved by Lord Bichard, who led the inquiry into the Soham murders, who said:

“Everyone in this House understands that one of the most difficult responsibilities for any Government is to manage risk, whether that risk is the security of our nation or the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities because very few risks of any significance can be entirely eliminated, and decisions must therefore be made about what is an acceptable-sometimes an unavoidable-level of risk, and what action is proportionate in seeking to minimise that risk.

That is why I emphasised two things when I published my report on the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley in Soham: first, that we cannot create a risk-free society; secondly, that the steps we take to minimise risk should be proportionate. For those reasons, I very much sympathise with and support the Government in seeking to strike the right balance in this very difficult area. Some reduction in the level of bureaucracy associated with vetting and barring is necessary and achievable, and I welcome the Government’s attempts to do so. However, I cannot agree that these clauses strike the right balance, even with the amendments tabled by the Minister or by other noble Lords in this House. That is why I am moving this amendment.

To be clear, these clauses relate to those who train, supervise, teach or instruct children outside a specified place, such as a school or a children’s home, or to those who are unpaid volunteers in whatever setting. In such circumstances, a person will not in future need to be CRB checked if they are under the supervision of another person who is engaging in a regulated activity and is therefore subject to CRB checks. We can, and probably will, debate how close or intensive that supervision should be. My contention, inconvenient though it may be for those of us who want to reduce the level of bureaucracy, is that no amount or quality of supervision can be sufficient to prevent someone developing a bond of trust with a child that he or she can then exploit at a time when they are free of that supervision. That is how grooming takes place.

The internet provides enhanced opportunities for the bond of trust, once established, to be inappropriately exploited. Therefore, the focus of our concerns should be not on the quality, intensity or nature of the supervision but on whether the person involved in training, instruction, teaching or supervision presents a risk to the child. They should therefore continue to be subject to checks that can help establish whether
they are a risk to children. This will hold out some hope that we can prevent them gaining privileged access to children.

We know that checks cannot be foolproof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision. They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted-not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered. That is why supervision can never be enough, and why sometimes we have to place the safety of our children before our desire to minimise regulation and bureaucracy. I hope that that is what we will do this evening. If we do not, I fear that we will very quickly find that dangerous adults will realise that there are some settings and some ways in which it will be easier in future for them to gain access to vulnerable children. The people we are talking about are manipulative and clever. They will take advantage of those opportunities.”

Finally, I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm this evening that the Act will do nothing to prevent organisations, with their local knowledge, making checks where they think they are required. For example, a school with its local knowledge will be able to carry on checking volunteers if it believes that that is necessary and good practice.”

In support, I said:

“It is unfortunate that we are debating these amendments at this time of night in a fairly sparse Chamber. I fear that in a few years time people will look back on this debate and say, “Why did Parliament not do more? Why was Parliament so happy to allow those changes to go through without further checks and cautions?”. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, for his amendments. He is quite right to say that a balance has to be struck and that no system will necessarily protect all children against abuse and against predators. However, the omission that is being created by this Bill is enormous. It is saying that if a volunteer, or someone working with children, is subject to supervision, they do not have to be checked at all. The reality is that parents send their child to a school or a club because they assume that it is a safe place. They assume, therefore, that the people who will be in contact with their child at that school, that club or that activity are also safe. I suspect that unless they pore over the details of our debate, which I am sure is not the case, they will assume that all those people are being checked against these registers and lists. Of course they will not be. They are volunteers or they are under the day-to-day supervision that is envisaged.


The reality is that children coming into contact with those adults will again assume that they are safe. The bond of trust, and it does not have to be a very strong bond, will be built up and created. When they see that individual elsewhere, perhaps in the town centre, loitering near their school or wherever it may be, they will assume that that person is as safe for them there as in the supervised context. That is why such an important gap is being created by this legislation. I know that the Government have moved significantly in terms of the amendment they have tabled about supervision being,

“as is reasonable in all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”.

I wonder whether that is really going to be sufficient. Is it really going to provide the protection that is needed? Is it, for example, going to ensure that the individuals concerned never offer their e-mail address, their Facebook page or their BlackBerry messenger identity to children? How can it do that if that offer is made not on the premises of the school or the club or outside the activity concerned? There will be no way of knowing whether that happens. However good the supervision may be inside that school, that club, or during the activities concerned, there will be no way of preventing that bond of trust being created and therefore the vulnerability of that child meeting that individual again outside that school, that club, or that activity. That is where the danger is going to be created.

