Jason King Evaluate the role of the police in preventing and reducing crime The Sheehy Inquiry recorded four main aims of the Metropolitan Police: to prevent crime; to pursue and bring justice to those who break the law; to keep the peace; and to protect, help and reassure the public. In short, the role of the police can be summarised into the prevention of crime (the reducing of the risk of occurrence and the potential seriousness of crime and disorder events by intervening in their causes) and the reduction of crime (reduction of number of crime and disorder events by intervening directly in the events and causes). The extents to which the police have managed to fulfil these roles, however, have been increasingly scrutinised. First, the police attempts to prevent and reduce crime through patrols. In the traditional image of the police, patrol refers to officers walking the beat across neighbourhoods and high streets: an average foot beat in a large British city covers a square half-mile, with four to five miles of public roadway and a population of about 4000. It was then realised that this method of patrol have a minimal impact on local crime levels, that the chances of patrols successfully catching offenders red-handed are hopelessly small, and that the increase in number of patrols would have little effect to this (Goldblatt & Lewis 1998).
In a study conducted by Clarke and Hough in 1984, it was estimated that "given present burglary rates and evenly distributed patrol coverage, a patrolling policeman in London could expect to pass within 100 yards of a burglary in progress roughly once every 8 years- but not necessarily to catch the burglar or even realise that the crime was taking place." With this marked the emergence of vehicle patrols, whereby officers are able to respond to calls and information at a much speedier rate. This was also met with vehement opposition: it was found that even with increased response rates, crime rates would not be affected; some even argue that crime rates would increase because the shift of officers into cars necessarily isolates the police and strips them from 'access to the rhythms of the neighbourhood' (Chapter 2, Controlling Crime, McLaughlin and Muncie) and its colloquial gossip. It is also argued that the skill of negotiation with the public is lost as a result of vehicle patrols, since the officer becomes alien to the community in question: 'The public has little chance to tell the officer what is going on in the community: who is angry at whom about what, whose children are running wild, what threats have been made, and who is suddenly living above his apparent means. Stripped of this contextual knowledge, the patrol officer sees, but cannot truly observe." (Sherman 1983). A study conducted by Bradley et al also found that while response rates were quicker, "[the police] usually arrive after the critical incident has occurred and so have to make do with a mere report of it. They must rely upon external sources to find an adequate trace of what has happened, and so their active role is minimal beyond the routine checking of such sources.
Furthermore because they are now dealing with history, it is seldom critical for them to uncover quickly more evidence. Therefore in most cases the role of the police apart from giving advice and consolations would be little more than that of information processors, compilers of a formal record of what happened." (Bradley et al 1986). This is exacerbated by the finding that over 60% of callers delayed at least five minutes before calling the police (Ek blom & Heal 1982). A more radical argument suggests that the transition to vehicle patrols can result in greater conflict between the police and the public, since it encourages US-style adrenalin-driven police work.
Second, the police have introduced initiatives to strengthen their effectiveness in crime prevention and reduction; one of which is the policy of 'Zero-tolerance' policing. This refers to the high profile operations targeted against street crime, robbery and burglary. With this initiative in place, crime hotspots are flooded with officers and special 'hit-squads' who stop, search and question suspicious pedestrians; set up road blocks; as well as raid premises. Wilson & Killing in 1982 noted how even the most minor misdemeanors are pursued with the same vigour as more serious crimes so as to create a 'maximum deterrence' effect.
Supporters of this view advocate the idea that such high visibility operations will result in the collection of valuable information about local criminals, the increase in police morale, the reassurance of potential victims; and create an 'omnipresence' and effective status for the police. This said, such hard-hitting strategies have severe negative implications. First it is to do with discrimination. Zero-tolerance implicates that everyone in a given locale who corresponds to stereotypical representations of the 'criminal' is treated as a suspect; and this is almost always young black males (blacks are two to four times more likely to be stopped (Willis 1983) and two to eight times more likely to be arrested (Phillips & Brown 1998) ) or those who looked poor or dressed in a scruffy unconventional manor. This has an effect of inflicting widespread individual resentment and distrust. Second, human rights activists have complained that such policies represent an affront to civil right liberties, and the disproportionate subjecting of certain societal members to interrogation and searches.
Third, it is argued that the initiative would create a hostile environment as well as the deterioration of police-community relations; leading to potential conflicts. Fourth, Zero-tolerance policies would disproportionately focus police attention on street-level crimes and away from discreet crimes such as office crime and corruption. Finally, it is argued that crime rates would not necessarily decrease with the use of Zero-tolerance policing, since crimes are merely displaced elsewhere. In all, Zero-tolerance policing has marked a fundamental shift away from the unique principles of British policing based on consent, maximum tolerance, the use of local officers, minimum force, and neutrality; and this has led to widespread public resentment. Third, the police have acknowledged their ineffectiveness by heeding to community-centred strategies. In Lord Scarman's report (1981) on 'riots', he stressed the need to involve active community consent and participation in all aspects of crime prevention and reduction.
