13 December 2007

Celebrity policing

Explicit, verifiable outcomes can function like a compass to policymakers. In their absence, there's no real measure of how well or badly our governments are doing. No real measure - but plenty of false ones, including the amount of funding a particular body receives or, increasingly nowadays, the media attention given to one's actions. The police aren't paid for performance: increased crime figures are routinely attributed to more comprehensive reporting... so how does a police force prove that it's effective? Not by reducing crime; not these days, but by appearing in a favourable light in the mass media. Writing about the UK, Mick Hume says:
[I]the day-to-day reality of policing, there is a discernible tendency to prioritise high-profile cases that might bring exposure and kudos rather than mere convictions. ... The police now seem to chase celebrities around almost as hard as the paparazzi do, often with farcical results....All of this is the flipside of the crisis of traditional authority that the police, like every other state institution, have suffered in recent years. They have attempted to rebrand the police as a ‘service’ rather than a ‘force’, indulged in very public self-flagellation over being ‘institutionally racist’, and done everything possible to distance themselves from the old image of ‘the heavy mob’. But the loss of a clear sense of mission has often left the police appearing paralysed, a crisis of self-confidence well illustrated after the successful prosecution of the Met on health and safety grounds over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Uncertain of how to regain authority and fearful of the results of doing anything decisive, the police have often been reduced to staging the sort of high-profile PR stunts discussed here, to give the appearance of being in command.
There are genuine problems in measuring how well police perform: it is not just crime that unravels the fabric of society but also fear of crime, which is inescapably subjective. Even so, some research into objectively verifiable measures would I am sure generate more relevant performance indicators than the number of high-profile media appearances by top policemen, which is what appears now to be one of our police force's main goals.

No comments: