10 July 2008

Violent crime in the UK

From an article about violence in England in the current Economist:
Policemen may hold surgeries for local people, but they can take or leave whatever requests such meetings throw up. Instead, they are subservient to a rigid system of central targets, which has inadvertently encouraged coppers to focus on busting minor offenders rather than on keeping their patches safe. Violent Britain
I think it's inevitable that in large, complex societies, policy is going to be determined and measured by numerical indicators of our well-being. This may be regrettable, but it's probably unavoidable. Unfortunately our governments aren't much better at devising decent indicators than were Soviet-era central planners. Their choice of targets is largely a product of their bureaucracies: they relate to the functions and structures of government agencies more than they do to outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people. It's similar in the health services: targets are too narrow and can be too easily manipulated to serve any useful non-bureaucratic purpose.

Sadly, British Government seems to be responding to the rising level of (non-murderous) violent crime by trying to preserve:
the police authorities that now exist, but insisting that their members be elected. [UK] Home Office research shows that the “vast majority” of Britons have never heard of police authorities, and most of those who have don’t know what they do.
As the Economist says 'It is hard to imagine chief constables being bossed around by anonymous people elected on a minuscule turnout.' And as I say, the possibility of subordinating policy to broad, meaningful goals, has been sacrificed on the altar of existing institutional structures.

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