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Pc Plod and his targets

A report by the right-leaning think tank Civitas states that police are now targeting small offences, and hence going after what the Telegraph dubs “middle class” folk, in a bid to meet UK government targets. As a result, more serious crimes, such as the recent spate of knife crimes, are not getting so much attention.

This is perhaps unsurprising. It is not just the obsession with targets that is causing this development. More profoundly, the police, as “public servants”, have few incentives to deliver what their paymasters – us – want. One of the arguments I hear for privatising the police is that it would force coppers to become rather more focused on dealing with serious crimes that have so alarmed the public in recent years. I read somewhere that there are now many more private sector security guards employed in the UK than there are police officers, although I cannot find the source. This is perhaps an example of the private sector reacting to meet a need. If this sort of trend continues, we can expect the growth of private security to continue.

My recent experience of being randomly searched under terrorism laws while driving out of London has certainly convinced me that the priorities of our police are seriously out of kilter with actual crime.

27 comments to Pc Plod and his targets

  • Do these private security people have the same powers of arrest and training as police officers? I don’t think so. Anyone assuming these powers would more than likely be seen as a vigilante and arrested themselves.

  • It would profit you to take a look at the Bramshill Strategic Command Course,administered by Cambridge University department of criminology,IIRC.
    Gentlemen such as this have been found there
    Worth remembering also,that Police Commanders get financial bonuses for hitting targets.

  • dr kill

    Threads such as this at Samizdata routinely attract several police apologists. I look forward to reading their spin on this one. Amuse me, Gentlemen.

  • Gareth

    … the police, as “public servants”, have few incentives to deliver what their paymasters – us – want.

    To many in public service employment it is not our money they get but the State’s.

    The incessant race to attain targets, in the Police force, NHS, education, etc leads to workers gaming the system in favour of results that are quick, easy and cheap (or even profitable) to achieve. It’s not a surprise either when there are performance bonuses to be had.

  • The thought of it – going after middle class people eh? Someone needs to go down the station and have a word.

    And the cheek of searching you. Don’t they know who you are?

  • Rob

    For Socialism the middle classes ARE the criminals.

  • Matt

    Tory Troll don’t bother, the last time I made a reasons argument for the police I got shouted down and called a c*nt. Interesting to see SD ‘free speech’ policy in action……

    I will not (and do not) condone a lot of the polices actions but sometimes, just sometimes it needs to be mentioned they do a good job. A middle class criminal is still a criminal.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Do these private security people have the same powers of arrest and training as police officers? I don’t think so.

    You are correct. Unless that is changed, the benefits of hiring private security will be limited, obviously.

    Matt, you were called rude names by various commenters when you defended the odious policy of random stop-and-search a few weeks ago. What was particularly bad about your defence of such tactics was the idea that these could be useful “fishing expeditions” to root out other alleged crimes. This is totally at odds with a free society, but you don’t obviously give a damn about that. If you cannot take a bit of rudeness after posting inane remarks like yours, grow a thicker skin.

    And many of the things that police now go after are not crimes at all by any objective yardstick.

  • abc

    I agree with the Civitas criticism of the police. But on balance, knowing what private security firms get up to in Liverpool, it would be an easy decision for me to make in favour of the police as we know them.

  • Jay

    A middle class criminal is still a criminal

    True – just as 1 mph over the limit is breaking the law too – the problem is that by criminalising everything you make everyone a criminal. I’m sure you’re a clean living kind of guy Matt and never cross that line, but unfortunately it’s now possible to be arrested for something as small as dropping an apple core. Most of us probably live perfectly respectable lives yet still manage to commit an offence everyday. The article quoted a policeman who advises his son to be especially careful at the end of the month because that’s when the PC’s are likely to jump on any infraction to make targets – how bloody marvelous. The end result of this process is going to be a general lack of respect for the law and an increasing lack of respect for those that enforce it. The police can’t do their job without the consent of the public, if the middle classes turn against them their buggered frankly. Setting arrest targets is simply an idiotic way to police.

