Site Meter

Sunday, August 14, 2011

David Cameron: From hero to zero

David Cameron: From hero to zero

"We do not need a police force of zero tolerance that rides roughshod over human rights" (Sir Stuart Bell MP).

For many it will come as no surprise to learn that David Cameron's latest utterance in relation to Zero tolerance policing is nothing more than a PR exercise. I am firmly against the concept because it has already been tried and tested in this country and it was a miserable failure.

Remember the case of Ray Mallon? "He first came to national attention in August 1996 as a Detective Inspector at Hartlepool - one of Cleveland's four policing divisions. Mallon had devised a policing strategy which he called "Here and Now' policing based on four principles of Education, Prevention, Punishment and Rehabilitation. The media however focused on the Prevention aspect which would become known as Zero Tolerance policing.

His tactics have been credited with a 43% fall in all crime - burglaries by 71%, vehicle theft and criminal damage by more than 60%. This came to the attention of national Government and led to comparisons with the success of William Bratton, police commissioner of New York

A big problem was that Ray Mallon and other police officers were engaging in serious criminal conduct, besides ignoring s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.

David Cameron: It's time for a zero tolerance approach to street crime

Mr Cameron has recruited Bill Bratton, the former US “supercop”, to advise him as he plans his autumn enforcement drive.

It was a serious error of David Cameron's judgement to employ Andy Coulson as a PR adviser.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, openly questioned the Prime Minister's appointment of Bill Bratton, former police chief in New York and Los Angeles, to examine the policing issues raised by the mass disturbances.

It is not yet Christmas pantomime season but there is definitely a feeling of "He's behind you" about all of this.

"I find it a bit rich when Cameron and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, blather about looters, when they both belonged to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, where no evening was complete without a bit of pointless destruction. Even Nick Clegg admits to setting fire to things as a youth. Johnson's alleged marital infidelities hardly make him the right person to pontificate about broken homes. As for antisocial behaviour, politicians and bankers are both guilty of diddling the taxpayer – and I didn't see many of them go to jail for nicking a bottle of wine or a television set on expenses. Journalists can't be too self-righteous either, as the number of arrests in the phone-hacking scandal reaches 12, with more expected".

It is not just me who is critical of zero tolerance policing.

According to scholars, zero tolerance is the concept of giving carte blanche to the police for the inflexible repression of minor offences, homeless people and the disorders associated with them. A well known criticism to this approach is that it redefines social problems in terms of security, it considers the poor as criminals, and it reduces crimes to only "street crimes", those committed by lower social classes, excluding white-collar crimes.

Some critics have argued that "Zero tolerance" policing violates the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct passed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which says in part: "The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice" (cited in Robinson, 2002). This code requires that police behave in a courteous and fair manner, that they treat all citizens in a respectable and decent manner, and that they never use unnecessary force. As Robinson (2002: 206) explains:

Zero-tolerance policing runs counter to community policing and logical crime prevention efforts. To whatever degree street sweeps are viewed by citizens as brutal, suspect, militaristic, or the biased efforts of 'outsiders,' citizens will be discouraged from taking active roles in community building activities and crime prevention initiatives in conjunction with the police. Perhaps this is why the communities that most need neighborhood watch programs are least likely to be populated by residents who take active roles in them.

Critics say that zero-tolerance policing will fail because its practice destroys several important requisites for successful community policing, namely police accountability, openness to the public, and community cooperation (Cox and Wade 1998: 106).

Opponents of zero tolerance believe that such a policy neglects investigation on a case-by-case basis and may lead to unreasonably harsh penalties for crimes that may not warrant such penalties in reality. Another criticism of zero-tolerance policies is that it gives officers and the legal system little discretion in dealing with offenders. Zero-tolerance policies may prohibit their enforcers from making the punishment fit the crime.

It also may cause offenders to go all out, knowing if the punishment is the same for a little or a lot. This phenomenon of human nature is described in an adage that dates back to at least the 17th century, "might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb": until 1820, the English law prescribed hanging for stealing anything worth more than one shilling, whether that was a low-value lamb or a whole flock of sheep.

Whilst there is some truth in what David Cameron states...

They were nicking televisions because they wanted a television and they weren’t prepared to save up and get it like normal people.

...if this is a good example of what normal people do, like Sir Gerald Kaufman MP submitting an expenses claim for "£8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen Beovision 40in LCD television".

If David Cameron is intent upon embarking upon zero tolerance policing, it must go right across the board and not simply be an attack upon the lower class by the upper class. Failing this, David Cameron should consider his position because it looks to me like just another dressed up attack upon the Human Rights Act 1998.

No comments: