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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

PCCs: the rarefied Westminster air is now thick with chickens coming home to roost.

The headlines this morning are all about the position of the South Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner and calls for him to resign. Shaun Wright, former chair of the relevant council committee while the abuse was continuing, has reiterated his apology for the collective failure during his time of office in Rotherham. He has just resigned from the Labour Party and is now operating as an independent PCC. However he is (so far) refusing to reliquish his position as PCC. (Summary news here)

Commentary on this state of affairs is ballooning, including blog posts from my colleagues Bernard Rix and Sam Chapman. On Sam's blog, I have added this comment:
Whilst I have lots of sympathies with the points you make Sam, it is my understanding that the whole dire CSE business in Rotherham was well covered by the press before the election of PCCs and Mr Wright’s role as Chair of the relevant committee was also known. (Here is one blog post about the matter for example)
Despite this information being in the public domain, he ~was~ elected by the people – so he has their mandate.
Whilst I am happy to be corrected, I do not think this week’s report has revealed anything substantially more about his role in the whole business.
So on this basis, he (like all other PCCs) will account to his electorate in 2016, although now presumably as an independent candidate (he resigned from the Labour Party earlier this evening).
We all know how toothless the PCPs are – so they will huff and puff at their next meeting but it will make no difference. And as I have been told by many a supporter of PCC based governance, the ballot box every four years is the ultimate accountability… It is what PCCs were created for.
Now to be clear: I think his position as PCC will become increasingly tenuous but I won't predict whether Mr Wright will, in fact, resign or not. (I think he should.) I think matters could go either way. He would not be the first politician to brazen things out and wait for the media heat to dissipate. Like others, I will be watching this space. 

But whither... wither PCC based governance now?

Last week we had just over 10% of the electorate voting to replace (the irreplaceable) Bob Jones as the West Midlands PCC. This week we have this controversy over Mr Wright and his accountability. If the public didn't realise it yet, they will very soon understand just how much singular and unchecked power PCCs have. And of course we have a series of past (and pending) PCC stories which I can't even bother to list. 

As I have written before, all of my comments about PCC based governance have nothing to do with the fine quality of many PCCs themselves, who have been earnestly doing what they can to improve policing & public engagement. 

But... please can we now start thinking about how to reform police & crime governance properly. This requires serious analysis, careful thought and something more than just a tweaking of the existing legislation. 

Indeed if Mr Wright should now go as a result of his past role and leadership decisions, should there not be a similar accountability for those who designed this flawed model of governance in the first place?

PS: My next post will all be about the REAL issue: the abuse that happened, the imperative to support its victims and the pressing need to understand (really) how this appalling state of affairs was allowed to continue for so long with so many consequences...

PPS: I have decided to live tweet my reading of the Independent Report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham. You can follow this at #LTRR

UPDATE 1557 | 280814: Clairvoyance? And with reference to "should there not be a similar accountability for those who designed this flawed model of governance in the first place?" above, it would appear that Douglas Carswell has resigned from the Conservative Party and as MP for Clacton, to stand again as a candidate for UKIP. Perhaps he read what I wrote?(!)

Naturally, Mr Carswell and I disagree on many issues, but I do respect his decision to stand again and not just to switch parties.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From nail varnish to victim blaming to... what?

A few days ago there was news of the invention of a nail varnish that changes colour on contact with certain 'date rape' drugs. It was billed as a technology to assist women in avoiding the consumption of so spiked drinks.

This proved to be controversial. For example this article poses the question: Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than find a way to stop rapists?

I posted a comment (along with 600+ others) which I republish here:

The short answer is that one is a relatively simple chemical reaction to detect the illegal spiking of drinks. The other is a feature of society that has been going on for thousands of years that has multiple and complex causes and consequences.

I would contend that the former is infinitely more simple that the latter and hence it will be always easier to invent.