  • Police performance is measured in “sanction detections” which means officers have detected or cleared a case by charging someone, issuing a penalty notice or giving a caution. Many officers are expected to complete a certain number each month.

    And here we have the problem.

    This performance measure almost mandates that crimes be invented. Police performance is measured by how few crimes are committed, not by how many.

  • Sorry, that should have been –

    Police effectiveness is measured by how few crimes are committed, not by how many.

  • Ian B

    Threads such as this at Samizdata routinely attract several police apologists. I look forward to reading their spin on this one. Amuse me, Gentlemen.

    I think that’s entirely unfair. The policemen who I’ve seen posting comments at samizdata strike me as simply policemen joining in the discussion and offering their point of view. To dismiss that as “apologism” and “spin” seems to me the kind of finger-in-ears lalala that characterises both Left and Right. Surely we can cope with diversity of view, can’t we?

  • Jay

    Ankh-Morpork no longer had a fire brigade. The citizens had a rather disturbingly direct way of thinking at times, and it did not take long for people to see the rather obvious flaw in paying a group of people by the number of fires they put out. The penny really dropped shortly after Charcoal Tuesday.

    Jingo, Terry Pratchett

  • Gabriel

    I’m no anarcho-capitalist, but when people argue against extreme-libertarianism by saying “without a police force stopping crime, we’ll have chaos”, I’m usually tempted to respond with “you mean like now then?”.

    Most people basically rely from protection from crime, not on security firms who act under severe restrictions, but insurance companies. That’s certainly how it worked when my house was burgled.

    Most of us probably live perfectly respectable lives yet still manage to commit an offence everyday

    This was basically Paul’s argument against Judaism. Living under New Labour is like living in a state run by Rabbis, but instead of the insanely complicated gargantuan legal system being designed in process of great seriousness by men of great piety (and even greater beards) searching for spiritual perfection, it’s designed by a bunch of immature twats based on what they read in the Guardian that morning.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    And the cheek of searching you. Don’t they know who you are?

    Tory Troll, my problem is not that middle class or any specific class of folk are randomly searched; my problem is that anyone is randomly searched at all in a country that is supposedly operating under the notion of innocence until presumed guilty.

  • RAB

    The effect of targets and quotas is to take the element of discretion away from the Officer on the beat.

    So even the most trivial offence must be recorded and prosecuted, where once it would be a sharp word, dont do it again, now on your way sort of thing…

    And it s amazing how the truely trivial can become ludicrously serious in the twinkling of an eye these days.

    So for your amusement and horror, ladies and gents of the Globe, this is what happened to a friend of mine in Bristol a few weeks ago.

    My friend, we shall call him K, who is a very fit bloke in his late 40s, was on his bike heading for a restaurant in Whiteladies road.
    Hardly mean streets, a very upmarket street indeed in fact.
    Well ok he was riding on the pavement, but every cyclist in the country is riding on the pavement these days.
    Well he comes round a corner and is confronted with one of our junior Nazis, a Community Police officer.

    The said Officer grabbed hold of the handlebars and proceeded to give my friend a snotty sarcastic PC lecture.

    K is getting a bit annoyed now. He is quite happy to put his hands up and say
    “sorry officer, wont happen again”
    But the Spotty Muldoon wasn’t having any.
    He was getting off on it.

    K asked him to unhand his very expensive mountain bike.
    He didn’t.
    So K gently shoved him in the chest, to get him to let go.
    Gird your chuckle muscles and check your disbelief quotient for what happens next!

    The Officer freaked out and started screaming into his radio ” Help Help I’m under attack, together with a few codewords…

    Well K recons that it is time to leave.
    He’s technically guilty of assault by now.
    So he is on his bike and going like a bat out of hell.
    Almost immediately he can hear sirens.
    There are two police cars chasing him down Park St by now.
    One pulls along side and the PC yells at him to get off yer fuckin bike you bastard!!
    K keeps going..

    Half way down Park St, out of nowhere a Policeman leaps rugby tackle style at him, trying to bring him down. This is stupid, bordering on the suicidal.
    Park street is one of the busiest in Bristol. He missed by inches.
    K keeps going…

    Well at the bottom of Park street, is College Green.
    A big green lawn like space in front of the Council Chambers. How do I shake the mad fuckers off thinks K.

