Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

CRIME AND DISORDER IN THE CAPITAL - LONDONERS AND POLICE CALL FOR MORE RESPONSIVE APPROACH

  • Comment
'Narrow, centrally imposed priorities are creating a growing gap between what Londoners expect of the police and wh...
'Narrow, centrally imposed priorities are creating a growing gap between what Londoners expect of the police and what they get. Unless the Metropolitan Police can be more responsive to the needs of local people it will lose the community support it needs to tackle crime effectively.'

The Policing for London report, published today, was set up following the Macpherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, and is the most comprehensive independent research study of London policing for 20 years.

Main findings

- Londoners are calling for a style of policing which is more responsive to local problems and local needs. They want more patrol officers on the beat as one way of the police becoming more involved with the local community so they get to know it better.

- Confidence in police effectiveness has fallen, as has victims' satisfaction with the quality of police service.

- Dissatisfaction with the police is sharpest amongst young people.

- Police stops remain a source of friction - as they were in 1981 - though for most ethnic groups levels are now lower than they were.

- The findings offer a clear sense of the legacy of over-policing of black people and the danger of replicating similar problems with other ethnic groups.

- Different areas of London experience different sorts of policing - reflecting different problems of crime and disorder and differences in the mutual expectations of the police and the public. It is hardest for the police to maintain good relations with the public in deprived areas.

- Many police officers share the public's dissatisfaction with the service they currently provide. They tend to blame: poor management; staff shortages; paperwork/data entry; and the pressure of trying to meet both community needs and centrally imposed targets.

- The current emphasis on narrow numerical performance measures in police management is distorting performance and reducing the quality of service.

Lessons still to be learned

Some of the findings of the Policing for London study are similar to those in a report by the Policy Studies Institute carried out twenty years ago. Problems persist in the relationship between the police and black people which are now starting to be replicated with other groups. Many of the problems identified in previous research into the management of the Metropolitan Police Service also persist. Both sets of problems appear to be resistant to the attempts made to address them over the intervening period; and the study provides new insights into the reasons for this.

The problems in police relations with minority groups particularly affect those which are poor and have a high proportion of young people living in high crime areas. Thus the danger of replicating the problems in police relations with black people is much greater with the Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups than with sections of the Indian population. But improving police relations with individual minorities cannot be achieved in isolation. The intensive and adversarial policing of high crime areas tends to create a vicious circle: by undermining community co-operation with the police, it can lead to over-policing and less effective policing, in turn further undermining community co-operation.

In many areas the police are now dealing with crime within and between many different ethnic groups. And they report that they often feel in a 'no win' situation, with different sections of the community (including white Londoners) seeing them as biased in favour of other ethnic groups.

The researchers conclude that the police cannot ultimately meet expectations in tackling crime unless they re-engage with the public. The ongoing problems of management inhibit this. But these have been made worse by the increasingly narrow focus of resources on a small number of discrete targets which the police have to meet in the short term. This ignores the inter-relatedness of crime, disorder and annoying 'incivilities' like unruly teenagers, graffiti and so on. It has meant withdrawing resources from policing activities that win the trust of local people. Yet the police ultimately depend on this trust if they are to be fully informed about patterns of crime and disorder in the first place. And they can only effectively tackle crime and disorder if local people are willing to play an active part in the identification and prosecution of those responsible.

Key recommendations

The study concludes that the police cannot ultimately be effective in tackling crime unless they re-engage with the public. It recommends that there is a need to develop policies that:

- Take account of the way that simple numerical performance targets can distort police performance and, perversely, introduce incentives to under-perform.

- Develop ways of measuring and managing performance that place greater emphasis of achieving professional standards and less emphasis on hitting numerical targets.

- Improve approaches to local consultation to ensure this is better informed and more realistic.

- Improve the policing of 'incivilities' in ways which avoid causing unnecessary damage to police-community relations.

- Ensure a more visible and more accessible police presence on the streets - but deploy patrol officers with a clear sense of purpose rather than simply to reassure the public.

- Strengthen the capacity of uniformed officers to respond to calls from the public, for example by better integration of specialist and generalist work and by better management.

- Ensure that local police managers have sufficient autonomy and flexibility to respond to local needs.

