“We need to cut the bureaucracy and get back to fighting crime. So we’ve taken an axe to police red tape, saving up to 4.5 million police hours a year and getting the equivalent of an extra 2,100 officers back onto the streets. We need to give the police the freedom to use their judgement. So we’ve scrapped all police targets and given them a single objective – to cut crime “ Theresa May, Speech (9th October 2012)
The brave new world of Police and Crime Commissioners is finally upon us. As the honeymoon period of glossy “getting to know you” photographs and hand-shaking tours of outlying stations and towns comes to an end, these new political beasts are starting to publish their draft Police and Crime plans for the years ahead. For those of you not in the know, these documents set out the plans for the Police and Crime Commissioners, their strategies and visions, which will be translated by the Police into reality.
You will note from the Home Secretary, and latterly confirmed by the new policing minister, Mr Green MP, that the focus of the home office is to produce a Police that is focussed on cutting crime. To this end, they want the Police to be able to cut the bureaucracy that is in place. Much of this bureaucratic activity can trace its roots to the last administration, who had fallen in love with “performance targets”. The endless search for audit, and the associated micro-management that accompanies this style of management creates absurd behaviours. Often these behaviours are manifested in some sub-optimal outcomes for the public. In more drastic cases, they appear as corruption and criminality.
I bring this up, because in looking at some of the draft plans as they emerge blinking into the sunlight of public scrutiny, I see once again a couple of old themes re-emerging. One is the drive for detections, which has been widely commented on, but I will re-evaluate here – and the other is the wider bureaucracy of targets, and the perverse culture and behaviours that they encourage.
I, among many of my peers, can recall the dark days of “grip” in “performance management”. In my experience, it went something like this:
A target was set – in this case for detections – by the Chief Officer Group.
The target was communicated to the Chief Superintendent, who got a cash bonus if the target was met.
The Chief Superintendent would have a stern word with the Ops Superintendent to ensure that the target was met.
The Superintendent would hold regular briefings with the Chief Inspector and ask for a daily update on how the detections were looking for that period. PDRs may have been mentioned.
The Chief Inspector would call the Inspectors on the hour, to make sure that the detections were looking on target for that day. Sanctions would be implied.
The Inspectors would call the Sergeants every half hour, and demand progress reports on the detections, and threaten sanctions.
Sergeants would call Constables frequently, and direct their activity on a micro-management basis.
But there’s more! The relentless drive for detections brings even worse perverse outcomes to the table. This target led culture inevitably leads to situations where behaviours are corrupted. There are some well documented cases to remind ourselves of here. One such example was PC Dominic DeSouza, who had “criminalised” innocent people and was guilty of a “pervasive abuse of power”. As a constable, he tricked innocent members of the public into accepting cautions which weren’t ethical. This was in the guise of increasing his “performance”. As the judge sagely commented, the supervisors hadn’t enjoyed their “finest hour”, and the whole case bought focus onto “exposing the shortcomings” of target-driven policing. He wasn’t the only cop to have done this. Where targets exist, “gaming”, or cheating, or fiddling the figures, or “good housekeeping” flourishes.
Well, of course this can’t happen in the wider Police. Can it? Of course it can. Couple the humble target with its closest living cousin, the League Table, and you’ve got a recipe for utter disaster. Now, as well as scrambling to reach an arbitrary figure devised to measure a specific, context absent output – which as we have discussed can be completely divorced from any notion of justice – we have added pressure of competing against other police forces. This lends itself to the adoption of shady practices, in order to keep up with the Jones next door. One of the more widely discussed, and researched examples comes from the practice of “Taking into Consideration”. In theory, this allows criminals the opportunity to admit to offences they have committed, and have them heard before a court, with little or no extra sentence. They can also have them admitted to while in prison, and have them “weighed off”, clearing up the crime detection statistics for the police, and having no consequence for the criminal. They may also get a day out of prison and a ride around the countryside with the officers while they admit to the many crimes they say they have committed.
Officers even take specific roles within teams specialising in producing these “taken into consideration” crimes. Divisions look forward to the “results” that these teams bring in for them, which inflates their “performance” and helps reach the intended target. That these TIC’s may often be suspect doesn’t seem to matter to the wider organisation or the senior ranks, as long as detections are being obtained, and “crimes being detected” can be reported as high. Never mind if this is what the victim wants, (and how many are told that their crimes are detected as TIC’s, and all that entails, I wonder?), or that significant amounts of experienced, skilled detectives are being diverted from investigating live, proveable crimes – or even, better yet, to managing prolific offenders and preventing crime in the first place – to satisfy this arbitrary target. The scope for corruption in this practice is vast. TIC’s may not be produced by the offer of an inducement, but virtually every detective in the land must be au-fait with the practices of taking prisoners from their prison, taking them on a nice ride around and buying them dinner, or cigarettes, or allowing strictly forbidden visits to friends and family while in the custody of the police.
