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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PCCs: time for a pit stop?

Policing Today have just published a new blog by me. You can access it here. In the blog I put forward 10 self checks for PCCs to carry out on themselves, focusing on their:
  1. Steering 
  2. Alignment
  3. Gripping the road 
  4. Brakes & acceleration 
  5. Transmission
  6. Fuel
  7. Rear view mirror
  8. Bodywork
  9. Cooling system
  10. On board computer systems
So if you are a PCC (or a voter)... how are things? Any tuning needed?

Monday, April 29, 2013

How can social media enable citizens to take robust crime prevention action?

Tom Winsor is in many news bulletins today with such statements as:
The primary role of the police is to prevent crime, not catch criminals, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales has said (BBC News)
Well, of course, we all know this and Sir Robert Peel knew that too:
The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
The real question is whether current policies are helping or hindering this to take place. Talking about crime prevention is something that politicians, commentators and inspectors are inclined to do... but is practice (and the deployment of resources to support such practice) changing on the ground?

I wrote about the role of PCCs in crime prevention in August last year. Now that we have the Police and Crime plans, and the budgets to go with them... has much changed? Please tell me that it has.

Without having read the full report, I find stories about reintroducing Tardes (plural of Tardis? Dr?) into shopping centres being promoted by Policy Exchange a tad worrying. In an age of smart phone technology and, indeed, telephones in people's homes, is this a serious solution? (What was the problem they were trying to solve?)

But to return to crime prevention: I have batted on about the need for public agencies to spend time on nurturing the development of 'evidence based citizenship' or 'empowered citizens' for quite a while now. For me the real challenge facing all public service practitioners (including the police) is how to assist / enable / persuade / inspire members of the public to take effective action in support of safer and healthier communities. In my view, there is no bigger challenge!

Police resources are stretched and while I do think a greater slice of those resources should be stretched in the direction of crime prevention, we must always ensure there are adequate resources to respond to crime when it is required. Creating empowered citizens is one way in which our collective resources as a society can be harnessed for the benefit of us all.

One idea I was left with after the BlueLightCamp on Saturday is how can social media be used to create more empowered citizens, enabled to take robust action to prevent crime? Answers on a tweetcard to.... 

The deficit myth is the grossest lie ever enforced upon the people

Not long ago*, a Conservative economist posted a powerful article on the Huffington Post. He began the article with these words:
As a Conservative I have no pleasure in exposing David Cameron's deficit claims. However, as long as the party continues to talk down the economy via the blame game, confidence will not be given an opportunity to return.
Please read the full article!

In this blog post, I want to just list the main points Ramesh Patel makes:
  • The UK has the lowest debt in the G7 group of countries – a fact that the Chancellor admits (even though he constantly says the opposite: see this you tube video)
  • Beware chancellors talking in cash terms about the economy: debt always should be seen in context
  • In 1997, Labour inherited a debt of 42% of GDP. By the start of the global banking crises in 2008 the debt had fallen to 35%.
  • Secondly, in 1997 Labour inherited a deficit of 3.9% of GDP (not a balanced budget ) and by 2008 it had fallen to 2.1%
  • The deficit was then exacerbated by the global banking crises after 2008. The IMF agree.
  • The UK had the 2nd highest deficit in the G7 (not the World) after the US. This was not as a result of overspending prior to and after 2008 but due to effects the financial services industry being such a large part of the UK economy. (IMF also agree)
  • “The deficit myth is the grossest lie ever enforced upon the people and it has been sold by exploiting people's economic illiteracy”
*By the way, the original article was published in October last year.…

Some debt figures to ponder on:

UK Debt as % of GDP (including financial interventions) & then without

Jan 1998: 40.3 | 40.3
Aug 2007: 35.8 | 35.8
Aug 2008: 44.0 | 38.1
Oct 2008: 133.5 | 39.2
May 2010: 152.1 | 53.4
Mar 2013: 140.3 | 75.4

Source here

All in the mind? (Is social media helping reduce the fear of crime, or not?)

What I want to focus on in this blog is whether social media (in all of its forms) is helping to reduce the problem of the fear of crime. But first some background:

While the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 was in committee stages, I mounted a one-man campaign to have reducing not just actual crime & disorder as the aim for local community safety partnerships but also the fear of crime & disorder written in as a statutory aim. I did not succeed but I still wonder how the UK would be different had my campaign been successful.

For we still have a significant gap between the public’s experience of crime and their fear of it. As an excellent article in the Guardian last week pointed out:
Two thirds of respondents to the British Crime Survey (now the Crime Survey for England and Wales, or CSEW) consistently say that they believe crime has increased a little or a lot over the past decade.
Do read the whole article. It has some excellent references and asks some important questions.