- Sustain and strengthen support for inter-agency work by the police, especially in the context of the local partnerships established under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

Note

Policing for London, funded by three leading charities - the Nuffield Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation - was carried out by researchersat South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit and the London School of Economics, led by Professor Mike Hough and Professor Marian FitzGerald respectively, and represents the first major independent study of policing in London since that mounted twenty years ago by the Policy Studies Institute, published two years after the Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton riots of 1981. It comprises a large-scale quantitative survey of Londoners and in-depth qualitative case studies of three contrasting London boroughs, as well as secondary analysis of borough, force-wide and other statistics. A broadly based Advisory Group, chaired by Lord Dholakia, helped oversee the project. The Metropolitan Police Service gave the study their full co-operation.

Full details of the research study methods are given in the attached summary, Policing for London: Key Findings. Copies of the full report, Policing for London, by Marian FitzGerald, Mike Hough, Ian Joseph and Tareq Qureshi are available from Willan Publishing 01884 840337/849085.

Visit the study's website .

Policing for London: key findings

By Marian FitzGerald and Mike Hough

__________________________________________________

This study, carried out by researchers at South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit and the London School of Economics, represents the first major independent study of policing in London since that mounted by the Policy Studies Institute twenty years ago. It found:

__________________________________________________

- Londoners did not simply want more patrol officers on the beat, but called for a style of policing that was more responsive to local problems and local needs.

- Though Londoners were no more fearful of crime than twenty years ago, there were rising concerns about disorderly teenagers, litter, graffiti and drug dealing.

- Over a third of the public sought police help in the previous twelve months, and a quarter were approached by the police as suspects.

- Though two thirds of those who sought police help were satisfied with the response, levels of satisfaction were lower than in 1981.

- The majority of those who were stopped as suspects were satisfied with the way they were treated; but dissatisfaction was greatest amongst the young, amongst black suspects and those who lived in poor areas.

- Confidence in police effectiveness in London fell between 1982 and 2000 - and markedly between the mid-1990s and 2000 - but not as steeply as in other police forces.

- The falls in public satisfaction and confidence can be attributed, at least in part, to reductions in the capacity of uniformed officers to respond to everyday demands on the police and falls in staff morale. Rising public expectations may also be a factor.

- The failure of the service to be more responsive to local need and the fall in staff morale can both be traced in part to performance management regimes that emphasise quantified performance targets and as a result ignore the complexities of police work.

The researchers conclude that:

- The MPS needs to achieve a better balance between 'crime fighting' objectives and the equally important ones of 'peace keeping' and 'order maintenance if it is to retain the consent of Londoners.

- The MPS needs to be able to develop ways of managing performance that place greater emphasis of achieving professional standards and less emphasis on hitting numerical targets. The current emphasis on quantitative measures is distorting performance and reducing the quality of service.

- The legacy of discrimination and over-policing continues to overshadow the MPS's relations with black people and there is a danger of similar tensions arising with other groups; but improving police relations with minority groups cannot be achieved in isolation.

The study

The Policing for London study set out to assess what Londoners wanted of their police at the start of the 21st century, to examine sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and to consider ways of bridging the gap between expectations and reality. The study was funded independently of the police by three charitable trusts: the Nuffield Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) gave the study their full co-operation.

Policing in London: the context

The study was commissioned in the aftermath of the 1999 report of the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It was designed to serve as a benchmark against which to assess improvements in relations between police and public in general, and between police and minority ethnic groups in particular.

The study was a sequel to one by the Policy Studies Institute, published two years after the Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton riots of 1981. The period between the two studies has seen major changes in society, crime and policing.

London has become more economically polarised and very much more ethnically diverse. In some poorer boroughs, no single ethnic group constitutes a majority of the youth population.

Some - but not all - types of crime have increased over the last two decades; and there have been changes in opportunities for, and patterns of, crime.

The role of the police and the context in which they operate has significantly altered in the last 20 years. They are now more accountable; and they are expected to work in partnership with others within a framework that is defined at national level in increasing detail.

Like other police forces, the MPS is now held to account by quantitative performance management systems, involving the centralised setting of targets and the widespread use of statistical performance indicators.

At the time of this research, the MPS had just undergone major reorganisation, with London boroughs becoming 'basic command units'. The study was carried out some time before the 2002 Police Reform Bill was mooted, but many of the findings have implications for the proposed legislation.

In September 2001, after the fieldwork for the study was completed, the World Trade Centre was destroyed. For a time it seemed that the event marked a complete discontinuity in the way that public safety would be policed in the major cities of the developed world. Our report is a reminder that the long-term challenges of policing diverse communities persist. Six months on, it is clear that while September 11th has added a new and unwelcome dimension to the policing of civil society, these challenges may become even more central to police work.

