Violent Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench 2:54 pm, 29th November 2018

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for the opportunity to debate the increase in serious violence. It is about not only police resourcing and effectiveness, but a broader tapestry. I was not necessarily going to talk about this but thought I might quickly say at the beginning that it seems that in the short to middle term, the Government will have to address two things: resourcing and police effectiveness. I would tie the two together.

First, the loss of 20,000 police can hardly be said to be helpful. I would caution the Government on two things. Even if they said today that they wanted 10,000 more police officers—50% of the loss—it took the Met three years to achieve that growth. It takes a significant investment of time, resources and lead time to achieve that change. Unless the button is pressed now, we cannot expect a quick result. It is not in itself a quick response, although it is an important one that we have to address.

The second point concerns police effectiveness. I have said here before, and I repeat, that the police must do as much as they can with what they have, and it is not good enough for people to say, “We don’t have enough resources”. They have to do a lot with what they have across the areas that are short-term challenges, such as street-level drug markets, carrying knives and domestic violence, which we have not heard about yet in this debate, but we have previously in this House. Some of the rise in the murder rate has been attributed to the rise again in domestic violence murders, which had reduced over the last 10 years. I am afraid that if the Government were to look at some of the arrest and detection rates for those offences, they might see some terrible reductions in those interventions. That leads in the long term to the sort of rise we have seen in domestic violence.

In the short and medium term, those are the things that I would advise the Government to consider. I have mentioned them before; it is almost my “Lord West moment” of asking for more ships, but £350 million will shortly be put into the transformation fund for policing. It is not transforming anything but it is available to spend, I would argue, on more police, should that be thought to be a priority.

The three areas on which I want to concentrate are, first, the prevention of crime as a strategy; secondly, the academic underpinning of our understanding of policing and what works in policing; and, thirdly, the best structures for ensuring that we deliver on those two foundations. Prevention, as mentioned in the Government’s own serious violence reduction strategy, is what will make things better across crime generally, but particularly across serious violence. It will need partners to work together. It goes on to make good proposals on prevention and the allocation of money and other resources to make sure that the prevention strategy can be achieved. However, I would argue that, generally, we do not have a crime prevention strategy that works in the way that we have seen it work for fire.

Fires are now far less likely because things are designed in a way that makes them less likely to burn. Detection systems make any fire that starts more likely to be detected. I am afraid, however, that we have not seen that determination around crime. We have an ill-health prevention strategy, excellent academic research about ill health and an excellent good practice guide. We monitor clinical excellence with organisations such as NICE. But we do not really have a clear intellectual model on which to base our crime prevention strategy. We do not have the equivalent bodies of the ones to which I have just referred. If we did, instead of having a series of ad hoc responses in reaction to real and moral crises in crime, we would have a prevention strategy that, on the whole, would put us in a far stronger position in the future.

I would argue that there are six elements to this. One is the design of place and things. Cars stopped being stolen because they were designed better. They are just about to be stolen in larger numbers because thieves have worked out how to steal them. Houses are being burgled less because we have better alarms. In place design, we can see how CCTV can be best used. Then there is the use of light, white light in particular.

Secondly, there is an alcohol control strategy. Providing alcohol to underage young people tends to deliver more violence. Unless that is controlled not only by the licensing authorities but by the police, problems will follow. The density of licences needs to be looked at—24-hour licensing has worked but I am not sure whether we have too many licences—both on and off-licences. Clearly, a controlled drug strategy is relevant to the present rise in violent crime. Mental health was mentioned earlier; 40% of people arrested by the police and in prison at the moment have a mental health issue, and it is vital that that is woven into the strategy. Young people are disproportionately affected by crime as victims and as suspects, so it is vital that that aspect is involved. Finally, there should be advice and incentivisation to potential victims to protect themselves. We could all take better action to protect ourselves at times—not to modify our way of life, but to make sure that we are less likely to be victims. That can be incentivised by things such as insurance. Fundamentally, therefore, we have not yet embedded crime prevention in government policy or in the way in which we all react.

My second concern is that we do not have a body of knowledge on which to base that prevention strategy. If you want to be a doctor, you go to a medical faculty; if you want to be a lawyer, you go to a law faculty. If you want to be a cop, you work out how to do it. That is not good enough when 60 million of us rely on about 250,000 people to keep us safe. Our great universities ought to be dedicating research time and work to making sure that this can happen. We in the Met invested £500,000, which concluded with Professor Ben Bradford being selected to be professor of policing at UCL. Should that work, it will mean that in the future there will be more faculties to help policing develop by finding out what works internationally as well as locally.

Even if those two things were in place and we had a crime prevention strategy and that academic research, we must have a structure that best delivers it. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Harris: when there was a moral crisis around street robbery, one of our previous Governments put in place a system that said we would respond as a country, not as 46 different forces. I argue that, whether through that mechanism or another, there needs to be a catalyst that drives this action forward in the future. At the moment, it potentially just meanders into the future rather than there being a short-term hit, particularly if resources are put into this effort. It is no good investing resources that are not well targeted; a catalyst, whether an individual or a group of individuals, is absolutely vital.

Finally, in our response on health we have a National Health Service, the military responds in a united way, and the security services are all one. When we get to the police, the answer is 46, which I do not understand. I am not saying that the answer is one, but it is not 46. I assure your Lordships that it will be an inconsistent response. Whether it is on this moral issue about violence, or any future issue that we will have to address, if we continue with a 46 model, we will have inconsistency, with marked areas of excellence and marked areas of poor performance. However, the present structure is least likely to deliver excellence in the future, which this country needs, and which the big cities in particular demand at the moment. Without that, we are likely to end up with an inconsistent application of bad practice as well as good.