The Politics Of Crime And Community Criminology Essay

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Police authorities here in the UK were local powers that were responsible for securing well-organized and effective policing of a region, which was served by a territorial police force. These authorities are now a thing of the past and have been replaced by Police and Crime commissioners, who are elected by the public. With such a radical change in policing, what problems could arise by the introduction of the new elected officials? In order to evaluate the new change, this essay will look at the weaknesses that have been identified with past police authorities and other motives that may have driven the coalition government to embrace this new reform.

In the beginning of policing, around 1829, the method of policing was geared more towards being preventative, which was implemented by the home beat method . In post war Britain this historic method was questioned for reasons that included competence in personal deployment, the tedious nature of the work and problems in measuring its efficiency in preventing crime (Joyce, 2011). Then in the 1960's, preventative policing gave way to reactive policing which was implemented by the unit beat method. The new style was characterized by the use of panda cars and two way radios, this can be seen on the popular BBC television series, Dixon of Dock Green, which followed the activities of a fictional police station in east London (Joyce, 2011). Croall (1998) argues that popular TV shows and crime literature can enlighten people of certain crimes and also spark fear into them. This in turn can affect their everyday lives. As a result of this, we are surrounded by crime prevention devices that not only protect us from crime but aim to prevent it. It was around this time that police and public relationships were poor and the forces sought to take authority in their hands at all times. But were the police doing their jobs successfully? Did they need to the help of their fellow citizens?

The benefits gained from the crime prevention method became outweighed by problems affecting the way it would function, in particular in connection with the lack of intimate knowledge by the police of local communities and the policeman's professional desire not to involve the public in their work. It was problems such as these that planted the seed for bad communication and a poor relationship between the police and the public.

1964 marked the first official policing reform to where police were held accountable by police authorities. Then 1981, this issue was addressed by Lord Scarman, who made police reform of paramount importance on the political agenda. This epiphany came as a result of the Brixton riots, where deep economic and social problems created anarchy and panic. Scarman (1981), argues that "The police do not create social deprivation... inflexible policing can make the tensions which deprivation engenders greatly worse." The suggestion of police aggravating situations in neighbourhoods rather than being of aid seemed to ring true with residents, as the press began to make light of this statement and the public simultaneously agreed. Scarman goes on to say that "Conversely, while good policing can help diminish tension and avoid disorder, it cannot remove the causes of social stress where these are to be found". It became apparent that a more proactive method of policing was needed, something which was based more heavily on community policing tactics and a need to involve the public in what was going on. Then in 1994, independence was amplified by new reforms which required a percentage of police authority to be picked from local communities (Home Office, 1998).

Allowing the public to choose members for the police authority seemed a good idea, but there was a large gap to bridge between the police and public, one which was important to secure in order to restore faith in the forces. The problem was that the public did not know how to influence the way their neighbourhoods and towns were being policed, or how to get involved. The solution? To abolish the police authorities all together and place the power entirely in the hands of the public. To solve the problem of community involvement, the government decided to increase democratic accountability and reconnect the police with the people. The home office issued a statement saying, "We want to empower the public... increasing local accountability and giving the public a direct say" (Home Office 2010).

As the reform stands today, the police have recently put in place elected police and crime commissioners who are held accountable for how their areas are policed. Aims of this new reform include; the plan to combat Anti-social Behaviour (ASB), to create safer neighbourhoods, to improve the relationship between the police and public and to restore faith in the police force. In order to further involve the public, other measures have been taken to ensure the safety and trust can be obtained from local areas. The concept of 'the big society' , is connected with an initiative from the coalition government that has been implemented to achieve both involvement of the public and to survive big budget cuts. It promotes a 'fend for yourself' stance for the public to stand against crime whilst serving the financial restrictions the criminal justice system have been set. The public spending cut stands at a drastic 23%, which works out at around £1.2 billion by 2014/15 (http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/public-spending).