Fear of crime is a large problem, in my view, for several reasons including making some people reluctant to leave their homes, the way it twists the debates around policing & crime, and the ways in which certain groups of people are demonised.

But to return to the question: is social media is helping this situation or not. (I guess I fear that it could be making things worse.) I posed this question last Saturday to a the BlueLightCamp unconference (hastag #ukblc13) and a most useful discussion was had.

(FYI: the camp was a collection of people involved with the emergency services who came together to talk about the use of social media in these areas. It was a great day, by the way! And big thanks to those who came along to the session I ran.)

With that discussion on social media and the fear of crime, I was left with a series of questions:
  • How can we design the social media space to reduce the opportunities for fear of crime to be made worse and increase the chances that people will feel safer instead?
  • In other words: are there principles from the ‘designing out crime’ practices in the real world that could be imported into the social media space?
  • Can the idea that people generally feel more assured, confident and safe if they see a uniformed officer in their community (and I know this is up for hot debate), be applied to social media – a sort of virtual 'hi-vis' police presence?
  • How much is known about the full impact of police tweeting, blogging etc: are people now better informed and assured or are the public now even more fearful? (Has any research been done on this?)
  • Are there ways of putting messages out there that will narrow the gap between the perceived and actual incidence of crime and disorder (and ways that make the gap bigger?)
  • Is some policing social media unwittingly making things worse for the public?
  • If we take the view that much of the mainstream traditional media still focus on crime reporting that magnifies fear, how should the social media protagonists in the policing world respond?
  • Although I am not suggesting that the fear of crime can drive people to suicide (can it?), in the ‘real world’ there are signs put up on (say) Clifton Suspension Bridge and at the ends of station platforms offering people help. Is there a social media equivalent that could help people reduce any distress about the fear of crime?
  • Should Neighbourhood Watch organise a social media branch? 
  • What do you think might be done? (All ideas welcome!)

Friday, April 26, 2013

The transparent Queen's shilling

I have written about this matter before but after a couple of blocked FoI requests recently, I thought I would raise the subject again. I think the Freedom of Information Act should be made to apply to all organisations / alliances / partnerships that spend the Queen's shilling (our money in other words).

Increasingly, I suspect, more and more public services will be outsourced to the private sector, (despite my concerns and challenges!). Regular readers will know that I have many difficulties with this policy: ethical and practical. The practical bit I cover here and the ethical bit has much to do with purpose of public services and how this purpose can be compromised in a for-profit organisation. But this piece is not really about the arguments for or against outsourcing.

But given this shift, and the fundamental principle that those who spend public money should be accountable for it, I think it is plainly wrong that large corporations on commission from the government (at all levels) should be allowed to hide behind 'commercial confidentiality'.

I won't bore you with the whole story but recently some public organisations in Buckinghamshire tendered for a service from another provider. I simply asked the question: what was the cost? They would not tell me, citing commercial confidentiality. So our money is being spent and the won't even tell me how much, let alone any further details. Regular readers will also remember the battle I had to get the risk register for the joint programme of work between Lincolnshire Police and G4S which was initially blocked (partly) on grounds of commercial confidentiality. Although, I eventually won after appealing to the information commissioner, I may not have done.

If there is no change in the law and we continue to see more of our public services being outsourced, we will know less and less about how and where our money is being spent.

So please join my campaign! 

All you have to do is post #FoI4all on twitter and your reason for supporting the change. Easy. Talk about with your friends and colleagues. Easy. Put motions into your professional association, trade union, residents committee, council, governing body etc.... All easy...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's performance management Jim, but not as we know it...

I have read two rather excellent pieces this morning about managing and improving performance in the public services.

First I came across this piece by Mike Ledwidge entitled "Why has it all gone wrong within our public services". It is a bit of a polemical rant containing some ideas that I would not support* but its main thrust that the public services have been failed dismally by politicians and managers who think performance can be managed by measuring outputs is well made. To cite one paragraph (but do read the whole article):
You CANNOT performance measure a ‘complex system’ by outputs. Now if you do not understand EXACTLY what that sentence means let us hope you are not involved in anything to do with the management of our public services. Sadly we now have thousands of senior public servants who think they do know what they are doing with targets and measurement, and clearly they don’t. Complex systems have more than one purpose. If you measure the police on arrests and detections, any prevention they do will muck that up. If you ‘performance measure’ on crime reduction, officers will find ways to not record crimes. The awful tale of the rape unit in Southwark trying to improve their stats is an example of the result of government pressure and targets. 
And then later, @TheCustodySgt pointed me towards an excellent piece by @SimonJGuilfoyle entitled "Panic!"  In his article, Simon uses his long experience of such matters to highlight how managers often lurch into action based on an erroneous understanding of performance variation. Again, please read the piece as it contains a delightful cartoon which makes the point very clearly:
The post is about the unintended consequences that can occur when managers draw erroneous conclusions about data
As regular readers know, this is a subject I have mentioned before in several places. My last post on here has many links.

