Perception versus punishment? Croydon’s new crime plan

By - Thursday 19th January, 2017

Revisiting the Police and Crime Plan

Photo public domain.

We are being consulted (again). This time it’s the Police and Crime Plan, which the mayor must produce to explain how the police and related agencies will work together to reduce crime. A figure in the report shows central Croydon to be one of the worst areas for certain crimes, and home to the perpetrators too, so we should be particularly interested.

Changes are to be expected. The world has moved on since the last plan four years ago. The pattern of crime has changed and irrespective of political party, a new mayor has different priorities.

But as plans go, the previous one was a good one. Priorities were clear, the so-called MOPAC7 crimes, and performance statistics regularly published. The police and the mayor could see how things were going and reallocate resources if things went well in one area and not in another. Shared knowledge is more effective if everyone shares the same objectives.

Pan-London priorities means that local priorities may be second best

In short, it read like a business plan. No surprise given the previous Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing has a business background. Policing may not be a business but planning, prioritisation of objectives and consistent performance measures are the way to get things done. Sharing that performance with the public is what transparency is all about.

A legitimate criticism of the London-wide approach, because no approach is perfect, is that it is one size fits all. Pan-London priorities means that local priorities may be second best. There was nothing to prevent individual boroughs adding to the list, but when push comes to shove, these additions might get short changed. One man’s consistency is another man’s inflexibility.

Sadiq Khan was elected promising greater local control to allow police and councils to focus on the issues of greatest local concern. He has however mandated a London-wide priority to tackling serious, high-harm, high vulnerability crimes.

Sadiq Khan won an election, so priorities are his to set and to be held accountable for

He has effectively replaced the MOPAC7 with the MOPAC1, with the rest locally defined. But fragmented priorities mean that if performance in Croydon is poor, it’s easy to acknowledge Croydon’s problems, but point to somewhere else where things have gone well for whatever reason – perhaps reasons nothing to do with the efforts of the mayor.

This is why pan-London performance measures and priorities are so attractive – dodging is difficult. A more sensible approach would have been to reduce the number of London-wide priorities to, say, four or five with serious, high-harm, high-vulnerability crimes being one, making room for two or three locally set priorities.

But Sadiq Khan won an election, so priorities are his to set and to be held accountable for. But in contrast to the visibility and consistency of the previous mayor’s plan, this plan has been written by a politician. The new Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime is a former special advisor and Labour councillor.

Without published performance measures, who knows if the plan works?

As such it has fine words, but words with get-outs. Phrases like “work closely with”, “create a strategy”, “formulate a plan”, “support efforts to ensure”, “be clear in our expectation that” and “hold regular meetings”. Unfortunately the word “transparency” appears only four times in the draft plan, and tucked away in the darker corners rather than on page one.

Imagine challenging such a plan. “Mr Mayor, did you work closely with people, formulate a plan, support efforts, have clear expectations and hold regular meetings?”. Of course you did. Did it work? Without published performance measures, who knows? Certainly not the public.

On manpower, he promised more community policing with a minimum of two dedicated police constables and one police community support officer for every ward in London. This is interesting. Crime has been falling, although violent crime has started to edge up recently, but the public’s perception is that crime is increasing. “Bobbies on the beat” is a politician’s phrase that resonates with the public. Yet ask the police and they will tell you that is not what catches criminals; but it is what reassures the public.

We need, above all, to press our new mayor not to backpedal on transparency

Local priorities are important, perceptions are important, but not at the expense of transparency and real improvement. What we in Croydon need to do is ensure Croydon has clear priorities and performance measures, and that they are published for all to read.

The plan points out that MOPAC’s Evidence and Insight Unit is widely respected in driving decision making through information, evaluation, analysis and research. If this group is so good, it should not be hard for Croydon’s performance under its new Borough Commander to be published for the good of all.

We need, above all, to press our new mayor not to backpedal on transparency. Let the new mayor’s motto not be “tough on the perception of crime, light on the reporting of crime”.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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