The trouble with targets

The police federation is complaining about targets and saying that this is not what they all joined the police force for.

OK but all organisations that are spending someone else’s money, whether shareholders or tax payers, should be accountable and transparent in showing what they’ve done with the money.

BUT, lets face it, the government has a real blind spot when it comes to setting targets.

You get what you measure and when setting targets, you have make sure that you actually want what you’re measuring.

Too often, government departments set out to measure activity rather than outcomes. So, what you get is a lot of activity. In the example of the police’s you get a lot of arrests being made rather than serious crime being reduced; in education, you get good test results but kids who get to university unable to spell and in health you get short waiting lists but a rise in hospital acquired infections.

The trouble is, this government, does trust people to deliver those outcomes, it is unconvinced that it will be done their way and so, in the manner of a control freak (and Gordon isn’t even in charge yet) it sets out to measure what actions are taken as opposed to as what outcomes are achieved.

Outcomes are invariably harder to measure and often subjective and qualitative rather than easy numbers but it can be done. I have filled in enough Lottery and other Grant application forms to know that it can be done; it just takes more work and a bit more vision…or…, even.

That said, one concern I have about the call from the Police Federation is their suggestion that dealing with small crimes isn’t what they all joined the police service to do and they should be focussing on large, serious crimes. Well, maybe they didn’t, but an awful lot of money been spent on a new focus, particularly in the Metropolitan Police Service, on community policing and dealing with low level crimes.

Safer Neighbourhood teams are the physical incarnation of that focus and they are as much about the perception people have of crime and dealing with their fear of it as they are about dealing with the big things – there is definitely no rushing around in police cars with the sirens on allowed – our PSCOs, in Crystal Palace, have bikes when they’re not on foot!

Key to this is dealing with signal crimes like graffiti, fly tipping, unruly teenagers and unruly adults and crime prevention. It is slow burn stuff but here in Crystal Palace Ward (where I chair the resident’s panel that provides direction to the team) we are just beginning, after two years, to reap the benefits. The police are starting to get more information about the drug dealing that goes on in the car parks of one of our estates because the residents are starting to know and trust the beat officer. This kind of success will eventually be measured in terms of arrests but in them mean time we need to protect and support the activity. Because what it seems do is change people’s perception and fear of crime and above all improves the quality of their lives.

This approach to community policing and its focus on dealing with low level crime is important and over the last 40 years the direction of the police, particularly in London has oscillated between the ‘Bobby on the beat’ and dealing with the big, ’important’ crimes that the Police Federation and John Denham (Chair of the Home Office Select Committee) seem to want them to go back to pursuing.

However, the model of community policing that is being implemented by the Met and funded by Londoners has not been made up on the fly…it is based on a model developed in the US and the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy that has been in place and successful since 1993.

What it really needs is consistent funding and a belief that successful outcomes will be delivered in the long term and not necessarily in the short term; although, I have to say our experience in Crystal Palace is that it is a bit of both. The Government, the Select Committee and the Police Authorities all have to hold their nerve and not veer back to measuring just large scale crime detection.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record on this, again, but the government and the centre has to trust locally accountable organisations (although not as accountable as I’d like them to be) to deliver and not force them to use just one method of getting to the right outcome.

We must stop measuring just activity; a good start would be to measure levels of satisfaction with the service provided or perception of crime or quality of life.


Tom Papworth said...
15 May 2007, 22:49:00

I read rather a good book on this subject by Stephen Norris, of all people. He was very fond of the Chicago example and of community policing in general.

I think I've mentioned before my belief that police should not patrol in pairs, as they tend to chat to one another instead of to the public. The North Bromley Safer-Neighbourhoods inspector confirmed that he tries to stagger his officers so that they can see (and so support) one another but not distract one another from the citizens.

As for targets, they're just daft. Better local accountability is much more effective than national target-setting.

Anonymous said...
5 Jun 2007, 16:10:00

Hi Jo

When is the next meeting of Crystal Palace SNT?

Many thanks


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