The Morgan report of 1991 identified the local authority as being central to the delivery of crime prevention strategy. How successful have local authorities in fact proved to be in implementing this strategy?
There can be little doubt that crime and crime prevention strategies are two of the most socio-political important issues facing Britain in the contemporary era. The crime prevention strategies that were in place for the vast majority of the twentieth century were established to deal with nineteenth century social and political problems pertaining to urban expansion – itself a direct cause of industrialisation and the expansion of technology in the Victorian era (Elmsley, 2003:66-84). Yet the social and political problems facing late twentieth century and early twenty first century pose new logistical problems that old and outmoded crime prevention strategies have proved unable to solve. Globalisation, migration and the triumph of liberal political ideology have all conspired to radically alter the concept not only of policing but also of human rights. This, in turn, has had a major effect upon the implementation of crime prevention strategies – most notably with regards to the de-centralisation of policing. It is the aim of the following essay to analyse the consequences of this shift from central to local control with regards to the delivery of crime prevention strategies in modern Britain. Before we can commence our analysis, though, we need to look at the specific policy context in order to establish a conceptual framework for the remainder of the discussion.
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Although the de-centralisation of policing was officially enshrined in the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, the impetus behind this reform was located in the Morgan Report of 1991, which was set up by the Home Office to look at the delivery of local crime prevention strategies. The subsequent report made two recommendations that have since formed the backbone of the central government’s anti-crime and disorder approach. Firstly, the report recommended the implementation of “the two concepts of community safety and (increasingly) crime and disorder reduction to signify a comprehensive and targeted local approach to crime control” (Hughes and Edwards, 2005:19). Secondly, the report recommended that the state establish a clear statutory responsibility for local authorities – constituting the genesis of the multi-agency, ‘partnership’ approach to crime prevention.
This, then, is the birth of the de-centralisation of policing and crime prevention with local authorities being charged with taking a more ‘hands-on’ role with regards to policing in the context of less high-risk crime such as youth crime and social disorder with the state remaining responsible for the policing of more high-risk crimes such as the contemporary ‘war’ against terrorism. As Anthony Giddens (the chief social policy advisor to the Blair government after New Labour first came to power in 1997) duly notes, “professional policing involves mainly concentrating on serious issues” (Giddens, 1998:88). Thus, although the kind of policing envisaged for local authorities remained very professional in focus after 1998, we should also be aware that the local authority was expected to deal with the less serious issues facing contemporary crime. As such while we should interpret local authorities as indeed being central to crime prevention we should take care to understand the nature of the crimes that these authorities were expected to assist preventing.
It should also be noted that this development did not constitute a United States style federal or quasi-federal approach to crime prevention in modern day Britain. Rather, the Home Office and the Home Secretary remain the key centres of arbitrary legal and political power with regards to the implementation of crime prevention strategies in the UK and decisions taken by these centralised bodies remain the definitive ruling in all criminal proceedings. This is an important point to remember when attempting to deduce the ultimate success or failure of local authorities in reducing crime and social disorder. As is the case with education and health care, the New Labour government can be seen to have presided over a situation best characterised as ‘policy overkill’ – creating conflicting spheres of interest and influence with regards to social policy without necessarily offering anything substantial or ‘new’ (Fulbrook, 2001:243-259).
It is essential, therefore, to understand that the increased relevance that has been attached to statutory local authorities is part of the government’s broader strategy of initiating multi-agency partnerships between public sector services (such as local authorities), private enterprises and public initiatives (such as community watch or neighbourhood management). In theory, these multi-agency partnerships should involve a free exchange of ideas between each of the public, private and voluntary sectors, mirroring the democratic environment in which they have all been conceived. In this way, it is hoped crime can be tackled by utilising the logistical resources of the state, the financial resources of business and the knowledge-based resources of local communities. However, as Gordon Hughes (1998:76) observes, the reality has tended to be less a reflection of democratic ideals and more a manifestation of corporate ethos with the concept of both ‘multi-agency’ and the ‘community’ lost within the broader parameters of the de-centralisation of policing and anti-crime powers.
“This slippage between the terms ‘multi-agency’ and ‘community’ is somewhat problematic. It glosses over the key feature of multi-agency crime prevention which is that it is chiefly a ‘top-down’, neo-corporatist strategy from both central and local state regimes. In this strategy situational crime prevention techniques predominate and there is minimal ‘bottom-up’ communal participation and minimal popular democratic ownership.”
This is an important point to remember and one that has a direct impact upon the limitations of local authorities with regards to effectively delivering crime prevention measures. Because of the two-tier structure of the multi-agency partnerships – whereby the capital of private enterprise and the political capital of the public sector are elevated over and above the ‘grass roots’ advice of community leaders and neighbourhood managers – local authorities are frequently unable to formulate local policies that are devised to combat crime within any one specific local authority. Dialogue between the agencies is in many cases limited. This clearly impacts upon the ability of local authorities with regards to fighting crime as the impetus behind crime prevention strategies remains rooted in the top tier of decision and policy making, located at central government and think-tank level. Moreover, where there is dialogue between the often competing agencies involved within the multi-agency framework, the language is shrouded in protocol characterised by excessive paperwork, red tape and bureaucracy. The Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP) initiative, for instance, dedicates little attention to implementing crime prevention strategies, preferring to donate more time to analysing and developing ‘strategic assessments’ to use as theoretical ‘toolkits’ in the fight against crime and social disorder (Home Office, 2007).