So for the uninitiated politician and manager charged with the responsibility of improving public service performance and getting quarts out of pint pots... here are some pointers:

  • Achieving social outcomes (the improvements in society that we pay the public services to produce) is mighty complex: don't even think you can boil things to simple linear or transactional 'customer' relationships!
  • Everything varies: the weather, leaves in the forest, need for social care and disturbances on drunk Saturday nights...
  • But, there are patterns in these variations which need to and can be understood (well mostly): public services need to be resourced and organised around these variations
  • Measurements & targets change that which they are measuring and targeting (and not just in the way that a watched pot never boils!)
  • As Deming famously said "drive out fear": if your system of performance management contains even a wisp of fear, people will do weird and unexpected things that are not what you intended

I could go on...

But please, just read some work by Deming, Checkland, Ohno or Seddon. And please (please!) stop wasting precious public resources on fluffy, vanity systems of performance management that are mostly "sound and fury signifying nothing!"

e.g. the comment "At one stage we were 20,000 teachers short, and some have been replaced by people who, like some doctors, are not easy to understand" which is an unnecessary xenophobic swipe, it seems to me

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PCCs must show people its worth voting (interview with the secret PCC)

Hah... spotted today that Tony Lloyd had been interviewed by Policing Today. I presume this is the start of a series, so I thought I would get mine written next and submit it for publication. Even though I cannot really quite understand why they did not knock on my door first...

PT: Are Police and Crime Commissioners a good idea?

SPCC: Well of course they are. I was elected wasn’t I? The local police service is now benefitting from my expertise, my insights, my straight talking common sense rather than all this Bramshill nonsense and civil servant baloney. I bring democratic accountability. I have already spoken to at least 60 people across my area and listened to them a little bit. I promised I would really listen to them in a couple of years from now when I am up for re-election.

PT: The appointment of deputies has come in for a certain amount of criticism...

SPCC: I cannot understand why: the legislation was very clear on all this (unlike other parts of the law which you can drive whole squads of police horses through). As a PCC I am empowered to appoint who I like to the position of deputy. Some PCCs have gone through a charade of pretending the appointments were open and made on merit. I did not bother with that, of course. It did mean I had to let go my first appointment as he went a bit ‘native’ as it were and began talking like a senior police officer. Couldn’t be having that! And the deputy I have now is absolutely brilliant although I have not seen her for a couple of weeks… In fact, I wonder what she is up to… Now where is her mobile number….?

PT: How do you explain the gaps in the legislation?

SPCC: In a word ‘panic’! The government were on the ropes, not quite sure how to grab the headlines on policing & crime and so they rushed it through. Bit silly really but completely understandable, this Government does have a bit of previous on such matters of course. I am not unhappy as it gives me far more leg room to do the things that I think need doing.

PT: How would you describe your relationship with the Chief Constable

SPCC: Well I am about to appoint a new one. The last permanent chap left in a huff after the election and retired to Magaluf’s balmy climate. I survived for a while with a temporary one. But in the end his obsequiousness and policy flatulence became just too much to bear. So I am in the process as it were, as I wrote about before. So once I have appointed the new one (and the person spec has been met), I am sure our relationship will be totally spiffing!

PT: So there's been no friction at all?

SPCC: As I say, the original Chief left. Had he stayed, I reckon there would have been a few crackles of thunder and lightning over some of my plans… But you see it would never have come to much: I am too reasonable a person, the protocol sets out who does what very clearly and if it didn’t work, I would have sacked him. No friction at all really.

PT: Did he consult you on his recent articles published in the Guardian?

SPCC: What articles? I don’t read the Guardian. I prefer to stick with Private Eye and the Telegraph.

PT: How was the handover from the Police Authority?

SPCC: Well. What can I say? I think they were majestic in their attempt to make it as difficult as possible for me. Yes they flannelled on about not knowing who would win (although it was obvious from the start it would be me) but frankly, a bunch of five year olds could have done better. It wasn’t helped by the tonnes and tomes of guidance being issued by the Home Office: as if anyone would wade through all those! But I muddled through of course. Occasionally I have to bump into some of them at the Police & Crime Panel meetings. You can tell they are all still twisted by bitterness about being made redundant. Such is life. They should have moved on by now, as my old psychotherapist used to say.

PT: Has the policing plan been easy to deliver?

