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Crime prevention: a new blueprint for success

Dealing with the causes of crime could end sticking plaster policing. The Police Foundation says a rethink is needed – but warns politicians only want quick fixes.

Crime prevention: a new blueprint for success

Date - 5th May 2021
By - Chris Smith
1 Comment 1 Comment}

The UK could be a world-leader in crime reduction if the government got serious.

That’s the core message from the Police Foundation which is looking at the future of policing and how forces can achieve better outcomes.

Its full findings on the future of policing will be published in the autumn.

The latest stage of the review is a report by its Director, Rick Muir, which looks at crime prevention.

It’s not a new idea but the core message is that the UK has the means and the know-how to reduce crime harms outside the traditional areas where crime prevention techniques have been applied.

The Foundation says: “Given the UK’s research expertise in crime science it could become a world leader in crime and harm prevention but only if it takes a systematic approach with strong leadership and coordination from the government.”

Between 1995 and 2019 the number of burglaries in England and Wales fell by 74 per cent (Strategic Review of Policing, 2020). The cause of this was improved home security: improved locks, burglar alarms, lighting and cameras. It’s the same for vehicle crime too.

But the report warns that crime prevention work has largely been relegated to the provision of preventative advice to residents, often through the neighbourhood policing function. In other words, it has come to be seen as marginal to day-to-day police business, with some specialist exceptions notably the prevention of terrorism and dealing with high risk  harm offenders under the MAPPA arrangements. 

Some politically led intitiatives outside the core remit of policing as a first reponder agency have also foundered the report warns. 

It says Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) which are a legacy of the Labour government’s focus on volume acquisitive crime and antisocial behaviour "have struggled to remain relevant as they lost funding and political clout following the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners.".     

The Foundation's report, Taking Prevention Seriously: The Case for a Crime and Harm Prevention System, is heavily critical of the way problems including knife crime and child exploitation are being handled.

It calls for total engagement by government at all levels and the private sector with significant resources and warns there will be no end date.

Strategy, what strategy?

There is currently a Modern Crime Prevention strategy, owned by the Home Office, but it is largely aspirational and as one senior police leader told the Police  Foundation review ‘it isn’t a strategy’ because it contains no delivery plan. Instead, a strategy is required that focuses the government’s  work on priority areas, sets outcomes, articulates how those outcomes will be achieved and by whom.

Mr Muir tells Police Oracle: “Take retail crime; part of the issue is that it’s done by people who are desperate or vulnerable in various ways. No-one is doing anything about it and the police getting involved doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to lead to a charge – it’s usually a social services issue.

“There won’t be much of an intervention; there will be information sharing. That comes down to resources.”

The cycle of offending, detection and sentencing is hugely expensive.

The report explains: “We spend £19 billion [MoJ and Home Office budget totals] a year on policing and criminal justice, most of which is spent on responding to calls for assistance, investigating crimes, apprehending suspects, bringing suspects before the courts and then managing those convicted in prison or in the community.

“While, some of that reactive work can have a preventative effect, very little of that money is spent on direct or strategically organised preventative work.”

What good work that is going on, is limited as a result. Take knife crime.The age of offenders is falling rapidly and the number of incidents remains high.

There are just 18 new Violence Reduction Units (VRU) operating at police force area level in locations deemed to have the biggest problem. They are building a partnership public health response, based on the model established in Glasgow.

But there are 43 forces and it’s only solving part of the problem, according to the Foundation.

One of the report's recommendations is that the crime prevention work coordinated by PCCs could be strengthened by widening the remit of Violence Reduction Units to include all local crime and spreading these to all police forces.

It also says Community Safety Partnerships could be given a renewed focus, and more money, moving beyond their traditional volume crime and antisocial behaviour agenda to ensure they are dealing withthe full spectrum of challenges.

The report says: "It could be that a local system could operate at both levels, headed by something akin to a local Director of Crime and Harm Prevention, who could be appointed by the PCC (as VRU Directors are currently) and who would operate as an independent senior advocate for this agenda throughout their area."

Rick Muir believes that crime prevention lacks leadership at both the policing and politcal levels.

He told Police Oracle: “Politicians of all parties agree on the importance of preventing crime and yet we lack a proper strategy to achieve this. While the police own the problem of crime detection, no one owns the problem of crime prevention.”

The Police Foundation report is also clear that a proper crime prevention strategy needs sustained leadership and investment.  

Within policing, management turnover is an issue.“There’s been a command and control history. There’s a serious concern about the quality and sustainability of police leadership, " says Rick Muir. "Chief Constable length of tenure has reduced considerably to three or four years. It takes about three years to know the job.”

The Foundation's report is clear that crime prevention is an "ongoing revenue requirement given that we should not expect these efforts to reduce demand on policing and free up monies from the police budget."

It adds: "There is simply too much latent and unmet demand facing police forces for this to result in cashable savings. Put simply they will always have more to do.

So, what kind of public spending commitment might we be looking for? To provide an illustration, the Foundation says if you were tofollow the example of the public health system of allocating four per cent of the current public safety budget to prevention that would generate a budget of £760 million. 

It’s also about getting other organisations, including the private sector, to take responsibility. In short, pushing back to not only other agencies but also the industries that are enabling criminals by not funding work that takes away from their bottom line – or upset the ‘instant’ customer.

The report says: “Steps necessary to reduce the risk of fraud may require that banks and other providers of financial services to introduce extra processes that can slow down transactions and may be inconvenient to the consumer.

“A secondary measure would be to enable pension companies to block a request by a customer to transfer their funds, where red flags have been raised indicating a likely scam.”

Another proposal is to take on the tech giants: “Legislation could make it clear that platforms such as Google bear legal liability for the financial promotions they pass on, at least to the same degree as traditional publishers.”

That would cover child pornography, hate crime, people smuggling and even the trade in illegal weapons.

The report says that Whitehall’s current set-up is also part of the problem. It says: “Policy-making is fragmented into different government departments and this creates barriers to preventative action. Specifically, it means that the benefits from adopting a preventative policy often do not accrue to those who invest in it.”

A new agency 

The report calls for the  creation of a crime prevention body working at the heart of government and says there is precedent with organisations such as the Civil Aviation Authority.

“At almost the same time as the Civil Aviation Authority was established so was the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), founded by the 1974 Safety at Work etc Act. The HSE’s mission is to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health.

The HSE provides advice and guidance to business and workers, prosecutes, promotes research and training and proposes health and safety regulations to the government.

It works: since 1981 the rate of fatal injury has fallen in the UK from 2.1 per 100,000 workers to 0.34 per 100,000.

A group of 43 forces all working in silos with yearly funding settlements being set objectives by the Home Office isn’t going to achieve the sort of change the public is starting to demand.

Rick Muir says: “Mostly forces have to work it out for themselves at local level. That’s not going to stop the big issues like online child abuse or fraud.

"We should aim to take the same kind of systemic approach to preventing crime that we take to preventing accidents at work or in the air.”

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RoksanaKochanowska - Thu, 06 May 2021

I do not remember when I was so excited about reading 40-pages long document, than I was today seeing this strategic review! :)
As an academic investigator who happens to do PhD in the multiagency information sharing about violence (focusing on DVA, youth crime and mental health specifically), working towards diversion of workload in crime prevention from strictly policing to other sectors and supporting public health approach philosophy, I finally have a clear picture of demands and challenges in the field I can address
Happy days that I can contribute to such an ambitious project.