He argues that the police could not make a strong impact on local problems without the help of both members of the community and other agencies. This gave rise, in the 1980 s and 1990 s, to a structural shift in the police to take into account the perceptions, priorities and expectations of the local communities. The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 signalled multi-agency crime reduction partnerships with local authorities and local businesses; sharing expertise and resources in tackling specific crime problems, whiles the police adopted upgraded intelligence networks, the use of paid informants, decoys, new surveillance technologies, crime analysis packages and forensic techniques. The police was seen to take a pro-active problem oriented style and strategy sensitive to the needs of different groups in beating crime rates as well as the fear of crime. Communities were advised by local officers on how to safeguard their selves; neighbourhood wardens were employed, while Neighbourhood Watch schemes were set up to target-harden properties and to create a sense of communal responsibility and consciousness towards criminal activity. But again, there are oppositions to this approach; such a compromise in the ethos of the police mandate was seen as a sign of weakness; and there is a further compromise in adapting to the different styles held by different private security agencies in each community.
Also, there is little evidence that crime rates have fallen but merely displaced. Finally, while the police can be seen to reinforce their powers in preventing and reducing public crime (with debatable results), there is still little the police can do in preventing and reducing private crimes and especially 'new crimes'. The police by nature are ill equipped to deal with invisible crime such as white-collar crimes, domestic violence (it was noted by Paul 1982 and Edwards in 1989 that the police are inherently reluctant to arrest or prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, even where there was clear evidence of an offence) and those victim-less crimes such as fraud and corruption. Moreover there has been the evolution of new crimes such as that related to the Internet or organised crime involving drugs, sex-workers, smuggling and pornography. This is exacerbated by the fact that the police infact spend very little time on crime-related work: only 20% of police time is spent on crime prevention and detection, whiles the other 80% is spent on traffic control and related matters (20%), community relations (20%), public relations and public order maintenance (20%), and on answering and responding to calls for assistance (20%). More compelling is the finding that the police are only responsible for detecting either directly or indirectly 15% of recorded crime, while the public is responsible for the detection of 85% of cleared up offences (Steer 1980).
So far, the arguments have all focused on the shortcomings of the police force, condemning it as an ineffective, inefficient and pretentious waste of resources. Proponents of the view drew on a host of illustrations as presented above and criticises its delayed responses, inadequate recording, aversion to investigation, refusal to prosecute, poor protection, lack of devotion to serious crimes, and outright hostility. They site the case of the Yorkshire Ripper in July 1979, which involved 500 police officers, 250, 000 office hours and a bill of lb 3 million pounds to highlight the sheer ineptitude of the police force. But this said, the police force still remains as a pivotal part of any society. The police are first and foremost the up keepers and protectors of the status quo, and hence has a fundamental symbolic value attached to it. In a study conducted by Bittner in 1970, he found that the arrival of the police at the scene of a crime creates a dramatic image symbolizing authoritative order.
The presence of the police is an ever-present reminder that the state and the rule-of law are sovereign: "police intervention means above all making use of the capacity and authority to overpower resistance to an attempted solution in the native habitat of the problem." (Bittner 1970 p 40-1). This is the idea that the core mandate of the police is in fact to act as enforcers of dominant conceptions into the public arena, to remind societal members that if the status quo is challenged or infringed in any way, they will intervene to defend it. Therefore, it is the police that instil a sense of public security into a society and hence deter crime, no matter how ineffective they seem to be. Waddington has also suggested it in 1991 that the police deserve much more credit in the realm of crime prevention and reduction than they have been given credit for. He argues that the police does much work that goes un-noticed: such as the pacifying of industrial disputes, football crowds, rallies, marches, festivals, clubs and so on; and the negotiation with groups and organisations in minimising possible confrontations. He also goes on to argue that the media has actively sought to vilify the effectiveness of the police, focusing on sensationalizing incidents and areas where the police has failed, instead on how the police are constantly attempted to pacify and prevent deviance peacefully (and to good effect) so as to water down chances of conflict and criminal acts.
To conclude therefore, there are many opponents against the work of the police in preventing and reducing crime. It seems to be the case that no matter what policies and initiatives the police adopt, there will be strong criticism aimed at the fact that it affronts civil liberties and more importantly, does little in actually preventing and reducing crime. This has resulted in bad press and an increasingly negative perception against the police force, and with it an entrenched interrogation against its legitimacy. It must however be remembered that the police has a much broader mandate of representing the status quo, and hence has many other responsibilities (leading to its branding as a multipurpose 24 hour order maintenance). Moreover, they are everyday faced with new crimes and more sophisticated criminal activity, but are simultaneously bound by the conflicting views of implementing more powerful resistance strategies and that of civil liberty infringement. A negative public perception exacerbates their already fragile position.
Klockars in 1988 summarises the problem faced by the police in preventing and reducing crime succinctly: " the fact is that the 'war on crime' is a war that the police not only cannot win, but cannot in any real sense fight. They cannot win because it is simply not within their power to change those things- such as unemployment, the age distribution of the population, moral education, freedom, civil liberties, ambitions, and the social economic opportunities to realise them- that influence the amount of crime in any society. Moreover, any kind of real war on crime is something no democratic society would be prepared to let its police fight. We would simply be unwilling to tolerate the kind of abuses to the civil liberties of innocent citizens- to us- that fighting any real war on crime would inevitable involve." (Klockars, 1988). References " Burke, R. H: (1998) Zero Tolerance Policing.
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Longman. " Leishman, F. , Love day B. & Savage, S. : (2000) Core Issues in Policing.
Pearson Education Ltd. " Maguire, M. , Morgan, R. , Reiner, R. : (2002) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford University Press.
" McLaughlin, E. , Muncie, J. : (2001) Controlling Crime. SAGE Publications..