SPCC: Hang on, we have not delivered it yet. But was it easy to write? Yes, I got my deputy to do it. I gave her a few ideas to weave in here and there, and she had my manifesto to refer to…. Piece of cake really. I have got a copy here somewhere… now where is it. I had mine bound too… Ah well, it’ll turn up. Hope the dog hasn’t chewed it!

PT: The public reaction to the elections wasn't exactly enthusiastic. What's community engagement been like since November?

SPCC: As I said, I have met lots of people (at least 60). Everyone seems to admire my chain of office. They seem impressed to be meeting me although they do think I can do something about the quality of policing. Which I can’t, of course. That is the Chief Constable’s job (so I blame him). I just map out the broad strategic themes, the essence if you like. The public still don’t quite get what us PCCs are all about. But give it time. Before too long, they will forget all about us and stop bothering to try and understand.

PT: How important is it that police and crime commissioners have representation at a national level?

SPCC: Very important. We need to make sure we shape the future legislation around policing, crime and the criminal justice system. We are the voice of the people.

PT: Do you think more people will vote next time?

SPCC: Of course! Mainly because the election will be held in May.


PS: For the sake of clarity - this is not a parody on the answers by Tony Lloyd in the original article.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cheap justice?

Some radical reforms are being planned to the criminal justice and legal aid systems. You can read and respond to the green paper here:

Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system

In essence these proposals will mean:
  • Reducing the eligibility for legal aid
  • Introducing competition into the 'criminal legal aid market'
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for Crown Court legal aid
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for civil legal aid
  • Changing and reducing the fee structure for experts used in civil, family and criminal proceedings
On first sight, many people will cheer these reforms as they remember on all those headlines about fat cat barristers taking fees up to the point of finally submitting a guilty plea and prisoners milking the system to take HM Prison Service to court over the temperature of the food in the canteen... (etc.)

But, as always, the story is not so simple. Read here, for example, my colleague (and former Labour PCC candidate for Thames Valley) Tim Starkey, writing about some of these 'reforms':

From justice to McJustice

In it he explains some of the possible dire consequences of these plans. Outsourcing legal aid contracts may well lead to a race to the bottom where defendants find themselves unable to get adequate support from their legal team as budgets are shaved, expert witnesses become less available and so forth. (Do please read the article.)

It is also possible that because of the way in which the contracts will be let, that police services will have less choice & flexibility when it comes to processing people through a custody suite and investigation (where legal limits apply to time scales, as is well known). In other words what might seem 'cheaper' (or better value for money) in terms of legal aid might end up costing far more in failed investigations, staff required to manage coffenders and perhaps later litigation for improperly pursued convictions. In the criminal justice system, things have a habit of all connecting and a saving here often leads to large cost over there... (And we all know how successful the outsourcing of translation services were...!)

I am no expert and my involvement in the criminal justice system at this operational level is minimal . However, I am very worried that these proposals will mean less justice for some very vulnerable people and in the end, the taxpayer will not really benefit even financially. (When these contracts are let, will extra margins be taken to manage to greater risks?)

So if you are worried too, and especially if you have more contact with these matters that I do, please read Tim's blog, and read the green paper and respond. You may also wish to sign a petition that says "the MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice" available here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Conservative view on the whole Paris Brown affair

Twitter pal, reflective practitioner and ex copper Peter Walker has posted on the whole Paris Brown affair on Conservative Home today. It is a good article and I commend it to you. Naturally, I could not resist commenting, which I republish below.


Reflective post Peter - as always. And you know, I have blogged lots about this case as well. I happen to think that appointing a Youth PCC is an experiment worth pursuing (alongside the even bigger and much more costly experiment of electing PCCs). There are other models of course - including notably the approach being taken by Bob Jones in the West Midlands to engage with young people.

The appointment made by Ann Barnes however, spun out of control and even though, like you, I thought & hoped that Paris and Ann might just come through it, it was not to be so. However, assuming that you believe that elected politicians should follow through on their manifesto pledges, Ann will, at this very moment, be mounting another recruitment exercise. She has no choice.

The question will be how she manages the next process after the mounting criticism of her. Vetting someone's social media footprint is not without its hazards either as their are huge opportunities for data protection infringements etc.

Like you, I wish Paris well - I hope she manages to move well beyond all this.