This is not to say that that far more creative, political and economic energy should not be put into tackling rape: of course it should. And of course a nail polish is not the answer except in so far as it might help just one woman somewhere clock that her drink is dangerous (and perhaps many more women too).

And of course, no victims should be blamed. But to suggest that all precautionary measures taken to reduce one's chances of becoming a victim (of any crime including rape) are equivalent to victim blaming is, in my opinion, dangerously simplistic.

Would the author or other commenters condemn Narendra Modi for committing to having more toilets in rural areas and the schools of India as being party to victim blaming by seeking to ensure that fewer women and girls are vulnerable to attack? Of course it is not the whole solution! But it might help...?

Clearly there is debate to be had about what constitutes putting oneself at risk and everyone should be safe enough to drink, wear and go whatever they choose. And evidently also, far more needs to be done to hold rapists to account.

But I think criticising an earnest attempt to add a technological defence against some means of attack with nothing other than well worn platitudes seems to me to be tad unfair. Where is the ingenuity or invention in that?

So, can we have debate about what societal, policy and legal changes need to be implemented to reduce the incidence of rape? My manifesto would include making sex and relationship education in schools compulsory and as important as maths or English. And I would start this early in Primary schools.

I am sure there is more. What would the author of this article put in her manifesto? What would you add?

UPDATE 270814 | 1727: Here are the replies to my comment on the Guardian site

jonwilde > JonSHarvey


Joe1178 > JonSHarvey

I would agree that such precautionary measures are in a sense to be welcomed. As you say, temporary defenses have their place while more entrenched cultural attitudes are addressed.

But there is a danger of a mindset further developing which, while perhaps not blaming victims exactly, accepts the inevitability of routine sexual assault as a fact of life and thus places responsibility on women.

I couldn't agree more that education is hugely important.

In fact, I'm not really disagreeing with much of your comment, just saying that we have to be careful not to give the wrong message.

OrkoStrikes > JonSHarvey

Couldn't agree more.

toveheights > JonSHarvey

"But to suggest that all precautionary measures taken to reduce one's chances of becoming a victim (of any crime including rape) are equivalent to victim blaming is, in my opinion, dangerously simplistic."

You are completely incorrect in this assertion. The psychological impact on a woman who has to consider while preparing for an evening out that she might be raped, instantly changes her perception of a pleasant evening out so that it becomes an act of risk taking. That she has to put on nail polish 'as a precaution' immediately puts her in the position of regarding herself as a potential victim- why would she do it if she didn't think it was likely that she would be attacked? Later while sharing a drink she has to consider if her drink has been contaminated, so she puts her finger in her drink to test it. At this point she has to divorce herself from the normal ambiance of socializing to consider whether someone is about to rape her.To expect young women to do this is to lock them in the tightest bonds psychologically and restrict their freedom to an unacceptable extent.

More young men are stabbed/attacked than any other group. I therefore propose that all men aged between 16 and 24 between the hours of 6pm and 3am should be required to wear a huge blow up suit of at least 30 cm depth that will inhibit the affects of a knife attack. They can wear this deflated, most of the time but should inflate it at the moment they think they will be attacked.

JonSHarvey > toveheights

I take your point about the psychological impact of taking preventative action to reduce ones chances of being subjected to crime: it does alter one's enjoyment of just 'being'.

But this is something that all of us live with to a greater or lesser extent dependent in part upon gender, but also many other factors. True, I do not go out contemplating I might be raped but I do worry about being subjected to road rage (it has happened to me) or being randomly assaulted in the street by a drunk person (also happened to me). These thoughts are the back of my mind, so I take action that I think reduces my chance of such events happening again. Clearly they are not the same as rape but I would contend that they are comparable.

Your suggestion that young men should wear inflatable suits though creative, is an interesting but unreal comparison, I feel.

And frankly I do not have any idea as to how big a problem date rape drugs are. How many cases have there been of where such chemicals have been used? I do not know. Do you?