As I said, most parents will assume that that school, that club or that activity is safe. They will assume that the people there, whom their child will encounter, will be safe, but the Government in this legislation are removing that security in saying, “We’re not guaranteeing that. All we’re guaranteeing is that physically while your child is in that environment, those people are supervised and therefore no abuse can take place”. The real, persistent danger of people who are extremely clever and extremely manipulative in getting access to children is not that they are going to do whatever they do in front of other adults or in the school or club or during the activity time. They will want to do it away from those settings, and they will do it because they have built up that bond of trust. I appeal to the Minister. It may be that he can give us enough reassurances about what,”

    “all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”,

will amount to, but I doubt whether those assurances can ever protect that trust. The only way that that can be achieved is by not drawing this distinction in this way but by accepting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard.”

It was also supported by Baroness Howarth of Breckland, former Chief Executive of ChildLine, who said:

“I want to concentrate on the people who are likely to abuse. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, of which I have been a trustee for some 20 years. It is the organisation that pioneered the work in grooming and understanding the nature of abusers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, there is no doubt that these individuals will see this as open season on children-and I choose my words carefully. I have probably been involved with more of these men than most-some women, but mostly men-and so I know just how deceitful, clever, manipulative and strategic they are. They have a long view. These individuals do not just move in, see a child and think they are going to abuse them; they plan their moves carefully. There has been talk about building trust, but when a teacher can systematically abuse a child in a classroom, as in a recent case, noble Lords should take that as an example of what these kind of individuals can do, and then recognise that there are others right across the country who are thinking at this moment, “Will there be another opening for me to reach a child?”.

I have also worked with victims of that abuse. Imagine it was your son or daughter who had been buggered or raped by one of these people, who had gained their trust. The child or young person involved believes that they are implicated-the trust means that they carry the guilt. This is why often these youngsters will not come forward early, but if you talk to rape crisis lines or the people who deal with adult abusers, time after time they will tell you how the guilt kept them from telling. Research may show that if you talk to young people there is less of it, but many youngsters will not say that it is happening to them because they have that guilt.

As far as supervised access is concerned, anyone who has recently been to any of the youth provision that is around will know how hectic it is-properly so, for young people enjoying themselves-and that “supervision” is a strange word. In fact, you are just about maintaining the peace in some of these organisations. It is very easy for these individuals to make contact with the young people. As has already been said, modern technology makes it even easier.

I can see the Minister sitting there thinking, “We have heard all this before; we have our position”. But I would say to him that if you really care about our nation’s children and what happens to them in their adulthood after these incidents have happened, when they are unable to make relationships, when their marriages break down, when they have problems with their own children, when they end up in mental hospitals or in prison-if you look at any of those cohorts you will find that a lot of these youngsters have been abused-then you will find a way to absolutely ensure that it is not as loose as this. Anyone who is likely to abuse a child must be able to be checked so that certainty can be held by a parent and indeed by the child-and in some ways by the individual themselves because the abuser’s life is destroyed as well if they are not helped to not go through all of this. I hope the Minister will do so.”

 The Government Minister, Lord Henley, had a difficult time in replying to the debate, but resisted accepting the points made:
“9.45 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked that I should take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in moving his amendment. I can give him, the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, an assurance that I will do that. Our time goes back a long way to when I served with the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, in the former Department for Education and Employment and I hope that we both have a great deal of respect for each other.

I echo the introductory words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when he said-this is important-that we cannot completely eliminate risk. We understand that. He also made the point that we must be proportionate in how we manage these matters and accept that we must try to reduce bureaucracy as and where we can. I was grateful for the wise words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she referred to the need to reduce the unnecessary CRB checks that were taking place.

It is important for us to remember that it is a question of balance. It is one that we can never get absolutely and completely right and we will probably have to go on arguing almost until the cows come home before we can resolve these matters. We should try to get it right, but the balance will be perceived differently between one individual and another.

By way of background, I reiterate that the Government believe, as do many outside bodies, that by scaling back the scope of regulated activity, and thus disclosure and the barring scheme, we can strike a better balance between the role of the state and that of employers or other organisations in protecting the vulnerable. Both have a role to play.

