This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Crime prevention: the PCC role

Prompted by Ros Baston’s tweet Am officially bored of fashion for bashing PCC cands simply because they've been politically active. Get back to the issues, guys (referenced by Jon Collins, Deputy Director of the Police Foundation in his article this morning) and another ongoing debate on twitter about the important role of PCCs in crime prevention (not just reduction) – I thought I would dig out the impressive work of Professor Paul Ekblom.

Professor Ekblom can be found residing here: where he promotes his work to reduce and prevent crime. I first came across his work when he was at the Home Office and I remain hugely impressed by his “Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity” model which I think provokes much good thought leading towards actions to be taken to prevent and reduce crime.

Using his model as a prompt, there is much that the best PCCs will be able to do to reduce and prevent crime through the powers that they will have and the leadership influence they will bring:
  • Given that the potential offenders must first have a predisposition for crime (criminality), the PCC will be able to engage with a range of public agencies to coordinate and focus early intervention and progressive actions with communities (and perhaps even individual families) where criminality is at its highest. 
  • Offenders usually lack resources to avoid crime (such as ability to restrain impulses, exercise social skills and gain a legitimate living). The PCC has a role here to support programmes which assist known offenders get out of the cycle of criminal behaviour through skills training, supporting apprenticeships as part of Police procurement and so forth. 
  • People who commit crimes are by definition ready to offend (e.g. motivated by boredom, shortage of money or need for drugs, being in a conflicting relationship, being in a particular emotional state). Disrupting these motivations is therefore critical. While many of these motivations are very personal and ephemeral, a PCC can support drugs rehab programmes and even Relate in its efforts to help people maintain stable relationships. (I have often joked that the National Offender Management System should run a free online dating agency since one of the most effective factors in reducing crime is being in a fun, loving and stable relationship where you have much to lose.. or am I joking?) 
  • And then there are the resources for crime (the skills, inside knowledge, criminal contacts, tools, weapons etc). All the evidence points towards those who get mixed up in the criminal justice systems stay mixed up in it – for a whole array of reasons. One of these reasons is that people get more resources to commit crime in the future. This has got to change. Whilst I am not advocating the solitary confinement of Victorian gaols where it was believed that criminals could ‘catch’ criminality from breathing others’ air (see pic below of the old Lincoln Prison chapel), I am saying let’s keep people out of gaol as much as possible. New PCCs will have much to learn from (say) the experience of transformation of New York City where a recent article reviewing a new book stated: Much greater use was made of alternatives to incarceration, such as community sentences and residential drug treatment, as well as “drug courts” and other non-traditional ways of hearing cases. 
  • In one of my previous occupations, I was a health education officer. At the Oxfordshire Health Unit where I worked, we used the Health Belief Model as a source of inspiration for much of our activity. In a similar vein, the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity model uses the idea that offenders calculate whether the risk & effort is outweighed by the scale & likelihood of reward. PCCs can act to boost the perceptions that risk and effort are high and rewards low by (for example) entering into a dialogue with local media to increase the perception that offenders will get caught and their rewards will be confiscated. 
  • I am not sure what a PCC can do about offenders needing to be present in the situation whereby an offender can commit a crime, other than ensuring that all efforts are taken to keep known past offenders busy with other stuff. Idle hands an all that. The provision of good youth services (being myopically and cynically cut by many local Tory authorities when they calculate that many young people can’t or won’t vote) is a must naturally, as are projects mentioned above. 
  • But there is much that PCCs can do to ensure that crime preventers (as Ekblom calls then) are present, capable and credible by adequately funding the police service in terms of numbers and skills development. Moreover, these preventers can be anyone with a formal crime prevention responsibility (police, community safety staff, concierges) or an informal one (residents, parents, teachers or employees in general). This means that PCCs should be supporting other projects designed to support this second category by acting to criticise politically short sighted cuts in (say) caretakers for sheltered housing places. These criminal event preventers can reduce the likelihood of crimes being committed by shaping the situation (e.g. by locking doors) or influencing the offender (e.g. by applying social pressure not to steal). They can intervene during the event (defending themselves or their property, or that of others) or react after it. The preventers’ potential to intervene and react can influence the current crime event through the offender’s anticipation (‘Will the victim or passers-by overpower me? Will I be identified to the police?’). It can also influence the next event by the action taken (e.g. victims securing their house against repeat burglary, or reporting to the police to initiate detection, criminal proceedings and punishment). (Italics are mostly Ekblom quotes above, by the way) 
  • Just as there are crime preventers, there are also crime promoters who by contrast increase the likelihood of a criminal event by careless or provocative behaviour or more practical contributions such as supplying weapons or buying stolen goods. The PCC support for effective police action to disrupt such networks is obvious. 
  • Targets of crime may be human, physical property, data, environmental or service-related. Targets must be attractive and vulnerable. PCCs can use their leadership to help people understand what action they can take (as individuals, as partner agencies, as businesses etc.) to reduce vulnerability and attractiveness. Locking bikes and keeping expensive mobile phones out of sight come to mind. PCCs can sponsor gating projects to make access to homes less easy. Thicker walls between flats can reduce noise disruption and violence which can follow. Again PCCs have a role here in influencing planning authorities and housing developers. 
This is just a sample of what Ekblom’s model can do to inform and support what PCCs can and must do to prevent and reduce crime. The trick will be prioritising the range of possibilities so that each PCC uses their time and resources to maximum effect.

What would be your priorities?

(If you visit Lincoln, the old prison is well worth exploring for its fascinating focus on air conditionning and keeping prisoners apart from each other - the prison is more or less preserved in aspic..)

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