The police work effectively to reduce and prevent crime. Critically examine this statement in the light of the available evidence. The police is the area of the Criminal Justice System which is under the most scrutiny, almost always because they are perceived as ineffective. My aim is to establish whether or not the police deserve this tarnished reputation by investigating their effectiveness of reducing and preventing crime. I shall be looking into many different aspects of the police, starting with a brief history of the police and how their roles and responsibilities have changed since the beginning of the 19th century.
I shall then go on to look at some statistics from the 2001 British Crime Survey in order to attempt to determine the effectiveness of the police in terms of crime reduction. Other investigative matters include police accountability, which takes me neatly to the question of police conduct and complaints- in order to gain an insight into the other side of policing where the so-called 'good guys' are in fact the 'bad guys. ' I shall also be looking into the resources available to the police, and thus whether or not they are good enough and how they may be improved.
The police, once upon a time, had the image of perfection- in the early 1800s the local 'bobby' was someone who was glad to help out wherever possible, someone who was there for his community, was largely unarmed and used force only as a last resort. Order was maintained by negotiation and 'pushing and shoving' methods. This style of policing is known as consensual or communal policing, the objective of which is due process. However, the police's values changed from due process to crime control, known as military policing.
Their goals are now crime fighting rather than social peace keeping, and they are now crime fighting specialists instead of being citizens in uniform. They use weapons more readily than before, use force as a first resort and attempt to reduce crime through social exclusion, as opposed to social inclusion like before the turn of the century (Brewer 1991; Kleinig 1996; Jones and Newburn 1996; Kraska 2001). Sir Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary who later created the Metropolitan Police, made this change around 1829.
In 1842 the Special Branch was established as a result of death threats to Queen Victoria. By 1856 there were 239 police forces in England. From 1829-1856 the development of the Police was very quick due to this rapid growth. In the early 20th century there were some landmark developments of the police: the system of classifying fingerprints was introduced in 1901; the Metropolitan Police caught the first criminal using telegraphy in 1910; in 1919 women officers were introduced but were kept in different departments to men- and were paid less than their male counterparts- until 1973.
Two motor vans were acquired in 1920, which signalled the birth of the 'flying squad'. In the 1950s the image of the police was 'servants of the public' which was not true to life; in reality they were very tough, adept at breaking rules and were often unfriendly and unwelcoming. There was a lot of opposition against the police from all the classes- the working class saw them as oppressors and the middle classes felt their liberties were being limited- making the police very unpopular.
In the 1960s technological advances meant that police officers were able to have police radios, breaking their link with the community even further. Measuring police effectiveness is, and has always been, a problem because there are many ways to do this, each method having its advantages and its disadvantages. One method of measuring effectiveness is to go by clear-up rates. However, the most important factor when solving a case is the information supplied to the police by the victim (Greenwood 1980; Steer 1980; Maguire and Norris 1998).
This means that with regards to crimes such as burglary, where the victim has limited knowledge of details, the case is more unlikely to be solved than in a case of inter-personal violence, for instance. Another method would be to use 'official' crime statistics which are compiled various departments of the criminal justice system, including the police, the courts and prisons. However, their reliability has to be questioned because the process of recording offences requires numerous decisions which can cause some crimes to be included or omitted (Cook 1997).
This exclusion of crimes means that trends cannot be assessed properly and that the statistics that we see are socially constructed (Morrison 1995) rather than a reflection of what is happening, with regards to crime, in our society. Another factor in the unreliability of crime statistics is the underreporting of crimes. Fig. 1 proves crimes reported through the 2001 British Crime Survey (henceforth BCS) surveys have generally not been reported to the police. Fig. 1 Thus I am using the BCS as the basis of my analysis.
The BCS has attracted some criticism; it was thought, especially in the 1980s, that people distorted the facts of the crime. However, it has also achieved widespread respect among academics, as well as policy-makers (Maguire). The BCS sends out surveys to be completed by members of the public; if they have been crime victims they will receive a further document which will ask them to describe the crimes in detail. Fig 2 shows that, generally, crime is on the decrease.
Does this suggest that police officers are now doing a better job than in 1991/1992, where the most significant increase of crime occurred? Fig 1 shows that the percentage of reported crimes has remained fairly steady from 1995-1999; the increase in 2000 has not resulted in a rise in crime- cynics may have credited the fall in crime to more underreporting but this appears not to be the case. It is submitted that this reduction of crime could have occurred as a result of extensive crime prevention advertisements. If people were looking after themselves better then there would be a drop in crime.