My impression (and I am happy to be corrected) is that 'fear' of such drugs is far greater than the actual incidence. The way I see it, is that nail varnish (not necessarily applied in advance - but kept 'just in case') could tackle some of this fear and have the opposite effect that you contend.

In other words could the nail varnish make women feel less like potential victims rather than more - in the way that rape alarms do (I assume)? Perhaps some research is needed.

One test will be as to whether this product is bought or not.

Another possibility is that the existence of such a product might make the would-be date-rape-drug-rapists less inclined to use the drugs on the basis that they might be found out. Fear of detection (and the perception of the likelihood of such detection) is a big factor in deciding whether to commit a crime or not.

But I do not know.

But let's keep the dialogue going on what ALL the solutions might be. What would be in your manifesto?

toveheights > JonSHarvey

The 'inflatable suits was deliberately 'absurdist'. It mirrored my view that it is absurd to expect young women to wear the nail polish described- because it would be as inhibiting psychologically as such a suit would be physically.

Women are encouraged always to be aware of the possibility of rape- I suspect you became aware of physical attack after each occurred and consequently moderated your life- as we all would.

As far as 'a manifesto is concerned' it is never lost on me which gender [statistically] is more likely to rape, kill and harm. I don't have any particular incite regarding why men behave as they do in such numbers. Do you?

Not_a_shirker > Joe1178

But there is a danger of a mindset

It's a LOT less dangerous than the mindset that nobody should ever, ever, ever, EVER, ever take precautions, because it's always the rapists fault.

Which, to quote the wonderful post above, is dangerously simplistic.

JonSHarvey > toveheights

I do not think that anyone, including the people who have invented the nail polish, are 'expecting' women to wear it. I guess, if they have done their business planning and market research well enough, that they are hoping women will wish to wear / have it in sufficient numbers to make it a viable business. Time will tell.

I certainly do not 'expect' any women to wear it. Nor do I hope women will. I am glad that such a product exists so that women can choose to do so, and now have this possibility available to them. I presume you are in favour of women having a wider choice of options to be and feel safe - what ever those options are?

I agree, women/girls are warned of the possibility of rape / unwanted sex from a very young age in whole variety of ways from the media, literature, movies, parental messages etc etc. Again I assume you are in favour of women being aware of this risk. Although I would hope we would agree that warnings that inflate risk to unrealistic, disproportionate and disabling levels of fear are not to be encouraged.

And as a boy, I was made well aware of the risk of violence and harm coming to me from an early age as well. Much of my 'preventative' behaviour is based on theory not experience, thankfully. The incidents I mentioned of course raised my awareness but they are not the exclusive cause of my preventative behaviour as you might be suggesting.

My 'incite' (an interesting typo....) into why 'men' behave in such numbers is as limited as my insight into why people do a whole range of things that I cannot easily relate to such as shooting beautiful wild animals or following a football team for your entire life. (Neither of which I do, not have any desire to.)

But I don't think insight, as such, is what is required. I would contend that diligent social research, bold & creative policy initiatives, examining the female and male influences (or absence thereof) on small children (especially boys) when they are growing up from 0 - 10, understanding the impact of popular culture on what is seen as 'acceptable' etc etc are all places I would go.

Where would you go?

Or do you think it is only for men - due to their 'particular' insight - to be the only gender to come forward with the solutions?

Not_a_shirker > toveheights

Nobody "expects" young women to wear this nail polish.

Joe1178 > Not_a_shirker


Which is why I said that such precautionary measures are to be welcomed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A case for a lower speed limit in the rain?

I spent much of yesterday on motorways, surrounded by spray & grease. It got be wondering whether we should be considering introducing a lower speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways when it is so wet.

What do you think of this idea? Is it enforceable (how well do the French police enforce their law)? Would it make a difference to safety and consequent accidents?

Answers below.... thanks.

