We will be electing new Police Commissioners next month. They have a unique opportunity to reduce crime. But that can only happen if simple questions on what crime is being committed, where it is being committed and by who are answered based on evidence. Otherwise real issues could be lost in political correctness.
The first question should be about scale. In England and Wales last year there were 4m crimes. Leaving aside the fact that lesser incidents such as anti-social behaviour are not included and possibly many crimes such as sexual offences go unreported, this is surely more crime per capita than in the rest of Western Europe. This suggests over one in ten people above 16 are victims of crime every year! Why indeed is Britain so criminal and what can be done to bring in a new culture?
The second question should be about criminals. Last year 1.3m of these crimes resulted in convictions. Roughly two out of three crimes went unsolved. When looking at some prominent crimes such as thefts and burglaries, the detection rate is even lower. My personal experience suggests that when the police catch someone they get the right person: most people claiming to be innocent at trial admit later on that they were actually guilty. However, what is stopping police from catching the vast majority of offenders: is it just "resources" or something else?
Talking of resources, most people support maximising frontline resource and having policemen and women on the beat. This does look sensible because the public feel safer and crime would logically be prevented if police were visible on the streets. However, most crime actually takes place at night time. Shouldn't police be out patrolling between dusk and dawn?
Patrolling the right locations might not be an insuperable job. Most crime takes place mainly in towns and cities, not in rural communities. Unfortunately, the larger a town or city the more the chances of crime happening. Are the numbers on the beat in direct proportion to the population of an urban community?
Not only are offenders urban, nine of ten of them are young men. Most are between 16 and 35 and affected a lot by others like them (peer pressure), alcohol and drugs. Imagine the police monitoring pubs, night clubs and urban locations where these men get together at night time. Hopefully, this does happen already but is there a way that police and the security industry could work together to make these locations real places of entertainment and social life?
One difficult question to ask is about young men from ethnic minorities and migrant communities. A large proportion of regular offenders are made up of black men; many are not long-term residents. Can community groups work together with the police to address this?
That leads to the overriding question that Police Commissioners need to deal with. The overwhelming majority of crime is committed by repeat offenders: if not stopped at the first offence chances of dissuading him diminish until he reaches 35. The overwhelming majority of these offenders come from a distinct social group - broken families, life under local authority care, leaving school without qualifications, alcohol or drug addiction, poor health and housing. Clearly, previous solutions have not worked with this group. Is it time to start from a blank sheet of paper? Why is it that many in that group don't offend but others do, again and again?