Clause 64 and the amendments to it provide that certain activity, which would be within the scope of regulated activity in relation to children when unsupervised, will not constitute regulated activity when it is subject to day-to-day supervision. An example was given to me-I think by my noble friend Lady Walmsley-of a technician in a school. He certainly would be covered. The amendments take us back to the wider scope of regulated activity as it existed under the previous Administration.

Baroness Walmsley: In a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, of 1 February, the noble Lord suggested that an IT technician would not be regulated.

Lord Henley: The noble Baroness has caught me out and has got the letter that I wrote. I shall have to look again at the letter I sent to my noble friend and check that. I take back what I said but my understanding is that that is not the case. However, obviously I have got that wrong.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Would the technician be covered?

Lord Henley: My Lords, if my letter-written with the great authority of myself-said that he would not, obviously he would not. However, my understanding-I have obviously got it wrong and I will have to look very carefully at that letter-is that he would be covered in a school. Perhaps I may look at the letter and then get back to my noble friend.

Baroness Randerson: To clarify the situation, my recollection of the Minister’s letter is that he would be covered in a school but not in a college.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to my noble friend for that correction. My noble friend Lady Stowell has just reminded me that there is a strong distinction between schools and FE colleges. For that reason I think it is very important. Oh, dear, I have to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Can he wait and let me finish my remarks? Calm down, as they say. I shall look very carefully at what I said. Obviously there is an important distinction between the two. I now give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: All I would ask is that when the noble Lord is looking very carefully to clarify that distinction he also looks at the situation of the large numbers of volunteer assistants in schools and volunteers used for out-of-school activities linked to the school-for example, to interest children in science, since we have been talking about technicians, but it could also be in art or other activities-to see whether they would be covered.

Lord Henley: Of course I will look at those matters and respond to my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Walmsley. I will even send a copy of that letter to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in due course.

Let us return to the amendments because that is the important thing to do. I suspect this might now have to be the last amendment that we can deal with. In putting forward the amendment, the noble Lord has questioned whether we are confident that any supervision would be adequate to protect these children. In making the case for these amendments, reference has been made to the concept of secondary access. Some commentators imply a unique causal link between initial contact with the child and later contact elsewhere if the first is the place where most work is regulated activity. We do not accept that premise. Initial contact may happen where regulated activity takes place or it may happen in some other setting, such as a leisure centre, library, church or wherever. In our view, one type of setting does not offer significantly more help than any other for seeking contact with the same child later and elsewhere. Whatever the setting, we believe that parents have the primary responsibility for educating their child in how to react to an approach from any adult if it goes beyond that adult’s normal role. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if there was a CRB check showing that an individual was dangerous to children, it would not be noted because this was supervised contact? That person could then contact a child through all the known mechanisms, which parents are totally unable to deal with, and abuse that child. Do the Government believe that it is acceptable that that should happen?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept the noble Baroness’s great experience in these matters. She is pointing to an occasion where a CRB check has been taken out on an individual and it becomes clear that they are not suitable to be employed in the school or wherever. In that case they are not going to be. So I do not quite see the point that she is making. Do I give way to the noble Baroness again? We must get this right.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I was saying that the Government do not take responsibility for secondary contact. The problem is that we are not necessarily talking about a school; we are talking about youth facilities where trust is built up between a young person and a child and where supervision may take place but not the kind of supervision that can have oversight at every moment. A CRB check might well show that one of the volunteers in that setting is dangerous. At the moment those CRB checks would be taken up. But the person concerned might make contact outside the primary setting. That at the moment is covered and children and young people are safe. Under the new situation it seems to me that they will not be safe.

Lord Henley: I do not accept that. Let me see if I can get this right. I think what the noble Baroness is trying to imply is that any number of checks will provide the safeguard. I do not think that safeguard would be provided by a CRB check in the particular case that she outlines because we have now moved on to some secondary setting. Does the noble Baroness follow me?

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: To clarify the point, if a CRB check has not been taken out because this is a supervised setting and the volunteers are supposed to be supervised, and the person is actually an abuser who could have been identified by a CRB check, under the new provisions will that person no longer be checked and therefore be able to build up a position of trust with a child which, in a secondary setting, they could abuse?

Lord Henley: Will the noble Baroness accept that there is also a role for the parents in terms of the guidance that they offer their children in that role as well? That was the point that I was trying to get over. I shall give way again.