Public concerns about crime

Londoners were no more fearful of crime in 2000 than 20 years ago, and the position in London has improved, relative to that of other police force areas. However, concerns about 'incivilities' - problems associated with disorderly teenagers, for example, street drug dealing and use, litter, rubbish and graffiti - have increased in recent years.

Public priorities for the police

People wanted reassurance that the police would protect them from the threat of crime and disorder. Though they worried about some types of crime more than others, their anxieties were inter-connected and were often triggered by incivilities. The most favoured solutions to problems of crime and disorder were more - and more visible - police officers on the beat, and more 'community policing'.

People were not simply calling for more visible deterrent patrolling, but for a style of policing which was responsive to local problems and local needs. Some younger people saw this as a condition for increasing their trust and co-operation; but they also stressed that this would make the police more effective.

The vast majority (92%) of Londoners thought that the police should have powers to stop and search suspects, but most of these referred to the need for reasonable suspicion. Black respondents had more reservations than others, as did young people.

People in focus groups did not believe the police could be effective in isolation. However, they tended to be sceptical about the part played by local authorities; and few survey respondents had heard of the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) set up under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

Using the police

More than a third of Londoners (38%) sought some sort of help from the police during 1999/2000. Over half of these did so in order to report crime but nearly as many had done so for other reasons - to report nuisance or disturbances as well as suspicious persons. The proportion of people seeking police help had fallen since the mid-1990s, reflecting falls in many types of crime in the late 1990s.

Two thirds of crime victims who notified the police were satisfied with the response. Levels of satisfaction had fallen between 1981 and 2000 (see Table 1). When victims were dissatisfied the reasons cited most often were lack of police effort or interest.

Table 1 Satisfaction amongst victim

PSI and PFLS surveys

Satisfaction levelPSI 1981PFLS 2000

Very satisfied45%32%

Fairly satisfied32%34%

A bit dissatisfied12%18%

Very dissatisfied11%16%

TOTAL100%100%

Experience as suspect

A quarter of Londoners (24%) were approached by the police in 1999/2000. Many of these had also sought police help over this period. The most common form of experience of the police as suspect was being stopped in a car. Ten per cent of Londoners reported being stopped in a vehicle in the previous year. Two per cent said they had been stopped on foot.

Although foot stops are much rarer than car stops, two in five men under 35 had either been stopped on foot at some time or had close friends who had this experience.

The best demographic predictors of being stopped by the police were being young, being male, being black, being working class and being single. Part of the explanation for this is to be found in differential exposure to risk; for example young men without access to cars who frequently go out after dark are 'available' for foot-stops for much longer periods of time than those who have cars, or who go out infrequently. However it is significant that black people remain more at risk of being stopped than others after age, sex and class have been taken into account.

Since the mid 1990s the proportion of people subject to police stops has fallen sharply, from a peak of 21% in 1993 to 12% in 1999/2000. Although a smaller proportion of the population is now stopped by the police, the size of the minority within this who are stopped more than once has grown. Longer term trends in stops are shown in Table 2. A smaller proportion of both black and white Londoners were stopped in 1999/2000 than in 1980, and a much larger proportion of Asians.

Overall, a majority of those stopped by the police were 'very' or 'fairly' satisfied with the way they were treated. The young, those living in poorer boroughs and those from ethnic minorities were more likely to be dissatisfied than others. Similar patterns of findings emerged for foot stops, though overall levels of satisfaction were lower.

Table 2 Trends in proportions stopped on foot or in vehicles last year

1980/811999/2000

White17%11%

Black24%18%

Asian7%14%

Other11%16%

TOTAL16%12%

Sources of annoyance

A fifth of Londoners had been really annoyed by the way that the police had behaved towards them or friends in the last five years.

The main reasons for annoyance were unfriendly manner, unreasonable behaviour and failure to do enough. Failure to detect crimes was rarely cited as a source of annoyance. Those who had been annoyed often felt like complaining but rarely did so; the minority who did complain tended to be dissatisfied with the outcome.

Confidence in effectiveness and integrity

Londoners cited the news media, rather than personal experience, as their main sources of information about the police, but word of mouth was also important.

Overall, people had less confidence in the police than in firemen, nurses, teachers and doctors, and rated them on a par with social workers. However, the police were ranked higher than all other criminal justice agencies.