    Well he’s on a mountain bike, they are in cars .
    So he cuts across the Green, while they have to follow the road round.

    Well this is the heart of Bristol, where the floating harbour, the Cathederal and the Central Library is.

    So as you cant get sanctuary in cathederals these days, K chose the library for his salvation.

    He ran in and went straight to the Toilets and stripped off.

    He reversed all his clothing that could be reversed, and ditched his hat. He was pissed off about that, cost him a lot of notes. Then he went back into the body of the library and browsed like a customer.

    Two minutes later 6 Plod have burst in and are combing the building for him.

    Well he keeps his cool, and eventually they give up and leave.
    He rings a friend to pick him up in the back of his van.

    This is a true story (as far as I am aware, K is a very old and trusted friend) and illustrates just how disproportionate things have got in the UK.

    Now children of the UK.
    Be sure to re-new your library books or you my find a helecopter gunship hovering over your house!

  • Fed_Up

    I am bound to say that I am surprised that this issue has only now come to the surface. It has caused simmering resentment within the junior ranks of my colleagues for several years.

    For the uninitiated, “Sanction Detections” are defined thus:
    A sanctioned detection occurs when (1) a notifiable offence (crime) has been committed and recorded; (2) a suspect has been identified and is aware of the detection; (3) the
    CPS evidential test is satisfied; (4) the victim has been informed that the offence has been detected, and; (5) the suspect has been charged, reported for summons, or cautioned, been issued With a penalty notice for disorder or the
    offence has been taken into consideration when an offender is sentenced.’

    The first thing to note is that speeding and other minor offences are NOT notifiable offences (crimes), thus the assertion that police are targeting the motorist to increase their sanction detections is entirely wrong.

    I think that the report is wrong in several other respects. Firstly, the example of the youth being arrested for opening a lift door open with his foot. Clearly this is not an offence of any description, there is obviously another aspect of the incident we are not being told about. Even taken at face value, let’s assume that it was the actions of an over-mighty and officious officer (We all accept that they exist) there is no scope to get a “sanction detection” here and therefore cannot form part of CIVITAS’s case.

    The report also states that knife crime is “exploding” in the capital. Not true. The Met Police claim a 15% drop in such offences over the past year.
    In addition, it’s ironic that on the same day that the report’s author claims that police are ignoring knife crime, reports in The Times highlights the criticism of some for police in London apparently doing “too much” to tackle knife crime. I make no comment on the Met Police knife operation, merely highlight the inconsistencies in the reporting.

    Having said all of that, I agree that serious crime investigation is taking a back seat to lesser, more easily detectable crimes. Every officer has a monthly sanction detection target, failure to meet it gets you a bollocking in the first instance, am not sure what continued failure will lead to. Anecdotally, it does appear to be the case that youths are more likely to be arrested for trivial offences toward the end of the month as officers try to reach their sanction targets.
    The system “works” as follows:
    Individual is subjected to a serious assault. Officer attends, takes full details, a detailed statement, secures the victims clothing for forensic analysis, interviews and takes statements from the witnesses. The officer puts out a description of the offender. A patrol car sees the offender, arrests him and hands him over to the Prisoner Handling team for interview. Offender admits offence gets charged (this is all hypothetical of course, I’m overlooking the two week delay between reporting the crime and actually having an officer turn up). However, the officer awarded the sanction detection is the one who made the arrest, not the one who did all the leg work with witnesses and victim. That officer having spent a week interviewing the witnesses, doing the paperwork etc, now has only 3 weeks to get his sanction detections. So, another assault occurs, this officer could do the right thing, conduct the same diligent inquiries etc….or he could do the absolute minimum, crack on to find a gobby yob to lock up and get a sanction detection for a limp public order notifiable offence.