We should consequently note the way in which the existence of the partnership strategies themselves, coupled with the policy overkill of the New Labour government, has directly contributed to excessive red tape and bureaucracy at the exact moment when greater initiative needs to be taken at a grass roots level. Until this underlying chasm between theory and practice has been bridged, we ought to expect local authorities to continue to deliver crime prevention strategies that are wholly out of synch with the social realities of policing everyday life in a diverse, multicultural society (Clements, 2008).
None of this, we should note, is to conclusively state that the decentralisation of crime prevention strategies has been a failure throughout Britain. Rather, the point being highlighted above has been that the partnership scheme comes with inherent structural weaknesses that cannot help but hinder the broader initiative of tackling crime. However, measuring in real terms the ultimate success or failure of local authorities’ drives to reduce crime is also an inherently difficult task. Not only are facts and figures manipulated by both the local authorities themselves, the mass media’s intense interest in crime and social disorder as a mainstream journalistic story means that facts and figures are similarly manipulated by the media in order to sensationalise a story (Jewkes, 2004). The mass media’s over-riding commercial desire to ‘sell’ a story completely negates any sense of unbiased, impartial journalistic integrity. Thus, much in the same way as the neo-corporatist undercurrent pervades through the two-tier structure of multi-agency partnerships in the community so the same corporatist, capitalist dimension affects the measurement of success or failure with regards to crime prevention strategies.
We must also take note of the way in which statistics can trick the spectator outside of the ideological parameters of political engineering and outside of the sphere of influence of the global mass media. For instance, the statistics for ‘all crime’ committed in England and Wales appears to show a clear reduction in the number of crimes being committed per one thousand persons with the figure falling from 26.4 per one thousand people between April and June 2005 to 24.9 per one thousand people between January and March 2006 (Home Office Website; first accessed 10.06.08). These crimes, though, cover the entire spectrum of criminality with many of these crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Home Office and the Home Secretary. Specific target groups such as young offenders, on the other hand, have witnessed vast increases in the numbers of crimes being committed since the Morgan Report and the implementation of the Crime and Disorder Act. The UK charity TheSite.org (first accessed 11.06.08) notes how the number of fifteen to seventeen year olds currently being held in custody has doubled in the last ten years. All of these figures are easy to manipulate and rather than offering conclusive evidence as to the success or failure of the multi-agency initiative, these figures only serve to further cloud the reality of devolution of crime prevention strategies in contemporary Britain.
The recommendations contained with the Morgan Report, in addition to the Crime and Disorder Act in which these recommendations were encapsulated, were correct in citing the need to expand the concept of crime prevention to incorporate local authorities. Furthermore, because of the nature of power in a social democracy in the contemporary era, this shift from voluntary to statutory status, incorporating a multi-agency approach, was also a necessary move (Phillips, 2001:163-181).
However, as we have seen, this multi-agency approach has predominantly conspired to further cloud what were already murky issues with regards to responsibility, accountability and the implementation of the broader anti-crime strategy. Not only has bureaucratic procedure hampered the process of cooperation and conciliation between the private, pubic and voluntary sectors that make up these multi-agencies, there has also been a lack of foresight with regards to the arbitration of political and judicial power. For instance, where the local authorities are expected to initiate measures to tackle such measures as anti-social behaviour, it is the centralised state that continues to set the quotas with regards to immigration figures, housing as well as setting the budget which decides the amount of policemen that are able to patrol the streets. The recent strike over police pay highlights the extent to which local authorities’ hands are tied when it comes to tackling crime at a regional level. Furthermore, the lack of communication recently exposed with regards to the police and hospitals over the release of the number of victims being admitted with stab wounds further underscores the ground that needs to be made up before we can say that the local authorities are truly in charge of tackling crime in contemporary, decentralised Britain.
Consequently, we need to acknowledge first and foremost the structural weaknesses inherent in the multi-agency approach to crime prevention. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge the rapidly changing nature not only of crime but also of society in the twenty first century and the impact that this is bound to continue to have upon contemporary policing methods. It is, in the final analysis, much too soon to attempt proclaim the ultimate success or failure of a project that should still be understood as being in its embryonic stage.
All Crime Statistics for England and Wales, April 2005 to March 2006, in, Home Office Website; http://www.crimestatistics.org.uk/tool/
Clements, P. (2008) Policing a Diverse Society: Second Edition Oxford: Oxford University Press
Developing a Strategic Assessment: An Effective Practice Toolkit for Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships and Community Safety Partnerships (2007) London: The Home Office
Elmsley, C. (2003) The Birth and Development of the Police, in, Newburn, T. (Ed.) A Handbook of Policing Uffculme: Willan Publishing
Fulbrook, J. (2001) New Labour’s Welfare Reforms: Anything New? , in, The Modern Law Review, Volume 64, Number 2, 243-259
Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy Cambridge: Polity Press
Hughes, G. (1998) Understanding Crime Prevention: Social Control, Risk and Late Modernity Maidenhead: The Open University Press
Hughes, G. and Edwards, A. (2005) Crime Prevention in Context, in, Tilly, N. (Ed.) A Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety Uffculme: Willan Publishing
Jewkes, Y. (2004) Media and Crime: A Critical Introduction London and New York: Sage
Phillips, C. (2001) From Voluntary to Statutory Status: Reflecting on the Experience of Three Partnerships Established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, in, Hughes, G., McLaughlin, E. and Muncie, J. (Eds.) Crime Prevention and Community Safety: New Directions London and New York: Sage
Young Offenders, in, The Site.Org Website; http://www.thesite.org/homelawandmoney/law/introuble/youngoffenders
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