This past year has seen a steady drip-feed of negative stories about the police. In recent weeks Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published an interim report, based on research in 13 out of 43 forces (not including Lincolnshire) estimating that a fifth of crime is not being recorded correctly.
The Home Secretary recently described as “profoundly disturbing” a report that undercover officers tried to influence the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. She said that policing ‘stood damaged’ by the findings. Policing. Not that force. Not those individual officers. Policing.
A police officer is in jail for lying about witnessing the ‘Plebgate’ row. The Metropolitan Police is facing legal action brought by five women who say they were deceived into intimate relationships with undercover police officers. From the alleged Hillsborough police cover-up, to the arrests of current and former police officers as part of the Met’s Operation Elveden investigation into corruption; it makes us all ask the question: can we trust the police?
Like everyone else, I am influenced by national headlines. Even though I know that these sensational headlines focus on a few individuals and some of the incidents were a long time ago, I somehow feel tainted by association. I have to remind myself: there are 120,000 police officers in England and Wales and the vast majority do a fantastic job, often in difficult circumstances.
For many years now, there has been independent research carried out about trust in the police. It seems we are still more trusted than politicians (sorry John Hayes) and journalists (sorry Jeremy Ransome).
Actually, the research shows that trust in the police has not changed much over the past 30 years. When asked, about 67 per cent of people said they trust the police. I’d like that figure to be higher, but remember, this is a national survey.
The lowest it has been was 58 per cent in 2005. Interestingly, the research also shows that people have more trust in local officers on the beat than senior police officers.
I believe that openness and honesty is the key to trust. So, can we trust the national crime figures that show that recorded crime is going down? The truth is, I honestly don’t know.
I can’t comment on other forces’ practices. The British Crime Survey is independent of the police and it also shows crime is falling.
Research in to hospital accident and emergency figures also shows that alcohol-related violent crime is falling. So crime probably has genuinely been falling.
Are the crime figures for South Holland accurate? This is something that I can talk about but let me start by reminding you that crime figures are only one crude measure of our effectiveness.
Crime has fallen in South Holland, but that doesn’t mean the demand for our services has reduced. Regular readers will have learned over recent months about much of our work that is not linked to crime, but other incidents such as concerns for welfare, missing children, mental health issues and traffic collisions.
However, when a victim reports a crime to us, we are rigorous in making sure we record and investigate that crime correctly. Our crime recording is audited to make sure we don’t ‘fudge’ the figures. If it’s a crime and you report it to us: it’s recorded.
Our crime figures still don’t represent all crime because there will always be some victims that don’t want to report a crime to us. For some it’s because they don’t want to bother us, they think we’re too busy; for others it’s because they don’t trust us to take an interest or investigate properly. So: we’re back to trust again.
Lincolnshire Police has a wonderful phrase about ‘Policing with PRIDE.’ PRIDE stands for Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Empathy.
This isn’t just something we pay lip service to. You will have seen these traits in many of my weekly articles: from the professionalism at a fatal collision to the dedication of a dog-handler, to the respect and empathy shown when giving support to someone suffering a mental health crisis.
But remember, there is an I in PRIDE: Integrity. Because of the local checks and balances we have in place, I know that South Holland’s officers record crime accurately and with integrity. None of my officers are under pressure to under-record or ‘fudge’ the figures. They are, however, held to account to investigate properly and to meet the very highest standards of victim care.
Of course, we’re human and we sometimes make mistakes. Most complaints that I receive about my officers are about poor communication, usually because we have failed to keep a victim updated. It’s something we are improving on and personally I think improved victim care is more important than focusing on crime figures.
I use social media and these weekly columns to improve openness and trust between us. Sometimes I write about recent incidents, sometimes about hidden aspects of policing and sometimes I take a humorous meander down memory lane.
These articles are written in an atmosphere of trust and honesty. I don’t write them as shameless self-promotion but in the hope that by understanding the complexities of modern policing and by humanising our work, you will have increased trust and confidence in your local police.
Despite negative national headlines, I want people in South Holland to have confidence that your local officers will take your local concerns seriously. It’s a matter of trust.