The criminal justice system is going to have to adapt to a cut of this proportion and can do so in several ways. Firstly, to reduce the size of the current work force. This can be done by dramatically slowing down recruitment and allowing the retired officers to help reduce the number of police. This would be the most gentle and effective way of lessening the number of officers, as redundancy would cause too much upheaval. Secondly, for workforce modernisation to take place in order for an increase in productivity; this means more use of IT and less use of time consuming paper work within criminal justice agencies. Thirdly, to outsource services to other sectors, therefore spreading the workload. Then, lastly, to find new sources of finance, for example, social impact bonds or to cut officers pay in order to save money. All of these improvements should help to meet the demands of the financial cuts, but perhaps there will remain a gap between what the public sector can really do and what they actually need to achieve (Joyce 2012, chapter 12). This is where 'Big Society' comes in, it is a concept that encompasses both aspects of empowerment and is based on sound ideological principles from the coalition government. It is supposed to encourage a greater level of public involvement and trust in the police, whilst financially serving the government to their advantage.

There are several ways in which this big society can be created, starting with the introduction of initiatives for both police and public. This involves openness and a big step forward in communication, for example, the introduction of Community Support Officers are there to specifically engage with local communities. Neighbourhoods are encouraged to meet up with their local community support officers and be able to voice concerns. This could entail a specified meeting place once a week where they can discuss problems and goings on in their area. The police or support officers can then take the information on board and choose what form of action is best. Both sides are gaining something from this; it creates less work for the police and delivers better security for residents. All in all, a better relationship and sense of compliance. In addition to this, volunteering can play a big role in the union of police and public. Neighbourhood watch is a good example, which can help empower the locals and give them a sense of community. Volunteering can also help with costs; money can be saved from the public wanting to step in and work for free.

However, will the big society actually work? There may be practical issues affecting the mentioned initiatives. For example, how will the criminal justice practitioners act? Perhaps they will disagree with the drastic changes being made. Then more specifically, will these changes result in a poorer quality of deliverance of crime control? When cuts are made and work is outsourced, there is always going to be an uproar of injustice when people's wages are cut. In turn, if the quality of criminal justice services fails to be maintained, this could result in worse criminal and disorderly behaviour.

There are other potential problems that could arise from the empowerment of the public. The assumption of volunteers wanting to help may also be a big gamble, as some communities may not be as willing as others. Being that all neighbourhoods around the country are significantly different and that some will react differently to various methods of policing. In an area with a high crime rate, for example, where residents are scared to communicate with officers for fear of being known as a 'snitch', it is unlikely that they are willing to come forward to the police with useful information. On the other hand, delegating power to certain individuals could encourage vigilante incidents which could mean larger efforts to keep the peace. These vigilantes can turn into victims themselves, their cars could get scratched and other forms of harassment could ensue and they could be seen as a target.

The outlook overall is that a greater level of public participation in the provision of criminal justice services would help reduce the independence on the state. However, what actually works? This is where policy transfer comes in. This is a process where helpful information or administrative arrangements shift from one nation or policy domain to another. It can, as a whole, be seen as an intentional learning process that is used to better the country's systems. Policies that have been effective get shifted and shared to other countries. For example, the electing of crime commissioners, boot camps, privatisation and outsourcing have all come from America.

Robert Martinson made observations in the 1970's relating to the impact of programmes used by the correctional services that were designed to prevent reoffending. He found that few treatment programs for criminals reduced recidivism and that 'nothing works' (Martinson, 1974). During this time in the United States of America and United Kingdom, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who were of a conservative and republican stance, took to being tough on crime. Instead of spending loads of money on rehabilitation, they chose to reject this idea and thought the current system was being too lenient on criminals (Martinson, 1974). To further summarise Martinson's essay; rehabilitation did not work. They chose to scrap intervention with ex-offenders and prisoners and decided that reforming was no longer a relevant option.

