Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Problem with Preventative Policing

One particular area of preventative policing that has recently been used to criticise the police, specifically the MPS, has been the use of Section 44 powers under the Terrorism Act. Since 2007 when two terrorism attacks were successfully thwarted, the number of black people stopped under this power has increased by 322%, Asians 277% and white people 185%. These figures have been used to argue that the MPS still is, in essence, institutionally racist. I would argue that this tactic provides a visible reassurance to the community, and I have NEVER received a complaint from a member of the public who has been stopped under this power in Utopia. The statistics say nothing of the location of where the searches have been conducted, or at what iconic sites and transport hubs, and what the ethnic demographics are where those sites are placed. More importantly, there have been no successful terrorist attacks since 2007.

Contrast this with the use of Section 60 CJPO stop and searches under Operation Blunt, used as a tactic to reduce knife-enabled crime and the number of teenage murders in London. There is the same disproportionality between white people being searched and those from visible ethnic minorities. Black youths are 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites; it still targets specific locations at specific times and it has successfully reduced knife-enabled crime by 27% in 9 of the 10 Boroughs where it has been used. Research by the Children's Commission also revealed that a quarter of young people interviewed actually wanted to see more widespread use of these searches, as the visible police presence made them feel safer. I have found no such research on the impact of Section 44 searches on the wider public.

The MPS is the victim of its own success in preventative policing. If nothing happens critics will suggest that it would never have happened anyway, and that the use of S44 searches for example, is therefore an abuse of legislation. If something does happen and the MPS had done nothing to prevent it, critics will ask why, as with the 7/7 bombings. Alternatively, if the MPS is seen to be doing something but the problem persists, albeit at a significantly reduced level, it is hailed to be a success, as in the case of Operation Blunt.

The media and human rights commentators have no hesitation in saying that the MPS is behaving in a discriminatory manner towards ethinc minorities through its use of S44 powers, but they dare not say the same for S60. It is a sad indictment on the character of these people that they feel that the emotional trauma of 7/7 is so diminished in our collective memory that their comments will not cause public outrage to be directed back towards them. They would never, ever dare level the same criticism at the MPS for using robust search tactics to stop such a sensitive and topical issue as youth murder. The media and human rights commentators are nothing but opportunistic cowards who seize upon every opportunity to lambast the police service, much of it unfounded.

The poor old MPS, it really is a case of 'Damned if you do, damned if you don't, damned whatever you do.' However, the reality is the MPS does a damned fine job.
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  1. Unless every stop and search method produces a result which forms a conviction there will always be room for criticism. Therefore the impossible will not be achievable.
    To the left wing auditors, whom would find a disproportionate number of black or minority ethnic people had been stopped even if the searches took place on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, you will never win approval so we should just ignore them and get on with the job.

    Bullseye (The west yorkshire police view)

  2. Brilliant post. One problem in public perception terms is that while the people who accuse the Met of being racist are given air time beyond their wildest dreams, the police never answer back. Why is the Commissioner not on telly saying actually this is working.

  3. Bullseye - excellent blog you have. I've added it to my links. Very enjoyable reading.

  4. Blue Eyes, I think the reality is that he does, but it is not news worthy. I actually have a lot of respect for this Commissioner, he seems to be a 'proper' and traditional police officer. I have read that he is keen on reintroducing discipline within the MPS, whether it be supervisory responsibility or standards of dress. He, like Sue Sim, has approached the furore surrounding G20 with the same commonsense approach, asking for a HMIC review of public order tactics and refusing to comment on media hype. I'm not towing the party-line here, it's just my own personal opinion that he is a very astute individual.