As for PCC manifesto pledges that have not been thought through... how about this one from Anthony Stansfeld, Conservative PCC for Thames Valley. He pledged to "maintain the balance between urban and rural policing". After he was elected, I asked him how the public of Thames Valley could monitor his achievement of this pledge. Here is what he wrote back:

"I intend to keep the present balance of police numbers between Local Police Areas (LPAs) unchanged.  It is not possible to give the baseline breakdown between urban and rural areas as many LPAs have both rural and urban areas within them.  For instance West Berkshire is essentially small towns and rural areas, yet it contains the western urban areas of Reading.  Milton Keynes again is both rural and urban, as is Buckinghamshire. What I don’t envisage is moving numbers of Police between LPAs , either from or into, more rural or urban areas."

Aside from the fact that as a PCC with no operational powers to move numbers of police anyway, it would appear he made a pledge that really had no way of being measured. Moreover the constabulary also told me that "Thames Valley Police does not record this data in a centralised format and would need to review a significant amount of records with reference to the resourcing of each officer to retrieve it."

Meanwhile the newly elected PCC is being reported and quoted as

...Rural crime is prioritised in the plan too, and Mr Stansfeld said: “Previously, I think the serious effects of this may have been underestimated but it will now be tackled with the seriousness it warrants – it’s unacceptable to have criminal gangs preying on rural communities. Stealing heavy plant machinery has increased and we’ve got to stop it.” (Article is here)

So not only did Mr Stansfeld make a pledge which could not be measured, this has not stopped him from making a priority in his new plan which is at odds with his manifesto pledge. And I thought PCCs were meant to be bold experiment in democracy?

Of course the Daily Mail are not interested in highlighting this because a) Mr Stansfeld is not female and 17 b) he is a Conservative and (probably) c) his social media footprint is not nearly as salacious (although there are unanswered questions...)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: in her own words on law, disorder, police and peace

Parliament has been recalled today to pay tribute to the passing of one of the last century's most notable Prime Ministers: one Margaret Thatcher. As this blog is (mainly) about policing, crime and safer, more peaceful communities, I thought I would dig out some of her own quotes on these matters, as my way of contributing to the tributes (with grateful thanks to wikiquote for most of these, which has the references too).

Perhaps her most famous speech is the one that she made when entering Number 10 for the first time:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
And on the police:
My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day's work for an honest day's pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police
And on the rule of law:
At one end of the spectrum are the terrorist gangs within our borders, and the terrorist states which finance and arm them. At the other are the hard left operating inside our system, conspiring to use union power and the apparatus of local government to break, defy and subvert the law.
The freedom of peoples depends fundamentally on the rule of law, a fair legal system. The place to have trials or accusations is a court of law, the Common Law that has come right up from Magna Carta, which has come right up through the British courts—a court of law is the place where you deal with these matters. If you ever get trial by television or guilt by accusation, that day freedom dies because you have not had it done with all of the careful rules that have developed in a court of law. Press and television rely on freedom. Those who rely on freedom must uphold the rule of law and have a duty and a responsibility to do so and not try to substitute their own system for it.
And on peace:
Mr. Chairman, you have invited me to speak on the subject of Britain and Europe. Perhaps I should congratulate you on your courage. If you believe some of the things said and written about my views on Europe, it must seem rather like inviting Genghis Khan to speak on the virtues of peaceful coexistence! ...The European Community is one manifestation of that European identity, but it is not the only one
The West as a whole in the early 1990s became obsessed with a 'peace dividend' that would be spent over and over again on any number of soft-hearted and sometimes soft-headed causes. Politicians forgot that the only real peace dividend is peace.
For every idealistic peacemaker willing to renounce his self-defence in favour of a weapons-free world, there is at least one warmaker anxious to exploit the other's good intentions
We are prepared to fight for peace. (Source)
And more generally / randomly
There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.
To me, consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that need to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?
People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture. (Source)
I'm also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile, you set up a constitution suitable for democracy, you put it into effect, elections were held, and then, in accordance with the result, you stepped down. (Margaret Thatcher, speaking to Pinochet, 1999)
Let's make it clear: the Conservative Party has no plans for new NHS charges (April 1979)
We introduced the Community Charge. I still call it that. I like the Poles - I never had any intention of taxing them. (1996)
The Right Honourable Gentleman is afraid of an election is he? He is frightened, frightened, frit! (1983)
The lesson of this century is that Europe will only be peaceful if the Americans are on this continent. (1993)
When I look at him [Edward Heath] and he looks at me, I don't feel that it is a man looking at a woman. More like a woman being looked at by another woman. (1979)
If I lose, I will be out tomorrow. (on the eve of the 1979 election)
and finally
We should not expect the State to appear in the guise of an extravagant God fairy at every christening, a loquacious companion at every stage of life's journey, the unknown mourner at every funeral. (Source)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cold light of morning

And so it has come to pass that the new Youth Police & Crime Commissioner for Kent has stepped down:

The UK's first youth police and crime commissioner, Paris Brown, has resigned from her post following criticism of messages she posted on Twitter. The 17-year-old, who was appointed last week, said she was "quitting in the interests of the young people of Kent"... (BBC)

As regular readers will know, I spent some time over the weekend (see here and here) defending her position and asking for the people of Kent and beyond to give her some time to apologise, learn from the reactions she recieved, and get back to her new job of building links between young people and the police & crime services of the county. Whilst some were supportive of my stance, many others were critical.

