Donna Jones is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
From meeting officers at stations across the patch, to getting an understanding of how the Hampshire-based Criminal Records Office functions, I have learnt a great deal about how policing and the criminal justice system functions, both on paper and in practice.
A well-functioning system requires support from partners such as from the NHS and local authorities to manage those people who commit crimes but do not belong in prison. It also requires sensible policies from the Home Office. In this respect unfortunately we have a mixed bag.
There are plenty of good initiatives coming down from Whitehall, such as the Safer Streets Fund and the Violence Reduction Unit programme, both of which provide extra money for targeted action against local crime hotspots. I welcome these and wish to see them expanded.
On the flipside, there are some initiatives out there that have the effect of diluting the fight against crime by wasting officer time on form fillings and meeting targets. One of the worst is the Crime Data Integrity (CDI) measure. Like so many bad ideas, this one started off full of good intentions and it sounds seductively reasonable: to make sure every crime is recorded.
The idea is simply that every crime the police are made aware of must be recorded – and who could object to that? On the face of it, no-one could. So perhaps it is unsurprising that when Theresa May brought this policy in during 2014, most people were supportive.
However, in the same way that Tony Blair’s four-hour target for Emergency Department treatment in hospitals just resulted in doctors prioritising treatment on the basis of who was nearest to (but not over) the four-hour limit rather than on medical need – so recording every crime results in vast amounts of red tape but does not lead to a single extra conviction.
When people call 999 or when witnesses are interviewed, they want to talk about the big thing that has happened to them. Were someone to break into your house and attack you, you’d want to talk about that rather than how the perpetrator damaged your car door mirror or garden gate on the way out. Moreover, any police investigation would focus on the important crimes and so would the criminal case. Were the defence to establish reasonable doubt in the break-in case, the broken gate case would fall automatically.
Recording all this results in a lot of extra work. Call handlers have to check and double-check that they have not missed anything. All reports have to be written up and handed over to an investigating officer, again at a cost in time. The constabulary has people whose entire job is to listen to old 999 calls to scan for any side issues that may have been missed. In due course, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate will request recordings of a sample of the calls received and will calculate how many crimes have been missed. Fall below the target and there will be trouble.
Sometimes this reaches absurd proportions. If a police officer enters a home and a small boy says ‘my brother hit me with his Lego toy’, this now has to be recorded as a crime – even though the alleged perpetrator may be beneath the age of criminal responsibility and the ‘crime’ is just a normal part of childhood. How does this serve the interests of justice?
Of course, the police should record every victim – and they do – but recording additional minor crimes that are not going to be investigated separately from the main incident and are not going to result in a summons is a waste of resources.
Police forces up and down the country are short of detectives. The Home Office needs to recognise that the more time they spend on paperwork, the less time they will have to spend on their real jobs of actually catching criminals.
Individual forces cannot change these policies, but collectively Police and Crime Commissioners have a voice. Some of the failings in policing are local and I will work to fix those that I find in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Some though are national and I intend to use my role as a platform for speaking out when things are not working out, however good the original Westminster intention may have been.