There has been much debate about crime and disorder figures in London recently. Reporting of offences is itself fraught with such difficulty that crime figures are almost certainly underestimated.
There have been comments from some senior members of the police force here in London that over-emphasis on crime numbers is only helping to increase an already over-developed fear of crime. My concern is that difficulties in reporting less serious crime and then seeing through any prosecution is leading to honest residents simply turning a blind eye to criminal action.
Let me repeat here an illustrative tale of one small central London experience from a local resident –
“I went to Belgravia with a friend whose scooter had been stolen, and I wanted to report a car hitting/driving away. But as we arrived three of the four policemen behind the desk just disappeared, and left one guy to deal with the queue of people very slowly. After I don’t know how long, my friend was told she’d have to wait another 45 minutes before she could be interviewed and I just gave up on my case, life being too short.”
I am sure most of us can relate to this experience but the anecdote prompts the question as to what we can do about it. Crime figures may not be growing but crime most certainly is. The organisation of today’s police force, especially here in London needs radical improvement. The burdens of paperwork forced on us by our justice system are ludicrously heavy-handed. But we must also not forget that in today’s society the general public live fast lives without time to spend on so-called trivialities, such as reporting low-cost crime.
It is tragic to think that someone earning £4.50 an hour let alone £45 an hour can spend a morning reporting a crime, then face having to go to court at sometime in the future where the criminal can then face a maximum fine of £50. Crime has become an “acceptable” part of London life. What a terrible indictment that is of our society and what a mountain it is to climb now if we are to retain our sense of community.
One of our excellent young Bayswater Ward councillors, Brian Connell, told me of his recent experience in visiting a local police station and it made me even more certain that the criminals are laughing at us.
Brian spent an afternoon with one of Westminster’s local police officers and asked about the amount of paperwork required if an arrest had actually taken place. The officer explained the process in detail. He calculated that the process took about two and a half hours to complete after the suspect and arresting officer arrive back at the station.
Brian asked whether this would have any impact on a PC seeing a suspect (say) an hour before his shift was due to end where an arrest would mean the PC leaving work an hour and a half later than planned. Without confirming the suggestion outright, it was clear that this is precisely what happens – suspects are sometimes deliberately not apprehended precisely because of the burdensome paperwork which the arresting officer has to complete personally. The negative effect of this burden of paperwork has been reported on many occasions but we should also consider the extended amount of time necessary if the suspect is very difficult or drunk. Is it any wonder that some are let go without arrest?
The sheer weight of police bureaucracy is letting people down. Most victims of crime know there are thresholds which have to be crossed before they will bother to report something to the police. So do those behaving in an anti-social way and so do the real criminals.
I shall end on another recent anecdote from a resident – “some three or four weeks ago I attempted to report, via 999, a moped which was being driven up and down Claverton Street in a reckless manner – the number plate having been removed – clearly stolen. The operator got an answer phone from the Met Police, and eventually we gave up because there was no answer. They did ‘phone me back some 10 minutes
later but by that time I was on a bus on my way to an appointment!” I suggest that many of us are likely to behave in a similar manner.
I am hugely in favour of more effort to help prevent crime so I am a great enthusiast for more policemen to be seen on the streets. But we have to help ourselves to stop criminals laughing at us. Somehow we have to find the time to report crime and see it through. Only in that way can we give our communities a chance to be safer.