The proportion of Londoners saying the police do a 'very good job' fell from 25% in 1982 to 17% in 2000. This decline was not specific to the MPS however: other police forces have fallen from a higher starting point to the same level (see Figure 1).

Young people, poor people, those in deprived areas and ethnic minorities rated the effectiveness of police work lower than others.

The best predictors of dissatisfaction included being stopped on foot and being stopped in a car, and - surprisingly - the experience of seeking police help. This was not simply a reflection of the fact that police users were often crime victims.

Figure 1: Percent saying local police do 'very good job'

Our focus groups brought out the intensity with which many young people - of all ethnic origins and in different areas - see police activity as biased against them and based on negative stereotypes of youth. There was less consensus on the question of other types of bias.

Corruption was an issue that rarely surfaced in the focus groups with members of the public. The survey data on police integrity suggest that extreme views - whether positive or negative - appear to have tempered over time. The proportion thinking that the police never act illegally has fallen since 1981. On the other hand, the proportion believing that various forms of illegal behaviour were common has either remained the same or declined.

A third of the sample (36%) thought that the police treated ethnic minorities unfairly, and this proportion was much higher than in 1981 (22%). The increase was largely amongst white respondents; there were only small increases amongst minority ethnic groups. In other words, there has been a convergence of views between white and minority ethnic groups.

Londoners in 2000 were more likely to say that they would report incidents to the police and identify offenders than in 1981.

Area differences

People in the focus groups had a strong sense of the relative safety of different areas. Regardless of their ethnicity or where they lived, though, many tended to think that the police treated other groups, and people in other areas, better than themselves. Police officers also had a strong sense of the difference between areas and tended broadly to divide the capital into three types :

- Middle-class residential areas, where crime is relatively less serious and the population is largely co-operative.

- Deprived residential areas with high crime and low public support for the police.

- City centre areas with high crime, mainly involving non-residents.

The views of police officers coincided with statistics to show that violence, interpersonal conflict and anti-socialbehaviour were highest in the deprived areas; and these were thought to be policed more intensively. Victims in deprived areas were also more likely to be 'known' to the police as suspects. Thus styles of policing in deprived areas tended to be more adversarial. The risk is that mutually negative expectations of sections of the police and the public in these areas may affect police-community relations more generally.

Police perceptions

Many police officers felt very frustrated at their inability to respond to people's needs and, in particular, to deliver the quality of service the public expected. They felt that victims frequently had to wait too long for the police; and they were not able to spend enough time with them when they did arrive.

They often blamed this on the pressure to meet targets for a narrow range of crimes, which represented a minority of the calls they had to answer. They also cited the demands of paperwork, including management information in relation to targets, and inadequate IT systems. Response teams were also thought to be short-staffed because of recruitment and retention problems and the demand for personnel in specialist units. They were sceptical about the quality of their management.

In the high crime areas where the population was most ethnically mixed, officers often felt that they were in a 'no-win' situation. Different sections of the local community (including white people) saw them as biased in favour of other ethnic groups. Some suspects routinely accused them of discrimination; but members of some groups might also try to co-opt them against others. They felt ill-equipped to deal effectively with these tensions or to respond appropriately to the different needs of increasingly diverse local populations.

Our individual interviews with officers on senior management teams locally tended to confirm many of the views expressed in the focus groups. The more senior officers, though, were particularly exercised by the tensions between the central demands they were required to meet, the needs expressed by local residents, and the conflicting interests of different sections of the population within this. It was impossible to meet the range of priorities imposed on them, especially when reorganisation had made it more difficult to get to know their staff and, thereby, to keep up morale and performance.

Obstacles to responsive police

The broad thrust of our findings about Londoners' views of the police is that in 2000 they found the police less responsive, less visible, less accessible and much less engaged with the community than they would like - and than they did twenty years ago. The study examined various possible explanations.

There was no conclusive evidence that increases in overall workload lay behind the falls in public ratings. Neither crime workloads nor non-crime workloads showed significant increases; against many indices they had actually fallen since the mid-1990s.

However MPS resources shrank in real terms between the mid-1990s and 2000; and this was exacerbated by problems of recruitment and retention of police officers and, in particular, among support staff. These problems were particularly acute at the time of our study. The shortages appear to have been borne disproportionately by uniformed response teams. Thus levels of workload per officer did increase, at least in the second half of the 1990s.