The Archbishop of York: I go back to the Soham murders. Huntley happened to be a caretaker and these girls trusted him because he was the caretaker and they had seen him in school. On that day, there was no supervision. What happened to those girls? I would rather be on the side of stricter rules and in time try to water them down a bit than assume that, because someone is in a supervised role, they cannot do something worse when they are in an unsupervised role. The word “supervision” is very loose. Unless it is tightened up, people like me will still be left worrying about what happened to those girls. The caretaker was not in a supervised role at that particular point and that is when he did it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, on the contrary, it would be covered now, and following the changes that we are going to make it would still be covered. He was not covered by what was in place before and that is how he slipped through the net. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, was asked to set up his review into these matters and why the changes were made. The point that we are trying to make is that the changes have gone too far-this was the point also made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss-in terms of the bureaucracy involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put it, one can never totally eliminate risk and there has to be a degree of balance in how one deals with these matters. One must be proportionate. Merely to think that any number of checks imposed by the state is going to eliminate all risk is, I suspect, a wish too far. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He said a few moments ago that there is a responsibility for parents in this. The difficulty is that the normal assumption of parents will be that every person whom their child comes into contact with in a club or other activity is safe. So presumably what the noble Lord is saying is that, in the guidance that will explain what all this means, parents will be provided with a list. It will say, “The following people whom your child comes into contact with have been checked and the others on the list have not been checked. Please advise your children not to have any contact outside this activity”. That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. Of course parents have a responsibility, but what the Government are doing is creating a situation in which parents will think that an environment is safe, but it is not because some individuals will not have been checked and those individuals may build up a relationship of trust with a child that they could choose to abuse at secondary contact.

Lord Henley: The noble Lord may say what he wishes, but he should not try to put words into my mouth, which is what he is trying to do. He is trying to suggest that we could tell all parents exactly who is safe and who is unsafe. Obviously we cannot do that. What we are trying to do is create a system that will provide the necessary safeguards but does not make parents feel that their children are automatically safe. Parents must still have the duty of looking after their children by warning them of potential dangers. They should not assume that merely because someone has been CRB-checked, merely because the process has been gone through and merely because every box has been ticked, which is what the noble Lord seems to suggest, all is safe.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords-

Lord Henley: I am not going to give way to the noble Lord. I am going to get on with my speech. If the noble Lord will allow me to do so, I will continue.

These amendments seek to preserve what we believe is a disproportionate disclosure and barring scheme that covers the employees and volunteers far more than is actually necessary on this occasion for safeguarding purposes. In so doing, it subjects all the businesses, organisations and whatever to unnecessary red tape and discourages volunteering. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, also made the important point of whether it would still be open to schools, organisations and businesses to continue to check volunteers and others. Of course they can, and we will ensure that they are still able to request the enhanced CRB certificate when necessary. We want to emphasise the importance of good sense and judgment by the managers on the ground when they look at this issue. That is at the heart of our proposal and it is why we think we have got the balance right. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is now looking somewhat quizzical but no doubt we can have further discussion about this between now and another stage.

The right thing is to get the correct balance in how one looks at these things. The noble Lord asked about schools and what they could do. This gives local managers the ability to determine these things flexibly and make extra checks. With the various interruptions I have had, I appreciate the slight muddle I got into earlier over the letter to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. There has been a degree of confusion here.

Baroness Walmsley: Will my noble friend give way?

Lord Henley: Can I just continue these matters? I hope that I have answered most of the points that the noble Lord put forward and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: I am grateful to my noble friend. Could he just clarify one point? The volunteers we are talking about here are the volunteers who see children on a regular basis. That is correct, is it not?

Lord Henley: Correct.

Baroness Walmsley: I have one second point before my noble friend rises to answer. I accept that people who are not regulated can still be CRB-checked but the employer cannot get barring information. Unless the person has committed a crime and got on the police records in that way, the employer who voluntarily carries out a CRB check still does not know if that person has been barred. I understand that Sir Roger Singleton claims that 20 per cent of the people on the barred list have never been in contact with the police. Could my noble friend clarify that?