    Once you reduce policing to a crude numbers game (which this government has done to a superbly high degree) then where is the motivation to add to the numbers? The “minimum” sanction detections becomes the de-facto standard. Get your numbers in early in the month with a handful of public order arrests and you can breeze the next 3 weeks. Why go after the really bad guys? In the unlikely event that they don’t make a complaint about you, and, astonishingly, do get sent down after you have broke your back completing the unfeasibly large volume of paperwork, you know they will be out on a tag within weeks to ease the prison overcrowding. That’s targets for you.

  • Oli

    It just goes to show that performance related pay is not the problem – KPI’s are the issue.

    I used to work in sales where we were targeted for everything, and as a good libertarian I ignored it and went after the profit – because bringing home the bacon is always better than keeping your job on a technicality – if more coppers did the same we would not be in this boat today,

    I guess the problem is coppers don’t lose their jobs!

  • NB

    Haven’t we been told that terror suspects, such as some of those involved in the 7-7 attacks, were not fully investigated because the police did not have the manpower to do so?

    Yet they have the manpower to prosecute trivial offences? Discarded cigarette butts and chewing gum may be aesthetically displeasing and people holding Tube lifts might be annoying but I fail to see how they pose a threat. Why don’t they just go the whole hog and prosecute the wind for blowing trees over?

  • JAWolf

    As a criminal defense attorney, I can see three reasons why the cops would go after the non criminal middle class.

    1) They will show up to court when summoned.

    2) They will gnerally plea bargian. Their time and money is not limitless.

    4) They have money to pay for the fines. For revenue enhancement this is the most vital factor.

  • Sunfish

    “Tory Troll” said:

    And the cheek of searching you. Don’t they know who you are?

    The gripe had nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Pearce was the one searched. The gripe was all about the fact that Mr. Pearce was searched WITHOUT CAUSE. By the officers’ own admission, they had no specific evidence to suggest that JP had committed, was committing, or was planning to commit any crime or act of violence. By their own admission, the search had nothing to do with either who JP was or anything that he was actually doing.

    If you can’t handle being called bad names, well, I almost said don’t plan on joining the Job but I’d now expand that to “stay off teh interwebz” and probably best to not leave the house at all. You can’t pipe up on anything to do with policing on a liberal/libertarian blog and expect to avoid all rude criticism, no matter which side you take.

    Welcome to my world, where you are wrong no matter what. Someone will always have a problem with (lazy/fascist) pigs who all need to be shot in the back of the head in a dark alley (because they wrote me a speeding ticket/didn’t arrest my ex-boyfriend), no matter what you did or which side you take.

    It’s kind of like being married, actually.

    As for the targets thing: I’ve been reading about this on-line for a few years now. I have yet to hear from any actual working police in the UK who think that it’s a good idea, and most of the complaints on their blogs are the same as the complaints here. I have plenty of ideas about what to do about it and I think most of them are pretty good ones[1], but none are likely to happen under the present regime or the slightly-modified version of the present regime promised by Cameron.

    [1] Good idea: reducing home office control over large-scale and strategic matters and eliminating HO involvement in day-to-day operations entirely. Bad idea: tarring and feathering all Chief Inspectors on up, all the way to Jacqui Smith herself. Although the latter would do wonders for both police and public morale, no doubt.

  • RAB

    Meanwhile down at the Local Authority
    they are just looking after your needs…


  • Flash Gordon

    “Broken Windows” policing turned NYC from a criminals’ paradise and hell hole for decent folk into a civilized town. It could do the same for London and Manchester if the cops and the politicians had the sense to do it.

    That they are targeting middle class crime, which are mostly civil infractions and not crime at all, shows that they lack the intelligence and the will to do anything sensible. First they would have to give up their multicultural attitudes and politically correct posturing, and of course they aren’t ever going to do that.

  • RAB


    I have always been a bit naive and optimistic, I suppose…

    The Empire strikes back !


  • Ian B


    Well, it’s logical in light of the conversion of the police from law enforcement citizens to the enforcement arm of the political class. It also eases the transition to the European Police Force- politicians are now part of the government of Europe, so the the police must reflect that. The important thing here is to disconnect the police from any regional association or loyalty.

    Again, this is being inadequately interpreted as Brown’s “stalinist” mindset. We have to recognise that everything done now is done in the EU context.