In parallel, public expectations of the service may have grown, not least in response to government initiatives designed to foster public sector consumerism, such as the Citizens' Charter and the Victims' Charter.

One important factor has been the unintended consequences of the performance management systems that were imposed on the police throughout the 1990s. Quantitative performance targets were set by successive Home Secretaries, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and by the Audit Commission; these generally gave primacy to crime-fighting objectives at the expense of order maintenance. Especially in the 1990s they also imposed the same priorities across widely differing areas, regardless of variations in crime problems. This limited the capacity of local police to prioritise according to local need.

If the flexibility of the MPS to respond to local problems was constrained by central government initiatives, the problem was compounded by the high degree of centralisation in MPS decision-making. Borough commanders were responsible for areas as large as some provincial forces but with far more intense problems of crime and disorder. Yet at the time of fieldwork, they had limited scope to use their own discretion to tailor their resource allocation to local need.

The crime-fighting focus had also brought growing specialisation, with the establishment of teams to tackle burglary, for example, robbery, drugs, vehicle crime and hate crime. Specialised units can work well in their own terms. However there is also a risk that they can detract from service delivery overall if their work is not co-ordinated and, in particular, if they strip the uniformed patrol strength of its officers, and erode their job-satisfaction and skills. Our findings suggest that this has happened.

The highly centralised management system with a heavy emphasis on compliance with numerical targets also appears to have disempowered middle managers and demoralised their staff. The targets which local managers had to deliver did not match with the workforce's understanding of what the job was actually about. This compounded the cynicism about management which is in any case inherent in 'cop culture', and undermined the workforce's sense of purpose.

Concerns about staff management and staff development were numerous, and echoed those charted by the PSI study twenty years earlier. Initial training and in-service training were both felt to be inadequate, and it was felt that staff appraisal and career planning systems operated patchily. These problems were compounded by the rapid turnover of senior staff at borough level, which made it hard to ensure sufficient continuity to provide for effective leadership. Senior staff also felt that their ability to provide this leadership was hampered by the plethora of demands relating to performance management and by other demands on their time.

Cumulatively these factors appeared to have a serious impact on the morale of the staff who carried the main burden of responsibility for day-to-day contact with the public. And this was reflected in the public's perception of them.

Pointers for policy

Developments over the last 20 years have obscured the importance of the police's role as peace-keepers. Yet this is becoming ever more important in securing social cohesion as the capital becomes increasingly diverse. At the same time, the experiences and perceptions of the police which young people from different ethnic groups take with them into adulthood will be critical in determining whether, in the future, the MPS polices London with the consent of the majority of its citizens.

The study concludes there is a need to develop policies that:

- Offset the perverse effects of the current quantitative performance management regime by developing an alternative paradigm which emphasises the development of professional standards.

- Improve approaches to local consultation to ensure this is better informed and more realistic.

- Improve the policing of incivilities in ways which avoid causing unnecessary damage to police-community relations.

- Ensure a more visible and more accessible police presence on the streets - but deploying patrol officers with a clear sense of purpose rather than simply to reassure the public.

- Strengthen the capacity of uniformed officers to respond to calls from the public, for example by better integration of specialist and generalist work and by better management.

- Ensure that local managers have sufficient autonomy and flexibility to respond to local needs.

- Sustain and strengthen support for inter-agency work by the police, especially in the context of the local partnerships established under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

The study has two main conclusions.

The legacy of discrimination and over-policing continues to overshadow the service's relations with black people; and the danger persists of replicating similar problems with other groups. But improving police relations with individual minorities cannot be achieved in isolation.

The minority ethnic groups most at risk are those who, on average, are much poorer than whites and more likely to live in high crime areas where policing has always been both more intensive and more adversarial. As long as this tradition persists, it will continue to have a disproportionate impact on these groups - even if they were not also discriminated against on the grounds of race.

The police cannot ultimately be effective in tackling crime unless they re-engage with the public.

The increasingly narrow focus of resources on a small number of discrete targets that have to be met in the short-term, ignores the inter-relatedness of crime, disorder and incivilities. It has meant withdrawing resources from policing activities that win the trust of local people. Yet the police ultimately depend on this trust if they are to be fully informed about local patterns of crime and disorder in the first place. And they can only effectively tackle crime and disorder if local people are willing to play an active part in the identification and prosecution of those responsible.

April 2002

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.