Yesterday, I asked a 19 year old person I know well, what she thought of the whole affair. Her view was that Paris should not have made those tweets in the first place and was unwise not to have taken them down on appointment. She also commented that given the furore, that this had left her permanently damaged in the public eye and that she would have to resign.

She was right. And I knew then that if a 19 year old young woman was saying this, she was going to be right.

I stand by what I said over the weekend: with a little more forgiveness and contextual understanding, Paris could probably have continued in her post. But given the harsh world that we now live in, I was being optimistic. Perhaps I am naïve in that I think most people should be given second chances and an opportunity to learn and develop. My approach to most wrongs is restorative not punitive.

But what is done is done and I sincerely hope that Paris can move on from this and find some other niche for talents. I don't doubt that she will be thinking far more carefully in future not only about what she tweets but also her beliefs, words and how she approaches people in real life. And I hope this experience helps her to blossom and grow, and that she does not end up being cowed.

As Paris herself has said, let this experience act as a warning to young people on the perils of social media. It should also be a warning to all employers too...

Of course, I cannot but help in observing double standards at play here. 

I understand the Weymouth  councillor who said on his facebook account "Terminally slow (and bad) service from the bone idle bitches at Costa Dorchester today, they all need a good beating.” is still a councillor. And there are other examples of where people in power had said things far worse than what Paris tweeted but they have been allowed to get away with it because they have friends in the right places... And I would draw a comparison to publishing scare stories about MMR vaccinations, the likely consequences of which we now see being played out.

In sum, be careful what you publish to the world! (I know I am)

UPDATE: Here is a comment from a colleague that the system would not let her post: so I am posting it for her:
I have every sympathy for Paris and wish her well.  You make good points as usual Jon - but a few further thoughts.  There are lessons to be learnt in all this - not least a recruitment process that needs to reflect modern society.  Social media screening is surely a must - not only to find things that might come back to bite but also to identify those who do not engage and therefore do not realise its importance today.
There are questions around whether you have to be a teenager to understand youth (and the wider implications of that assumption to other issues of diversity).  Perhaps also a consideration of the title of Youth Commissioner.  A lower profile Adviser might have allowed Paris to find her feet more easily.  This then begs the question around any title including Commissioner - is that/should it now belong only to the elected representative.  Deputy or Assistants beware.  After all, Paris is not the only PCC associated victim of Twitter.
I do question the wisdom of this all now becoming a matter of investigation by Kent Police.  Allegedly it is, so no doubt in time we will hear more - probably involving other agencies - CPS springs to mind.  I only hope that the Kent PCC resists any urge to influence this in any way.  If this became the first example of a PCC interfering in operational policing, then that really would be a story worthy of note. 
Brenda Griffiths 
In response, I certainly agree. This whole affair has surfaced many issues about social media and its use by people (young and old). Rachel Rogers has discussed a whole array surrounding 'duty of care' and recruitment polices which you highlight. And you also allude to this story (I think) of where the newly appointed Deputy PCC in Hertfordshire was forced to resign over a tweet.

There be dragons in these oceans of social media...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Weekend learning

There has been a fire storm of opprobrium over the past tweets of Kent's Youth Police & Crime Commissioner over the weekend. I felt driven to defend and support her.

As a consequence, my twitter feed has been filled with mostly adult men pouring scorn on her and criticising me for daring to defend her appointment. Many of the tweets (and comments on the blog I have written) lurch into extreme positions and extrapolations from a relatively small number of tweets that I understand Paris made when she was a lot younger. I challenge anyone to have heard her abject apology broadcast on the television and not feel some sympathy towards this teenager. As Tom Watson tweeted this morning:

How many adults would and could have made such a sincere apology, let alone people in positions of public profile?

