8 Sep 2007

Social decline or just too damn soft?

Thousands of mourners gathered in Liverpool for the funeral service of murdered schoolboy Rhys Jones recently. The media and our Nation are united in grief and disgusted. People are rightly asking how something like the murder of a small boy can happen. And just as importantly, what can we do to prevent it happening again?

Winifred Robinson (BBC reporter), recalls her childhood in Liverpool's Norris Green estate in the early 1960s and observes today’s problems asking why things have changed? Drugs, Violence, Vandalism, Gang Culture and a general feeling that, even if you stand to be counted and give evidence to the police about the thugs… No-one can touch them!

Our communities may have many problems which include unemployment and fractured families but none of these are new. What makes them more profound and a person more knowledgeable about their actual existence is the wider ‘real time’ ability of the media. I recall early in my service when talking to a colleague in Manchester, being totally shocked at the amount of violent crime they had way back then. Crime that was ‘old news’ by the time the media got hold of it and, as a consequence, not sensational enough! However, a catalyst in today’s mayhem has to be the prominence of drug dealers… Large amounts of money are always powerful incentives!

Internet news sites, forums for social comment and blogs are packed solid with wailing doom and gloom about the issues. A comment (produced in its entirety) from the Norris Green Article explains a lot: “My mother would always caution against seeing the past in too rosy a hue. She'd remind us that there were always families who couldn't cope with life's pressures, people who had mental breakdowns, who drank and let their children run amok, people who didn't know how to behave. But in the past, if standards of good behaviour were not set at home, when children stepped outside, a whole host of confident adults were there to impose order; they included neighbours, teachers, police and the local vicars and priests. An old family friend reminded me how her son Billy had been dragged in off the streets by a bobby and hauled before his parents where he was given a dressing down for being a vandal”. Unfortunately we now have the situation whereby, there is little fear of actually being caught for your minor misdemeanours.

We need to get tough every one cries… Let’s have some of that good old Zero Tolerance stuff that Ray Mallon brought to the UK from America! Ok. So despite the undoubted success of the zero tolerance approach, why is it the community that actually benefited from it are now baying for the removal of the man who delivered it? (Link) Simple! The public, the media and in many respects the government are all fickle. They are only interested in the ‘here and now’ and what actually affects them as individuals, they are not concerned about the ‘wider picture’ or underlying root causes of a problem, be it social or otherwise.

Zero tolerance policing actually runs counter to community policing or ‘policing by consent’, a system which has, until relatively recently, always served us well in the UK. This has been realised by many and, the government have responded with Safer Neighbourhood policing. However, despite the undoubted virtues of both elements, the government has failed in their duty to fully support both regimes. These two systems need to be run in seamless parallel.

‘Proper cops’ on the streets have been replaced by street wardens or community support officers with little or no ‘real power’ and the thugs and crooks know this. And, those Police Officers that are actually able to patrol are drowning in endless waves of paperwork resulting from government statistic chasing. They have had their discretion removed, they are younger in service with less experience, and they are constantly verbally and physically abused by the public they serve, on top of this the government now want to reduce their salaries in real terms. Is it any wonder that even the cops are disillusioned and things are going to pot (no pun intended)!

The government are in effect creating a two tier system, instead of a policing function that can provide the two systems in ‘seamless parallel’. It has created police officers with endless powers of enforcement and a secondary uniformed support element with little or no powers. This in turn is creating public misconceptions about the actual ability and worth of our police service. A service that has, until recently, always been community based and ‘policed by consent’ but has also provided enforcement when required. A multi skilled, multi functional service that was flexible to demand. And what is the reason for all this? Governmental financial constraint! The constraints which are actually driven by the depth of the public pocket, a pocket we must all be prepared to dig deep into if we want the police service we require and deserve!

Now more than ever we need to adjust or priorities and perceptions about policing. We must stop conning ourselves (and the public) that community support officers and street wardens are actually ‘police officers’. All we are doing is providing ‘policing on the cheap’ and will undoubtedly suffer the consequences in the longer term! Let fully sworn police officers provide the service that the public expects of them, a service they (should) have the training and expertise to actually deliver!

1 comment:

Alf Ventress said...

Winifred Robinson presents Return to Norris Green (BBC Radio 4 Sunday 150907 1330BST). She recalls her own happy childhood in Liverpool's Norris Green estate and returns to investigate how it could have become the scene of a turf war between rival drugs gangs - blamed for the murder of 11-year-old schoolboy Rhys Jones?

Policing - Could you?