Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Always stretched to the limit

Jamie Whyte has an interesting CAPX piece on modern policing.

Why the police have no interest in fighting crime

What’s happened to the police? Why do they dance the macarena and prance around in red high heel shoes when they cannot be bothered to pursue burglars or arrest looters? Why, in other words, are the police doing such a bad job?

It’s because society has changed in ways that make their job more difficult. That’s the conclusion arrived at by Sir Michael Barber, formerly Tony Blair’s Chief Advisor on Delivery, whose Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales was published earlier this year.

He is perfectly wrong. The police are doing badly because society has changed in a way that makes their job easier.

Whyte goes on to propose an entertaining imaginary scenario which could be applied to many other areas as well as policing. The whole piece is worth reading as a contrarian view of both the police and the public sector generally.

To understand, ask another question: do the police welcome a declining crime rate? The answer may seem to be an obvious yes. After all, fighting crime is their job. And, if you were to ask any chief constable, he would surely claim to seek nothing more passionately than a society free from the scourge of crime.

But it is an implausible idea. Imagine a new drug reduced the inclination to commit crime by 75% and that, discovering it to be free of side-effects, the Government added it to the water supply. This could only strike a police chief as a catastrophe. With crime falling, the demand for policing would also fall, followed by the budgets of police forces and the salaries of police officers.

Therefore it’s in the force’s own interest for crime to persist. Ideally, they should be ‘stretched to the limit’. So, we could expect the police to respond to the emergence of a less criminal population by applying themselves to things that look like police work but which do not prevent crime.


Sobers said...

Its just another take on Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill the time available to do it. Or in the case of the public sector, it can be amended to: work expands to ensure this years budget is all used up, but always leaving a shroud or two to wave in the negotiations for next year's.

Sam Vega said...

The steep decline in clear-up rates is particularly depressing. That looks like utter failure. I think Whyte's solution is right in principle (calculate the cost of crime so as to include the cost of policing it) but would be unworkable in practice. The loss adjusters would have a never-ending task, and how is the effect of anxiety or psychological trauma resulting from crime to be assessed?

DiscoveredJoys said...

Or as a corollary:

Non-work expands to reduce the time available to do real work.

A K Haart said...

Sobers - a considerable amount of effort goes into using up annual budgets in the public sector. Not an easy problem for a transient political class to solve so they generally don't bother.

Sam - clear-up rates certainly do look like failure, yet presumably within police forces there must be a focus on other measures which disguise policing failures but reflect wider political failures.

DJ - and non-work probably expands as real work becomes more efficient and is done by fewer people. Maybe we'll eventually go back to the widespread employment of domestic servants.