Lord Henley: May I write to my noble friend on that final point to make sure that I get it right? I will make sure that I look at my letter with the greatest care before sending it off to make sure that I have got it right. No doubt we will come back to this at a later stage. Meanwhile, I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Could I just put one question to the Minister? I preface it with the fact that I congratulated the Government-and still do-on the laudable effort to cut through a great deal of this red tape. I said that I share the concern right round the House about secondary access. I urge the Minister to go away and look at what we have said. It may be that some areas of secondary access could be differentiated from others-I do not know. He said that he might talk about it later. I urge him to do so.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if the noble and learned Baroness asks me to do that, then of course I will. It is obviously very important to get these things right-I want to get them right. Again, it is always a question of getting the balance right. That is what we are trying to do this evening. As I said, I suspect that the noble Lord may want to come back to this at a later stage. We will see. In the mean time, I hope that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the risk of straining my noble friend’s patience-he has been very patient-he offered to come back on points that have arisen today. It is obvious that we are going to continue this subject with the next group of amendments, which we will come to next week. It would be extremely helpful if the noble Lord responded, as he has offered to do, not just before Third Reading but before we return to this next week. He may not wish to give an undertaking to that effect but I leave him with that thought. As the debate has gone on, I have made more and more notes on his Amendment 50A, which will be the first amendment next Wednesday.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not know whether it will be next Wednesday when we come back to this. I remind the House again that we are on Report not in Committee, and I think I have been interrupted and intervened upon more than one would expect. I will try to write to my noble friend before the next day on Report on this Bill. Whether it will be next week, I do not know.”

I hope we will be able to return to the issue at Third Reading, although for procedural reasons it is not clear whether this will be possible.
Tuesday
Jan 31,2012

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced Mopsy by its friends) is fifteen days old.  It was launched with great fanfare – or at least a press release from City Hall – on 16th January.

There have repeatedly been assurances given that the new arrangements would be at least as transparent as those that existed with the now-abolished Metropolitan Police Authority.  Performance data and financial information would be placed on the web-site and everything we were assured would be open and visible to the people of London.

So what happens when you seek to go to www.mopc.police.uk?  You get redirected to the home page of the Greater London Authority web-site – not even its page on policing.

And where is the financial information and the performance data that was promised?

If it is there, I couldn’t find it.

Still it is early days and I am sure that Kit Malthouse AM will sort it out now that he has been formally appointed as the Deputy MOPC (a role specifically envisaged in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act).

But wait, is Kit Malthouse really in charge?

The press release says he has been appointed.

But, if you go to the Mayoral Decisions part of the Greater London Authority web-site, there is no Mayoral Decision appointing him.

If there is no formally recorded Mayoral Decision, any actions taken by Kit Malthouse as Deputy MOPC are invalid and ultra vires, because there has been no formal decision to give him the legal powers.

And if he has been properly appointed, the failure to post the relevant Mayoral Decision on the Greater London Authority web-site doesn’t bode well for the new era of transparency about policing that we were promised.

Or am I being pedantic?

Thursday
Jan 26,2012

Today’s Home Office Statistical Bulletin, certified by the Office for National Statistics, gives definitive figures for police numbers throughout the country.  And the figures for London are particularly striking:

  • Police officer numbers in the Metropolitan Police were 32,900 in September 2010, fell to 32,441 by March 2011, with a further fall to 31,657 in September 2011 – a loss of 1,243 officers over the year.
  • Police staff numbers were 14,047 in September 2010, falling to 13,688 by March 2011, and then to 13,126 in September 2011.
  • The number of Police Community Support Officers also fell over the same period: from 4,387 to 4,009 and then to 3,903.

Now I don’t believe that police numbers should be the only goal of policing policy.  Many duties are performed by warranted police officers that could be performed by police staff or by PCSOs, but these figures show big falls in all three categories – so, if anything, more police officers will be carrying out roles that could have been performed by people other than warranted police officers, as police staff jobs are back-filled by police officers.  The reduction in PCSOs will also impact directly on the uniformed presence on the streets.

These figures are not going to be good news for the Conservative Party who have been trying to pretend in their campaign to re-elect Boris Johnson as Mayor that police numbers are really improving and, of course, that there is no problem on London’s streets with violent crime and gang crime.

Thursday
Jan 26,2012

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has, of course, its own acronym: MOPC (which I keep reminding everyone is pronounced Mopsy).

But the acronym has, of course, a number of other (longer-established) uses, such as the Mount Olive Pickle Company and Mouse Plasmacytoma Cells.

However, the acronym MOPC is also used widely to denote mobile body armour in the form of Condor’s Modular Operator Plate Carrier, pictured here:

Not to be confused with the standard issue anti-stab MetVest:
I just thought you’d like to know …..
Tuesday
Jan 24,2012

It is well known that there has been a major drop in crime in New York.  What is more that drop in crime was twice the rate of fall in crime across the United States and has been sustained over a twenty year period.