Even though I know this blog post will prompt yet more comment about Paris Brown, that is not really its purpose. Instead I want to talk about what I have learnt this weekend...
  • (again) that social media is never private. The clue is in the name! I hope that all people, especially young people who have flickering thumbs on their smart phone keyboards posting comments on Facebook & Twitter (etc), remember this. Your teenage past may well be open to scrutiny!
  • in the eyes of most, your tweets are you. If you use racist language (and yes 'pikey' is racist language), you will be judged to be a racist. If you use homophobic language (and yes 'fag' is homophobic language), you will be judged to be homophobic. Etc. 
  • many people (and me included sometimes) do not go back to the source / original information. People make comments on twitter based on other people's tweets. Messages are distorted and whole fictions can grow in a moment. Just a moment.
  • condemnation, bullying, judging complete strangers on the basis of minimal evidence is rampant on Twitter. I guess I always knew this but this weekend has been an object lesson in how this happens
  • there are no children on Twitter: Paris was treated like a 45 year old MP
  • Twitter has the power to make or break people. If you have just been appointed to a high profile public position, are you sure, really sure, that your social media profile will stand the scrutiny? If you are doing the appointing, how sure are you about that person's social media back story?
  • I am glad I am not young any more. Who knows what I might have tweeted at 14!
  • that I am probably (well, mostly) a soft touch, someone who will rather forgive people for what they do when I examine the whole context, and not leap to extreme positions based on minimal evidence. I would make a lousy judge (or maybe not...)
Putting to one side the rights and the wrongs of the case of Paris Brown's appointment (and time will tell if her position is tenable to not), I just hope she is OK and that the bruises all heal. She will have learnt a great deal from this weekend.

If she does now resign, I do wonder whether any other young person in Kent would now wish to put themselves forward... 

And I also wonder how this whole story has played out with young people themselves as all of the commentators are adults... Has this helped or hindered the relationship between young people and a) the media b) politics c) policing d) the adult world in general?

Finally, I would commend to you a piece by Bob Jones, the West Midlands PCC on the discussions he had with young people about whether to appoint a Youth PCC or not. It is a good read!

40,000 and counting

After a particular surge over the weekend... (of which more in another post soon), this blog has now been browsed over 40k times. Thank you to all my readers. Whether you agree with me or not, I am most grateful for the fact that you bother to scan and possibly read what I write!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Paris Brown: Youth Police & Crime Commissioner

The Daily Mail have gone for jugular again this morning:

Increasingly the Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday can be relied upon to help the citizens of Oceania/UK express their two minutes of hate everyday. They did this earlier in the week by linking the tragic manslaughter of six small children to almost everyone who claims benefits in this country. And a few months ago, their columnist Richard Littlejohn decided to take a potshot at primary school teacher who had decided to change gender. The teacher, Lucy Meadows, committed suicide not long after. Remember, this is the same Mr Littlejohn who used the occasion of two children and their auntie dying on Christmas day to have a rant about how long the emergency services close motorways when there are accidents in which people have been hurt and possible scenes of crime to investigate.

But this column is not about the Daily Mail or its readers (and I fear to read the comments that have been posted under the article above). Instead I want to focus on Paris and the role to which she has just been appointed. Here are some facts:
  • She is 17: she is a girl. (And so I hope all those who are pouring scorn on her this morning remember this). Indeed it was her birthday on 4/4/13... she is only just 17
  • She was appointed after a rigorous selection process which sifted out the other 163 applicants
  • Her job will last for a year with a package of £15,000 part funded by the Police & Crime Commissioner’s salary
  • Paris is expected to take up the role in the summer (so she is not yet even in post)
  • She currently works for Swale Borough Council as an apprentice within the Commissioning and Open Spaces department
  • Ann Barnes, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner said: ‘I’m delighted that Paris will be working alongside me to build a bridge between the world of young people and policing..."
  • She is just 17!
I understand that her personal twitter account which featured the intemperate tweets has now been deleted.
  • Were some of tweets unwise? Yes. 
  • Do these tweets mean that she is a homophobic racist with a drink & drug problem? No. 
  • Does she represent many girls of her age in the language that she uses? Probably yes (although I don't follow the tweets of 16/17 year old girls)
  • Should a bit of vetting and social media pruning happened before her appointment was confirmed and announced? Certainly so (and hindsight is a wonderful thing)
  • Will she learn from all this and be growing up quickly this weekend? I think so, and I hope she has bags of support from her friends, family and now employer.
  • Will the county of Kent and the rest of the UK give her chance to make a difference to policing and crime services? I really hope so!
I understand that there are many people out there who feel let down, who feel the image of policing has been tarnished and indeed that the reputation of young people themselves has not been helped.

But I urge people to cut her a bit of slack (to repeat again: she is just 17), let her learn from this and then give her a chance (with support from Ann and others in the Kent PCC's office) to do her job - and do it well.

UPDATE: "I do regret it" Paris talks about her tweets to Channel 4 News

UPDATE 2: What I learnt over the weekend.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Public managers: censored?

On Friday, I am taking part in Guardian Public Leaders network discussion on gagging, whistleblowing and public servants' use of social media. I have written this piece as a prelude to this.The link to the discussion is here.

