Prevention – Better Than A Cure

So, apparently scientists are using Llamas because antibodies present in their blood may hold the key to providing a lasting ‘flu vaccine. Whilst for many of us, ‘flu is a period of feeling very ill and then recovery, as previous pandemics have shown it can be fatal, and for the young, old otherwise ill it can prove to be very serious indeed. There is no doubt, prevention here is better than a cure.

The same holds for crime. The first of Robert Peels nine principles for Policing states that the basic mission the police exist for is to prevent crime and disorder. It is absolutely the case that the absence of crime and disorder makes society feel safer, and that absence also means that would be offenders have been deterred, prevented or guided away from committing crime or engaging in disorder.

The issue then is how to carry out that mission? Modern society is a complex fast paced eco system, where lives are lived not only through physical presence, but also with a huge reliance upon the internet. Our virtual footprint as individuals is arguably greater than our physical, with shopping, banking, holidays, flights, social interactions, family relationships and news gathering all carried out online. This virtual world creates demand for policing, not only to act to prevent crime but also of course to investigate the very serious crimes that are internet enabled or internet dependant.

Many years ago, whilst I was a Detective working in Child Protection I dealt with an offender who possessed indecent images of children. The format he had them in was Polaroid photos and two video tapes he had obtained abroad. In total, he had just over thirty images and around 90 minutes of tape. Today, that same offender may well have tens of thousands of images, routinely swapping them online with an underground who pursue their perverted interests within the dark web or other mainstream internet portals, creating a demand for images that daily victimises more and more innocent children.

Alongside the vital mission to prevent crime, Policing also has the responsibility to respond to crisis and emergency. Increasingly that response is directed to take care of those who are experiencing mental health episodes, safeguarding people who otherwise would be a risk to themselves or others. The levels of this demand have grown exponentially over the last ten years, alongside the growth in demand created from new forms of crime such as the online crime I have previously mentioned.

The terrorist threat facing this country is very real, requiring significant resource to prevent and investigate. The scale of this threat vastly exceeds anything from our history, and the capabilities sought to be used by those intent on causing maximum harm to our populace and democracy are greater by far than anything available in the past.

It is against this very real backdrop that commentators such as Peter Hitchens, a self styled Policing expert agitates to return policing to foot patrol. He says:

“Take away their guns and their Tasers and their stab vests, sell their helicopters and their fast cars with the go-faster stripes. Give them proper British police uniforms, which mark them out as the people’s servants, not their masters.

And send them out on solitary foot patrol, yes, even in the rain, where they might once more meet those they are supposed to serve.

If London’s really so dangerous it needs armed guards, then deploy the Army.

They’re better at it, they don’t look down on us, they’re nicer and more polite than the police, and would be most unlikely to threaten a member of the Royal Family or fabricate lies against a Minister.”

Let’s examine this statement and take it apart.

On the 3rd June 2017 three attackers killed eight people in Borough Market and London Bridge. Their rampage was curtailed by armed officers shooting each of the three dead. Peter Hitchens would prefer that those armed officers, responding in BMW X5s at speed, walked to the scene without guns or protective equipment and presumably engaged in dialogue of some form with the attackers. Of course in the perfect world that Peter envisages we would have been able to prevent this attack. I am of the view we could have prevented the attack – had we had infinite resource, massive intrusion on communications and people being stop checked and searched every minute of the day as they go about their business. If that were to be put into place, I am sure many journalists would be, rightly, complaining about state intrusion and the curtailment of civil liberties.

So, remove Taser says Peter. Taser is not a panacea for all evils, and yes on occasion it can be misused. However, it also saves life. Taser is a less lethal option than a firearm, and as a result there are people alive today who would otherwise have been shot. To the relatives of those, the fact that Taser was deployed and not a firearm means they have a living relative. I know that in some instances Taser use has been associated with deaths, and that is as tragic as it is regrettable. Due process is followed to determine whether police actions were appropriate.

Selling helicopters would result in the many vulnerable missing people located and kept safe because an aerial platform was deployed being left to die in the cold instead. Peter would therefore have to face the relatives of those people, along with the relatives of those killed by attackers armed with weapons and explain why the police were powerless to act.