So what was the secret of success?  And could it be translated to the UK and to London in particular?

Professor Franklin Zimring of the School of Law at Berkeley has applied scientific analysis to the figures and has come up with a number of interesting conclusions.  The improvement was not so-called “zero tolerance” policing, focussing on stopping the spread of crime into new areas.  Instead, the results were delivered by “hot spot” policing – robust, sustained policing of those areas with the highest rate of crime (especially violent crime).

The aim should be harm-minimisation as far as things like drug use are concerned (disrupting public drug markets where associated violent crime tends to happen, for example, rather than trying to eliminate drug use itself).

Crucially, he also finds that police numbers matter – provided those numbers are directed to the areas with the highest crime and, when there, officers police “robustly”.

He is also not convinced that simply locking criminals up cuts crime.  As he puts it:

“We used to think that all we could do with high-rate offenders is lock ‘em up or they’re going to offend on the street. But NYC has 28 % fewer people locked up in 2011 than in 1990. And it has 80 % less crime. The [individual] criminals didn’t go anywhere. They’re just doing less crime. So the bedrock of prediction on which incapacitate imprisonment was built, has turned out to be demonstrably false. And the proof of that is in New York City.

The data shows that the criminal activity of people coming back to NYC from the prisons dropped as the crime decline proceeded. In 1990 the odds that a prison released from prison coming to NYC would get reconvicted of a felony over the next three years was 28 %. But over the next 17 years, the odds of being reconvicted of a felony dropped to 10 percent.

The street situation changed and so had the things that their friends were doing. People were now smoking marijuana and drinking wine. Cocaine use was down. Street robbery has gone down 84 %. Burglaries 86 %. And that meant that the people that the released offender used to hang out with as a persistent offender from a high-risk neighborhood, are no longer doing those things. So he’s not doing crimes with them.”

This obviously has implications for the current debates on prison numbers and suggests that Kenneth Clarke’s approach is potentially right, if – and it is a big if – the rest of  Zimring’s conclusions are taken on board.

So what else does his work mean for policy here?

It certainly implies that police numbers are important and that the last Labour Government (and the last Mayor in London) were right to boost the number of police.  The cuts envisaged by the present Government and those that are being carried out quietly in London by the present Mayor are therefore almost certainly unhelpful. (The lack of certainty derives from the fact that it does, of course, depend on what the police officers remaining are actually doing and whether their activity is in fact robustly tackling crime hot spots.)

It also suggests that policies favouring policing the suburbs at the expense of the areas with higher crime that tend to be in the inner cities are misconceived.

I suspect that the robust and sustained “disruptive” policing of crime hot spots is consistent with the approach that Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe would wish to follow.  It will be interesting to see whether this is encouraged by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “Mopsy”) or whether the MOPC will be nervous about the political implications in the run up to the Mayoral elections in May.

 

Monday
Jan 23,2012

Photo of Prescott Police DepartmentPress stories over the weekend have suggested that my colleague in the House of Lords, John Prescott, might consider standing as Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside in the autumn.

I have no idea whether he is seriously thinking of doing so – he didn’t mention it when I saw him on Thursday, but that doesn’t prove anything either way.

However, one thing I am certain of is that he is not the sort of person that David Cameron had in mind when he first dreamt up the idea of elected Police Commissioners.

Yet in many ways, John Prescott would be ideal.  He is high profile and well-known; he has a wealth of senior-level experience (Deputy Prime Minister after all – perhaps Nick Clegg ought to sacrifice/offer himself to the people of South Yorkshire); and he is more than robust enough to stand up to any Chief Constable and hold them to account.

And after all profile, experience and toughness are the core attributes of any potential Police and Crime Commissioner candidate.

Block Watch Sign

Bike Patrol Officers

School Resource Officer



Thursday
Jan 12,2012

This is a piece I have written for the Mayor Watch blog on the occasion of today’s last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority:

“The Metropolitan Police Authority was established in July 2000 as a by-product of the legislation that also created the London Mayoralty, the GLA and the London Assembly.  Until then the Metropolitan Police had been solely accountable to the Home Secretary, who was uniquely the Police Authority for London.

The MPA is now to be abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) as a by-product of the legislation that will see Policing and Crime Commissioners elected outside London in November.

The MPA’s final meeting is taking place today and the MOPC will take over responsibility on Monday 16th January.