I have been posting ideas, questions and opinions on the net for fifteen years or so. Sometimes for simple amusement, the serious exchange of ideas or indeed for the solace and support during difficult times. I have messaged, blogged, tweeted and posted with full transparency and anonymously.

During these last fifteen years, I have only worked for the state for one of them so my experience of being a public servant and social media activist is limited. I have been mostly free to say what I wanted to say. On one occasion when I worked for the Office for Public Management, I wanted to publish an essay challenging target culture. They decided that they would not publish it so I uploaded it to a random website, which is still visible to the this day. That was ten years ago.

I say all this to explain where I am coming from on the issue of whether public servants should be free to blog or tweet (or bleet as my wife describes what I do, sometimes into the early hours of the morning).

I hold it to be self evident that democracy cannot exist without freedom of speech and thought (while accepting that fair rules on slander and libel need to be applied to what is said and published).

Whilst I am appalled by, loathe and despair at some of the sentiments spread by some national newspapers, internet trolls who crave attention and bloggers who delight in scraping the bottom of any passing barrel, they are part of what makes the net free, colourful and vibrant. There is no single version of truth (or humour) in the multiverse.

But to return to the core question: when public servants offer their unexpurgated (and sometimes anonymous) opinions on the direction of government policy, does that enhance or damage democracy?

For me the answer can only ever be that it enhances democracy and moreover is likely to help achieve improved social outcomes to boot. Publishing ideas that challenge (or support) government policy is positive because it:
  • Helps citizens make up their mind about whether a policy is working or not, good or not, worthy of their support or not
  • Shines a scrutinising light on what government is doing on our behalf
  • Adds to(not detracts from) transparency and accountability of how our public money is being spent
  • Helps refine and optimise policy and implementation through debate and questioning
  • Connects people together so that further debate and research can be coordinated
  • Exposes the challengers to be challenged themselves
  • Channels dissent and frustration into the open air rather than forcing it underground which may lead to harmful sabotage
  • Helps those in power to be on their toes and nibbles away at complacency and insulation against dissent
  • Helps leaders (both political and managerial) know the full story (or do they prefer to live in ignorance?)
Because in the end, allowing public servants to engage in social media (whether anonymously or not) is all about power. Maybe I am a dreamer but I believe that social media is helping us to create a world where power is more fairly distributed. We all have to make a choice: do we want to be part of that project or are we happy to let those in power accrue even more power to themselves?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Spare Special Subsidy

Following the successful and remarkable introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners, the Home Secretary announced a new policy today: the “Spare Special Subsidy” (although opponents are already calling this the #Bobbytax).

From today any household, where there is no one who has volunteered to become a special police constable, will be subject to a premium on that part of their council tax which pays for policing in their area. Typical premiums will amount to between 14% and 25% of what they currently pay.

Theresa May said in announcing the new move “In setting the council tax precept for police services, most Police & Crime Commissioners have made the presumption that at least one person from every household will volunteer to become a special police constable. Due to the mess made by the last Labour Government of the country’s finances, we can no longer afford enough paid police officers to keep our streets safe. Therefore we have introduced this financial incentive (a little ‘nudge’ in the ribs, if you like) encouraging people to become special police officers.”

“We do understand that some households may find this opportunity more difficult than others to make the most of: especially single parents, older people living alone and, of course, those unfortunate disabled and handicapped people. However these people will be able to ‘offset’ their ‘spare special subsidy’ by persuading a member of their wider family to volunteer on their behalf. And if they have no family, the state will be able to pair them with a person claiming job seekers allowance. After all, we know that ‘volunteering makes you free’ as our luminous leader has said in his Big Society manifesto.” the Home Secretary went on.

Opponents of the scheme have pointed out that this policy is yet another example of the Government making things up as they go along. “It is inherently discriminatory towards people who have criminal records since they will not be able to apply to join the special police constabulary and will be forced to pay the Bobbytax” said one protestor, chained to the railings outside Pentonville prison. (He was later arrested and put back inside Pentonville.)

Other commentators have questioned whether the police service is quite ready for such an influx of new recruits to the special constabulary. “We haven’t got enough uniforms and working radios for the paid officers let alone for a few thousand rooky specials. It’s a nightmare!” said one unnamed Chief Constable.

ACPO have issued a press release saying that they welcome this move towards a more professional police service where volunteer police officers play their full part in building a safer England and Wales, more at ease with itself.

The Police Federation were speechless, for once.

Another Chief Constable said that he was looking forward to the long cold summer and expected these new specials to be deployed extensively to policing the #Bedroomtax riots which the new Strategic Policing Requirement has flagged up as a significant and likely risk.