No Mr Hannan, it is not that we disdain democracy...

Daniel Hannan (Tory MEP) published an article in the Telegraph a couple of days ago entitled "Perhaps we secretly disdain democracy" as his commentary on the abysmal turnout in the recent West Midlands PCC by (b'bye?) election. Although it would seem that the original title was "Electing police chiefs was my idea - ouch" as that is the website address. I wonder why the title has been changed from the arguably more honest to the arguably 'disrespectful of the voter' title.

You need to read this article! It is clear that Mr Hannan believes that the fault with PCCs is nothing to do with his pure invention (you need to read his & Douglas Carswell's book: The Plan), but everything to do with the PCCs who "have had next to no impact", the officials who "were bent on their forgettable acronym", the "involvement of political parties" and timing (first November then August). Oh, and Ann Barnes whom he gracefully describes as "hapless, blustering, utterly lacking in self-awareness, the real-life David Brent".

Not me guv... is essentially the real title of the piece.

Oddly perhaps, I have a bit more faith in the British public who are, I believe, choosing not to engage with this democratic mirage because they have recognised this form of governance to be what it really is: risky, ineffectual and inappropriate.

There are some damn fine PCCs who are making their mark and raising issues that had hitherto been left somewhere in the 'to do' list. I commend those PCCs who are struggling with the weight of their role and still managing to influence the future of policing & criminal justice. In this blog post from a few months past, I sought to be balanced in my criticism of the role.

But, the writing must surely now be on the wall for PCCs: people are voting with their feet. And unlike Mr Hannan, I do not see the choice being only between the PCC based model of governance and a return to a police authority type model. There are many other ways to have both democratic accountability and a more solid form of governance that rests less on a single individual.

We have to start now properly debating what model of governance should replace PCCs.

Friday, August 22, 2014

West Mids PCC election: draft press statement by Home Secretary

Embargo: 1631 | 22 August 2014

I would like to warmly welcome the new Police & Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Mr [insert appropriate name here]. I look forward to working with him on tackling the considerable challenges facing policing in that area. Whilst I disagreed with Bob Jones on many issues, his tenure will be a very hard act to follow.

With regard to the record low electoral turnout of 10.32%: this is 4% more than I predicted yesterday! This is a significant achievement.

After all, yesterday was very sunny and I can imagine that the people of the West Midlands had better things to do. (After all, arranging a day trip to the polling station is not nearly as exciting as a trip to the local swimming baths.) But this is in no possible way, means that PCCs have fallen out of favour with the voting public. Far from it, only yesterday, I had two letters from PCCs in different parts of the country, telling me how many people they have shaken hands with at summer fêtes over the last few months.

But of course, August was a daft month in which to hold an election and I will be disciplining the civil servants responsible for drafting the statute that basically gave us no choice. [Especially after UKIP's insensitivity at calling for a election even before the previous PCC's funeral had occurred]*

And crime continues to fall of course, which I attribute to the ongoing success of PCCs.


*Note to editors: remove this bracketed comment if UKIP happen to have won the election - we don't want to start off on the wrong foot...!

UPDATED 1039 | 220814

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Writer's block

It is August, it is sunny and I am still recovering from probably one to many pasties/pints of Rattler after returning from 10 days in Cornwall last week. Maybe it is that. Maybe it is a strong sense of weary déjà vu on so many issues around policing & criminal justice these days... Perhaps it is down to a growing deep sadness at the anomie across the world resulting in more and more tragic episodes of hate, violence & desperation.

I don't know. All I do know is that I am wrestling with writing another blog on topic at the moment. I am experiencing a sort of writers block. (I am still writing about other stuff: there is my 'leadership in films' series on one of my other blogs, of course.)

I will probably get over it in a couple of days... but crime, PCCs, community safety, criminal justice... what is there let to say...?

Please tell me!

PS: there is a PCC election in the West Midlands tomorrow. I wonder how many people will vote?