So what did the MPA achieve in its eleven and a half years of existence?

The early years of the MPA saw a dramatic transformation in the Metropolitan Police. In 2000 morale in the Service was poor, more officers left the Met each month than joined (police numbers had declined each year for a decade), public confidence was low, financial controls were virtually non-existent (the Met had no system for telling if bills had been paid more than once) and the quality of many serious investigations was poor.  The first tasks of the new Authority included the introduction of financial controls and discipline; establishing a new culture of openness and accountability; and reversing the decline in the number of police officers so that the MPS saw the most significant increase in its size in its history.

This was followed by a sustained focus on turning round street crime and cutting burglary.  The MPA led the way nationally on the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and then the setting up of the first Safer Neighbourhood Teams before rolling them out across London.

This contribution led to a general increase in public confidence in the police service, but specific initiatives led by the MPA on stop and search, on hate crime, and on recruitment and retention of black and minority officers also changed perceptions of the Met.

Inevitably, the direction of travel changed somewhat with a change in administration in City Hall after the 2008 elections, but the MPA continued to deliver a much clearer visible accountability of the police in London than had existed before.

Certainly, throughout its life the MPA has ensured that far more information about the policing of London has been put in the public domain.  The MPA also meant that the Commissioner and senior officers were seen to answer questions in public at full Authority meetings and at its Committees.  And this was supplemented by detailed MPA scrutinies ranging from rape investigation and victim care to counter-terrorism policing, crime data recording to mental health policing, and landmark reports on the Stockwell shooting, of the Race and Faith Inquiry, and on public order policing.

So will all this disappear with the MOPC?

The first thing to emphasise is that London’s model will – as ever – be different from that in the rest of the country.  There will not be a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner.  Instead, the functions will be carried out by the MOPC, led by an appointed Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.

The policing priorities will be set by the MOPC and it remains to be seen how much these will change from those previously set by the MPA with its more widely drawn membership.

The real danger is, of course, that much of the visible accountability and answerability will be lost.  Some will be provided by the London Assembly who will have a new and enhanced role in respect of policing and crime, but their focus – as envisaged by the new statute – will be very much on the MOPC and not on the police service itself.

How this will develop will depend on the personalities involved – both at the MOPC and on the Assembly – and on the willingness of the Met itself to be open and transparent.  There are certainly no guarantees on any of this, yet police accountability in the capital will remain as important as ever – as the events of the last few months have demonstrated.

Perhaps the message is watch this space.”

 

Tuesday
Jan 10,2012

In March of last year I tried (innocently) to find out whether Home Office Ministers spent more time meeting the police leadership of the Metropolitan Police or the political leadership of the Metropolitan Police.

The saga – for anyone still listening – is reprised here.

In November, I formally raised the strange refusal of the Home Office to divulge this information with the Information Commissioner.

On 11th November his office responded saying:

“I have today spoken to the Home Office regarding your complaint; they have acknowledged there have been significant delays in responding to your information request.  I have been advised that you will be getting a response within the next five working days.”

You might think that this would be progress.  (Admittedly, the Information Commissioner’s Office were less confident saying that “If the Home Office responds and refuses to release the information you have asked for and you are dissatisfied, you may, after exhausting their internal complaints procedure, complain to us again.”  They’d clearly been there before.)

In any event, with mounting excitement that I was about to see a response from the Home Office I waited for five working days.

And then another five working days.

And then five more working days.

Suffering a patience failure (if not a sense of humour failure), I left a telephone message for the Information Commissioner.

And his office responded on 7th December saying:

“I have today spoken to the Home Office who have advised me that they have in fact not sent out any response to your information request.  In the light of this information I have passed the case to our case resolution team who will contact you as soon as possible to explain how your complaint will be progressed.”

And guess what?

I am still waiting.

 

Tuesday
Nov 29,2011

There was a Private Notice Question in the House of Lords this afternoon from LibDem Peer, Lord Dholakia:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to ensure that the security of the United Kingdom is not compromised on 30 November.”

This produced the following response from the Home Office Minister, Lord Henley:

“My Lords, the security of the UK border remains our top priority. Contingency plans are in place and we are satisfied that security will be maintained. We started training additional staff for contingency arrangements in April and adequate resources are now available. Any staff deployed to the front line will have received the training required to operate effectively. Arriving passengers will remain subject to checks at the border by appropriately trained staff.”

