The challenges for government are not immediate new challenges, they’re consistent, and ongoing. First the rising costs of nearly everything – Increased competition for scarce resources (don’t need to provide resource to deal with crimes that don’t happen) and all against a backdrop of declining available funds.
There is a tendency for political leadership to be short-sighted – it’s a function of election cycles, and public demand (quick wins and media spotlight over sustainable long-term results emerging for another political administration) Other public service agencies are almost bound to fall into line which results in further short termism, target setting, and performance indicators. This has a negative impact on resources and particularly police resources.
The CSAP is about reducing the burden on all public services while simultaneously delivering sustainably safer communities. Police capacity is challenged because: Crime is becoming more complex; cybercrime is moving so quickly it is almost impossible for law enforcement to keep pace. There is also a significant tech skills gap between those operating in the cyber tech sector and police investigators. Investigations while we are on the subject are becoming more complex– there are more demands, more steps, compliance requirements, all in all so much more resource intensive. There is also increasing demand from courts in support of prosecution. The legal system and particularly the courts are not in great shape, they also lack capacity (some legislation hampers police work and provides anonymity / protection for offenders) Sentencing practices – short sentences, promote a revolving door system and repeat business.
There needs to be a fundamental change but seems like it will continue to get worse given case precedence (since time began police have watched intelligence waiting for the release of bagged offenders so we can all play the game again)
Declining crime rates reports are in part a red herring as well which is self-defeating for police law enforcers. How do you make a business case for resources where reported crime is approximately 40% of actual crime? That’s 60% of offences, responsible offenders and victims that don’t even come onto the radar. Recorded crime figures are a flawed representation of levels of victimization, can be massaged to tell a given story, can be misrepresented and can mislead the public, lulling them into a false sense of security.
There’s a wide range of reasons why public don’t report crime. Distrust or dissatisfaction in the police or a belief that the police will be unable to resolve a crime may result in a non-report. Citizens who do not have insurance may not feel inclined to report because there is no monetary return. Citizens with insurance but where the loss is either under the deductible or close may consider the possibility of an elevated premium prohibitive and not bother to report a crime occurrence. Witness intimidation can result in charges being dropped or again crime not being reported. Just a quick snapshot here, and certainly not an exhaustive list, of many reasons for non-reporting. Read my more expansive foray into the limitations of crime statistics here.
There exists an embedded way of doing things in law enforcement circles that plays strongly into post victimization resourcing and focus. It is not the making of the current generation or recent generations, but an inherited custom and practice, accepted on so many levels. It majors on detections, investigations, and arrests. It also produces demonstrable results albeit limited by the duration of punishment meted out by the wider criminal justice system and only for the duration of sentence or while under offender management restrictions. Even victim support does what it says on the can; and comes into play post victimization. Wouldn’t ‘potential victim support’ be a better investment. Offender programs, and interventions also arrive late to the party initiating protective actions for recidivists rather than newbies, those yet to be labelled as criminals, who might be deflected from a life of crime. How to effectively reduce crime is well documented but will not be seen to take a large slice of the annual policing budget anywhere until there is a step change in thinking.
Actual noncriminal justice costs outside of policing, courts, corrections, but often not elevated into the costs of crime discussion, are, private security, personal security, pain & suffering, crime prevention time costs, stolen and damaged property costs, insurance costs, productivity losses, business losses, direct medical costs. These are not insignificant costs and are all costs incurred with negative economic impacts.
Sir Robert Peel the ‘father of policing’ started the ball rolling in 1829 with the nine Peelian Principles. The two principles which resonate most here are: The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it. That does not describe where we are right now at all, but is does signal perhaps why that extra to traditional policing baggage has been allowed to accumulate over time. Given what we now know about crime causation those two principles might be better revised to redistribute the responsibility for preventing crime and disorder from police alone to wider community safety partnerships.
Zero tolerance and aggressive policing has been found to produce statistically insignificant changes in crime, on average. It also runs the risk of damaging police-community relations, both locally and even at the national level. Zero tolerance policing is based on the presumption that the communities that need the police the most are also the least likely to have strong community social institutions. The best-known example of Zero Tolerance Policing was its adoption in New York City in 1994. At that time, the city was in the grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic and suffered high levels of antisocial and violent crime. Within a few years of Zero Tolerance, however, crime had dropped from between 30 – 50% The lessons of NYC are somewhat misleading – they had 3x more officers per capita (not just about officer numbers; intelligence led deployments on the tail of thorough crime analysis; officer on the corner of each block nice; officers patrolling hotspots at hot times nicer; more impactive. Information emerging since also suggests the books were cooked in New York.