Send them on foot patrol says Peter, as if such a thing does not exist. Across the country today a sizeable proportion of officers and support officers will carry out foot patrol. In the right locations it is effective – but tell a large rural force that their officers must patrol solely on foot and you will see whole communities denied policing. On top of that, the steady tread of an officers boots does not provide the response speed that people demand. Responding to a call for help at three miles per hour is simply facile against the scale of emergency demand faced today. It is in addition less than effective on motorways, fast roads and against criminals who use vehicles to commit or enable their crime. Holding a hand up to stop a vehicle bourn felon and prevent the crime they are about to commit will not be met with success, and it will certainly not prevent crime.

I totally accept that within the mix of policing activity foot patrol is vital. It enables the police to maintain contact with people, and it preserves a proud tradition that is essential to delivering policing with consent. It is also an critical conduit for information upon which other police action can be taken, and I would never advocate that policing should move away from it. The simple reality is, however, that as resources are challenged the one thing police must do above all else is respond when people scream for help. That has to be at the centre of the service, and other functions built outside of that. The items on the outside, the ‘nice to do’ not the ‘must do’ are determined by each force according to their local priorities. Some have reduced neighbourhood policing in order to focus on other things – not a decision I would make, but one which has been done with the elected Commissioners for those local areas who speak on behalf of the communities they serve. It is difficult to question those decisions when they have been made with the input of persons put into post through a democratic process. Journalists of course can hold and express views, but when challenging police decision making they should not forget that those decisions are made with Police and Crime Commissioners or elected Mayors who hold Chief Constables to account for delivery against their priorities.

Finally, Peter advocates putting the Army on our streets. He therefore advocates a removal of civil policing, placing the responsibility for keeping us safe into the hands of the state entirely and removing every constitutional protection that preserves our liberal democracy in the process. In a stroke therefore, a journalist has advocated a situation where our civil liberties would be massively curtailed and policing controlled by the Military, beholden only to Government and equipped with none of the safeguards afforded by locally elected officials.

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. Maybe we should consider using Soma to subdue the masses as well?

Actually, on this note I do agree with Peter. He advocates essentially a no tolerance position on drugs use, seeing the users as much of a target for enforcement as the dealers. I tend to agree, for without users there is not a market for dealers to feed. However, elements of proportionality come into play here together with decisions to prioritise resources – do you assign officers to arrest someone for possession of a few ounces of cannabis or direct them towards the person with a few kilos? The entire justice system is in fact weighted to the latter – look at sentencing guidelines and charging standards and you will see that the system regards the latter more seriously than the former. The decision made by the police is therefore only part of the picture. I have been in Portugal, where possession is legal, and seen first hand the dealers approaching people on the street to sell their drugs – in fact I was offered drugs three times in the space of twenty minutes in Lisbon – and I would not advocate we follow this path. I agree that a soft policy on drugs is defeatist, and that de-criminalising will not remove serious criminals from the drugs market unless you at the same time see your local chemist selling drugs of choice across the counter on demand – again, not something I wish to see.

Having now taken apart the view of a single journalist, how does this all relate to the security industry? In this regard, I agree with Peter. By providing a physical presence at points of known risk, crime of certain types can be prevented. That known risk may be a particular location, person or even commodity. As a tactical means of preventing certain types of crime, presence is undoubtedly effective. It is a very simple and tactical approach. Better by far to concentrate upon the causes of crime and intervene there – and in fact if in doing so we can bring about improvements to other things such as health and living conditions, we are reducing demand upon the state exponentially. Unfortunately Peter overlooks the huge amount of work done by the Police in these fields, work done in offender management, family support, safeguarding units, drugs and alcohol teams and countless other areas which have dramatic effect on reducing crime. The means of preventing crime is not a binary consideration – foot patrol or not. The means to prevent crime is hugely more complex than that, and has to include many different elements that in my view should also include close liaison with the Security Industry.

I hope, through this blog, you will see that we consider much than just the practicalities of providing uniform security officers to our clients. We consider the wider relationships with the public sector, and how our work can support them to discharge their obligations. This shows that we are a company that takes our work seriously, striving hard for our clients and working to keep them safe.