There then followed a series of increasingly bad-tempered exchanges between the Minister and Labour Peers with the Minister demanding that Labour Peers condemn the strike, whilst admitting that the Government had been planning for a strike since April. Here are the exchanges with Labour Peers (one of whom was me):

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government have sponsored speculation about what they will, may or might do to maintain UK security, especially at the borders, on 30 November—everything from bringing in the Army to the idea of staff from the Prime Minister’s Office manning passport control points. However, people need and deserve stability. If they have booked a holiday that day, they need to know whether they can get away. If businesses have important customers coming to the UK, they need to know that their businesses will not be damaged. I should therefore be grateful if the Government would publish, clearly and fully, for the benefit of the country as a whole, what in detail they intend to do on Wednesday in relation to border security.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition did not take the opportunity to condemn the strikes that are taking place on Wednesday, which would have been helpful. If all parties agreed that those strikes should not happen we would not have this problem. We shall be operating the appropriate checks with the appropriate people, appropriately trained to make sure that visitors—whether they are coming here as tourists, whether they are coming here for business or whether they are returning UK citizens—can get in without any disruption or with disruption minimised as much as possible. The noble Baroness will also be aware that this is an operational matter and for security reasons it would not be appropriate to comment in detail, as she wishes, on the arrangements.

Lord Tomlinson: Will the Minister comment on reports in today’s press that part of the police force is being drafted in to take over the role of the UK Border Agency at our borders and that their training is alleged to be merely 90 minutes? Is that adequate?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I would not believe—and I would recommend that the noble Lord should not believe—everything I read in the press. I can assure him and the House that everyone assisting on this matter will have the appropriate training necessary to do the job. Yes, some police will be involved but they will have the appropriate training to do the job that they need to do.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the Minister said that staff started training in April. What were they training for in April?

Lord Henley: My Lords, any sensible organisation, knowing there was a risk of such things happening—something which has still not been condemned by noble Lords opposite and I am waiting for that condemnation to occur—would make the appropriate arrangements. The border agency started that last April.

Lord Grocott: Given that the Minister has repeated asked people on this side of the House to talk in terms of condemnation, can we take it as read that the Government condemn the cleaners, the dinner ladies, the low-paid workers and those threatened with a weakening of their pension entitlements and an increase in their contributions? Is the Government’s position that they condemn these people for trying in any way to defend their position?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I condemn the strike as it affects our security and the arrangements we are having to make. That is the condemnation I am still waiting to hear from the party opposite.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the Minister has repeatedly referred to this side of the House not condemning the strike. What I want to ask him is this—can he give a categorical assurance that the motivation of the coalition Government is security and not strike breaking?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear in my original answer, our first priority, our highest priority, our top priority is the security of the United Kingdom. If the noble Lord thinks that we are involved in strike breaking he should think again. We want to make sure that our borders are kept secure. We think that the unions are endangering that security by the actions they are taking. The offer is still open to talk to the Government and others and we wish they would take that up.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, of course our borders should be kept secure, but are the Government doing enough to negotiate with the unions on this point? Are the Government in fact making every effort to try to resolve this dispute rather than, as the Minister has told us, having been preparing since April for just this eventuality? Is it not that they actually wanted to provoke a strike, for whatever political reasons they may have?

Lord Henley: Come on, my Lords. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the Government’s doors remain open and that the Government are prepared to negotiate. It is the unions who are being intransigent and it is the party opposite which is refusing to condemn an action that will possibly endanger our security. Because of the actions we have taken, and have been taking since April of this year, we think that we will be able to keep security at the appropriate level at the borders on Wednesday.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, given that the Minister is so fixated on the possibility of getting the kind of statement that he would like to hear from these Benches, does he imagine that the people out there who are contemplating going on strike are mostly or even to a small extent members of the party I support? I submit that not only are they not, they are members of all parties and none, and what is preoccupying them is not the question of whether the Labour Party supports them but their concern for their future pension rights.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness accuses me of being fixated on this issue and perhaps I am somewhat naive to be so fixated on this issue. I do not know in which way the members of the unions involved happen to vote. I happen to know that those unions support the party opposite. That is why we are still waiting for that condemnation from the party opposite.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any strike is a demonstration of failure? Does he further agree that the Government themselves have failed to resolve this strike?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I totally and utterly reject what the noble Baroness has said and again invite her, as the Leader of the Opposition in this House, to condemn this strike.”