For a wide variety of reasons, the task for law enforcement in delivering crime reduction is made even more difficult because of factors largely out of their control. What these collectively conspire to present our police services with are more ‘law enforcement customers’ than should be the case.
I want to expand on this because it also speaks to wider community safety partnership responsibility. If ‘effective’ social, developmental and community strategies and programs, universally providing protective factors from early childhood to adulthood existed, and were properly measured, less criminal justice system customers would emerge. Entirely logical progression. Were all families well ‘equipped’ and supported to nurture their children to foster a positive personal makeup then contributions to society are likely to be positive. The same positive development experiences in schools, in communities, with influential adults and peers will have the same outcome often. We find our level within those in our immediate lives and regularly around us. Internal constraints might be referred to as conscience, our nature. External constraints are visible and psychological influencers outside of you that either increase risk if you pursue a damaging course of action or remind you strongly of the consequences awaiting if you do. Social and environmental factors may be accepted constructs, conventions, and conformity among peers and in the surrounding area. Situational factors will be security controls and technologies, the built environment, your anonymity, or lack of, the presence of capable guardianship. Opportunity is being confronted with temptation and in the absence of any credible threat to pursuing that opportunity, how you respond. Some will take advantage and others will not. How many times do you hear of pocketbooks full of credit cards and cash found and being handed in? That is positive personal makeup, plus!
The point of this expansion is to reason a move in the crime reduction needle and outside of policing budgets to direct more funds and responsibility towards criminality prevention rather than post victimization crime prevention. Criminals passing through the revolving doors of criminal justice are why policing, courts, corrections, and all other facets of the CJS are stretched beyond delivery of their intended terms of reference. The catch 22 in all of this is that the employment that comes with the wider criminal justice system is reliant upon a steady flow of ‘customers’ to sustain and maintain it. Surprisingly there has been no focus on the actual CJS employed numbers since a Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics report in 1996. That tells a story in terms of focus. Although dated information the number of persons working in the Canadian justice system remained relatively stable between 1991 and 1996, varying between 303,235 and 304,370 employees. It will be considerably higher now, and the ask and expectations of society and agencies outside law enforcement is a prime example of gradual accumulation of extra responsibilities that are not traditional policing eroding capacity for primary role.
Police are a major catalyst in reducing crime to as close to zero as possible – but it should not be their main priority; that is for broader public service to lead bringing all with a role to the table.
On rebalancing their capacity to respond to current and emerging demands on police; they cannot, not without redistributing responsibility to those competent to act; and who are responsible for acting (fewer crimes = greater capacity for pro-activity = less paperwork). The same redistribution of responsibility needs to be accommodated by all public service agencies.
The business model should be focusing on return on investment – the public has supplied the resources, and a reasonable expectation return on that investment is for public services to collaborate to target zero crime and visibly deliver safer communities. For policing that flies in the face of most investment landing in the post victimization, detections, investigations, arrests, courts, incarceration, box, but just to re-emphasize, this work is enforcement, is the police strong suit, is necessary and is where police focus should lie, supported by other agencies criminality prevention efforts.
The question is at the end of the day “how can the public get the best community safety return on investment from public service?” The answer again is by lobbying public safety to influence the current post victimization mindset in criminal justice, with criminality reduction and harm reduction agencies tackling root cause rather than symptoms and allowing police law enforcement to provide a thicker blue line between a reducing number of offenders and legitimate law-abiding community.
Is what works in community safety under sold and under adopted? The answer is yes. Community safety is too often overlooked in public service. The problem-solving attention to detail and the degree of professionalism attending to it is often, lacking. The public service community safety agenda is as much about politics as it is about business operation. In a resource tight public service budget climate, the outcome is often community safety initiative dilution and tokenism instead of focused robust intelligence led attention being directed to areas of greatest need. Driving this approach and a saving grace for the public officials at the wheel, is that the short-term impact can often appear positive; and the organizational and personal reputations that should be called into question, are protected by short term success. Sadly, initiatives rarely see sustained success and by the time things go awry the memory of what was promised and who might have promised it may have already been consigned to history.
Public service capacity to respond should be directed into servicing immediate resource challenges, pursuing strategic objectives and in developing and cultivating relationships. Right in the relationships mix here is partnerships, and for the purposes of this input private sector security partnerships who can take up some of that historically misplaced community safety burden by guiding the re-allocation of responsibilities where they should be in other agencies or communities.
Let’s close out this presentation by asking some core questions of law enforcement to provoke thinking. Many of these questions will be interpreted as falling with the law enforcement purview but are equally applicable to municipalities and any public agencies with a stake in community safety:
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