The emphasis on crime prevention differs from traditional criminology, where the concern is why do criminals commit the crime in the first place. For example, Lombroso argues (Maguire, 2002, p.25) the existence of a hereditary group of criminals who are theoretically biological throwbacks to a more primitive stage of human evolution. These criminals display a greater percentage of physical and mental anomalies than non criminals do. In essence, he argues that people can be biologically determined whether they are more likely to commit a crime or not from physical characteristics. However, the new emphasis on crime prevention focuses on the offence and the environment in which they occur, as opposed to the criminals themselves.

Situational methods of crime prevention seek to make the environment less attractive for crime. For example, the installation of CCTV around homes, shops and streets. Or, ensuring neighbourhood watch stickers are in full view to ward off potential burglars. Some communities may even decide the whole shopping precinct needs to be redesigned as the layout of it creates too easy of an opportunity for crime to take place. All of these ideas look to secure neighbourhoods and 'design out crime'. It is all to do with the physical layout of the area and its potential appeal for criminals. The installation of such security does however come at a price. Whilst one estate could obtain funding from their council, another may not be so lucky and in turn they could suffer the consequences. If a criminal is scared away from one area, he hypothetically could just turn to another.  

In addition to inviting communities to help police their neighbourhoods, the police or community support officers could also help to unify the people that live there. For example, youth clubs, which would also help keep young offenders off the streets. Football matches could be held by bringing communities together. In doing this, they are not only strengthening their relationship with the locals, but they are mingling together the neighbourhoods which could be helping any potential feuds within the area. The community support officers who get involved, are getting familiar with the locals, which is particularly important for the younger generation, who need people to look up to. These all link in with the distinguishing features of community justice, which seek to involve local participation and present the all important notion of empowerment.

Multi-agency/partnerships devise aims to combine situational and social strategies. Before 1998, previous attempts to promote community safety with multi-agency cooperation were regularly police-driven, however, their progress was irregular as other agencies resisted what they saw as an attempt by the police to control their activities (Crawford 1998). After the Bains report (1971) and Morgan's report (1991) it became apparent that local government should be in charge of shifting crime prevention to community safety (Crawford 1998). The Morgan Report added to the concept of community safety rather than crime prevention and argued that the latter term suggested that crime prevention was exclusively the responsibility of the police (Crawford 1998).

. The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act provided key innovations; the multi-agency cooperation had to secure their planned objectives and it became a statutory requirement. Machinery was developed that offered a template as to how this statutory requirement would be delivered; it was known as the Crime and Order Reduction Partnership. This corporation needed a number of key agencies that integrated the health authorities, police and probation services and local authority departments to work together to secure a coordinated response to crime and disorder in selected areas. The multi-agency approach was based on a belief that crime could be most effectively prevented by various bodies working together instead of leaving the entire burden of crime-fighting down to the police and putting all responsibility on them.

The crime and reduction disorder partnerships were there fundamentally to combat crime and disorder through being a joined together government. More specifically, for juvenile crime and youth offending teams, which was first thought up in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. The synchronization of the goals and efforts of individual agencies were based on the belief that crime and other forms of anti-social behaviour were caused by factors such as drug and alcohol abuse and social segregation (Home Office 1998). Although these partnerships were in charge of setting their own targets, the running of certain programmes to achieve these goals remained in the hands of the existing agencies and could in turn potentially be jeopardised by an agency's need to give priority to their main tasks, which were measured by performance indicators. This gives certain problem areas that may need to be urgently attended to, an unfair advantage.

Overall, there is expectation of financial savings to come from the focus of multiagency work on crime prevention, which acts as a key initiative during the governments drastic cuts. What we can also expect from utilising multi agency work is empowerment, which serves to transfer the power in criminal justice matters away from the central state to the localities responsibility. However, who should this power be delegated to; the members of the general public or to groups of criminal justice professionals who operate without any sense of local accountability? Multi-agency work that is seen as being decentralised does not automatically advance freedom but it may instead create a more controlled society in which we conduct our everyday lives.

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