Consider this: if you were a prolific and chaotic offender with a prodigious heroin habit, could you recall the last 150 shed burglaries that your committed with enough detail to satisfy a court if the case came to trial?
Information from Radio 4′s “Law in Action” program in 2010 showed that TIC’s related to 35% of all Burglary Detections. Is that giving the public a true reflection of the detections that police produce? These targets produce every day corruption within the police. Recent publicised events include the plying of a 17 year old with cider in order to produce TIC’s, or the arrest of several detectives from Kent suspected of irregularities when providing TIC’s. Make no mistake, TIC’s are trouble. The rub is that if every force does this, and we are compared in league tables, those that do not engage in this practice find their “performance” lower than their peers due to their more ethical practices.
There is a persuasive body of academic research that notes that “performance management” of targets, and particularly with “detections” targets produces perverse outcomes for the public.
I would urge PCC’s to do some background reading on this matter. In the first instance, the rather marvellous Systems Thinking advocate, Inspector Simon Guilfoyle, who says, rather tongue in cheek,
“The failure to understand that all public sector numerical targets are a) completely arbitrary and b) scientifically impossible to establish in the first place, is the first mistake of those who promote their application. You wouldn’t set a target for the amount of hours the sun shines in a day would you? Why not – what’s the difference? “
Other academics, such as DeBruujin, note that
“Performance measurement is aimed at making public organisations perform and account for their results. The result might be that the system forms a layer of rock in the organisation between management and professionals. It deprives directors of insight into the activities performed at the bottom level of the organisation. What is treacherous, however, is that the system suggests that they have a detailed insight into them. The
quality of managerial interventions suffers from it.” (2007)
You, therefore, as a newly appointed PCC, might conclude that you can alter the structure of your police force to make sure that this kind of blindness to the perverse behaviours your newly minted targets will conjure don’t occur. After all, it looks as if the top leaders of the organisation – those which you will naturally speak to most – have integrity and are merely frustrated by the disconnect which your performance measurement will bring them. However, ignorance isn’t a defence, and – in good conscience it’s my duty to tell you that the senior officers know exactly the kind of things that will be occurring in order to satisfy your targets. They know because they had to do it in order to get promoted in the first place.
I urge PCCs to read a thesis from Rodger Patrick, entitled “A study of changing police behaviour in England and Wales during the era of New Public Management.”. It is a very handy catch all for discussing all the issues of detections targets, but this section in particular may cause them some discomfort. It explains that while the perverse outcomes are happening, their senior managers are going to know what’s going on.
“The complaints from the junior ranks, subsequently championed by the Police Federation, indicated that a significant number were uncomfortable with ‘gaming’ behaviour and this was leading to ‘whistle-blowing’. This is hardly the actions of officers willingly engaging in ‘gaming’ behaviour and again supported (the) conclusion that the pressures were ‘top down’, i.e. senior officers ‘playing performance games to mislead the public into thinking that the crime problem was being addressed successfully’ “(2009)
The targets are going to lead to cheating and gaming in order to massage the figures. They will have the perverse outcome of alienating the public, hindering innovation, frustrating justice and further demoralising the police officers which the PCC now lead. Want another academic to back me up?
“Managing people’s activity (by way of targets and micro-management) is an incredible waste of management resource; worse, this style of management demoralises workers. Workers are taught their goodness or badness will be judged by whether they meet their activity statistics; they usually learn how to cheat their numbers to avoid attention (driving further waste into the system). The workers’ focus is survival not contribution and improvement; their ingenuity is driven by the system to work against its purpose”. (Seddon, O’Donnovan and Zokaei, 2009)
I know that PCCs want to make a difference. I believe them when they say that they want to produce good value for their citizens. I realise that they want to catch more bad guys, and stop horrible things happening to good people. The fact remains: if you set “tough targets”, the following things will happen:
Good people will do bad things to achieve your targets
Your citizens will get a poor service
Managers will strive to achieve your mandated outputs, at the expense of appropriate outcomes
When bad things happen, a sacrificial lamb will be selected and punished. You and I will now know that your senior managers knew this was happening.
When bad things happen, you will know why: after all, you set the tough target that gave birth to the tough regime that ensured compliance at all costs.
You may be wondering how I know this will happen. I know because it happens all over the world, whenever similar regimes are brought into service. I know because I saw it happen the last time we had a detections push; the arrested 10 year olds, the cautions with inducements, the reclassification of drunk and disorderly to public order act offences. I saw the Chief Inspectors stalking the constables and pushing them for detections, no matter how perverse their outcomes.
However tempting it may be to court popular public opinion by quick and easy use of setting tough or challenging targets, or using intrusive or probing questions of your senior managers to achieve arbitrary performance targets, they will be of scant comfort when your stewardship comes under question when the unethical practices they promote are exposed.