Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dr. Rodger Patrick [LSP 15]

Executive Summary

The hesitant response to the disorders in the summer of 2011 and apparant uncertainty over political and operational boundaries coupled with the suspicion that there was a lack of transparency over the failure to deploy available resources justifies a review of police leadership. However these are not the only symptoms of the malaise engulfing the senior echelons of the service and a number of high profile criminal/discipline cases and associated resignations suggest the moral compass is wavering. However a new College of Policing is unlikely to address the underlying problems. Similar circumstances led Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to review Police Integrity in 1998/9 (HMIC 1999) and the current demise exposes a failure to address the weaknesses identified then. This submission will return to this thematic inspection to try to learn from past mistakes concluding that more effective regulation, by bodies committed to democratic principles of openness and accountability, hold the key to better standards of leadership.

1. Introduction

1.1 The Police and Magistrates Court Act 1994 and Police Reform Act 2002 radically altered police governance making Chief Constables directly accountable to the Home Secretary through a framework of centrally determined performance indicators. This in theory should have led to an increase in the efficiency of the service as effective leaders would be evident from their performance and good practice would spread as they were promoted to the highest positions. At this time the remit of the principle regulator Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) was subtly shifted from maintaining efficiency and probity to ensuring value for money. The incompatibility of these distinct roles was clear from the collapse of Enron where the auditors Andersen also acted as consultants on performance. HMIC appeared to have grasped the significance of this and the following comment is included in their report on Integrity:

Her Majesty’s Inspector is confident HMIC will increasingly monitor integrity, the systems and the investigative and corrective measures for maintaining it, and Inspectors will become aware at an early stage of any failings. In the same way forces are urged to keep in view the human side of policing, HMIC, in its new role as “best value” inspectors, will not lose sight of this important responsibility” (HMIC 1999:69).

1.2 It would appear they have failed to meet their own expectations but their actions in dealing with the malpractice they uncovered during this thematic inspection would suggest they are the authors of their own misfortune: more on this later.

2. Theoretical Considerations

2.1 From a theoretical perspective it is crucial for regulators to prevent cheating or “gaming” when performance regimes are introduced. It is difficult for lay members to judge whether or not probity or quality controls are being maintained when they are presented with data on organisational performance. The Market, which performance management systems in the public sector seek to replicate, does self regulate on price and quality and even in the case of the banking sector, where regulation was woefully lacking, would have exposed and disposed of institutions and their managers if national and political interest had not intervened. However there is no evidence of such ruthless action to maintain standards by the various Police regulators and the evidence suggests they are guilty of applying what Bevan and Hood (2006) refer to as a “Nelson’s eye game” in their approach to such perverse behaviours. They also went on to categorise the types of leaders who will thrive in such an environment:

“ Rational maniacs “ who do not share the goals of central controllers and aim to manipulate data to conceal their operations.

“ Reactive gamers” who broadly share the goals of central controllers but aim to game the target system if they have reasons and opportunities to do so.

(Bevan and Hood 2006:523)

2.2 In the absence of effective regulation this type of individual is likely to reach the highest echelons of the police service, including the Inspectorate and beyond, where they will be in a position to distort the past and continue to exert an unwarranted level of influence on the service. The parallels with the banking sector are self evident.

3. A Flawed Approach to Regulation

3.1 Whilst HMIC were conscious of the dangers posed by Performance Management and highlighted a number of “gaming” type practices in their report on Integrity (HMIC 1999) they minimised the scale of the problem. An examination of the West Midlands Police, one of the police forces taking part in the thematic inspection, demonstrates this feature. This force had been transformed from the worst to the best performing Metropolitan Police Force in the country after the arrival of a new Chief Constable, Edward Crew, in 1996. The Chief Constable introduced a “Compstat” style of management control similar to that utilised by the New York Police Department (NYPD). The various area commanders met on a monthly basis to be held to account for their performance. The best performers were awarded with a bell of the sort used to usher school children and the worst exposed before their peers. The atmosphere and sense of control concentrated in the hands of the Chief Constable is captured in a cartoon from the period (Fig.1)

FIG. 1

3.2 This control system is now being brought into disrepute by the findings of Eterno and Siverman (2012) who have presented convincing evidence that the reported performance of NYPD is being distorted by unethical practices, principally statistical manipulation and under-recording. The same was true of the West Midlands Police. Examination of internal documents, including the unpublished report by HMIC, confirmed that the improvement of the West Midlands Police was significantly influenced by a number of “gaming” type practices. The force during this period 1996–99 could be regarded as a template for a perverse policing model. The practices employed included:

1.Under-recording in the form of alternative crime registers.

2.The conversion of post sentence admissions into offences Taken Into Consideration (TIC) and the re-emergence of the malpractice associated with “Prison Write Offs”. (Patrick 2011b)

3.Shifting efforts towards easier to detect offences and the systematic redeployment of specialist officers traditionally committed to combating serious and organised crime in inner city areas to affluent suburbs (Patrick 2004).

4.Abuse of non judicial disposals, such as cautions and informal warnings, to improve the detection rate. This resulted in many individuals gaining a police record when the evidence was insufficient to secure a conviction at court. In some cases the suspect would be unaware they were being recorded as responsible for an offence, this included serious offences such as rape and kidnapping.

3.3 Despite including examples of the first three forms of “gaming” in their report HMIC did not expose the force involved. In fact they stated in their annual inspection report that the West Midland Police was not corrupt. Recorded crime subsequently increased by 16% the following year and the Home Office sponsored report on Police corruption (Newburn 1999:7) made it clear such behaviour would fall within more recent definitions of “corruption”. Another Home Office report (Miller 2003) went on to conclude that police corruption was organisational in nature:

“This suggests that corruption arises in a systematic way from the nature and context of policing. Such an observation is in line with previous literature (eg Newburn, 1999, Sherman, 1978) which dismisses the idea that police corruption involves a few rotten apples’ in an otherwise healthy barrel.” (Miller 2003:18)

3.4 Miller noted the correlation between high performing officers and corrupt behaviour and suggested that “performance measures such as crime and clear up statistics” should be used as a means of detecting suspicious conduct in relation to individual officers (Miller 2003:38). However this theoretical trajectory was not extended to suggest that high performing forces should also be suspected of widespread “gaming”. The “light touch” inspection approach adopted by HMIC in relation to high performers appears to ignore this supposition.

3.5Whilst the West Midlands Police made strenuous efforts to address “gaming” particularly under-recording, abuses continued to surface. In 2004 it became clear the abuse of TICs was facilitating the importation of drugs into prison. The scale of the problem is evident from the impact on the force’s detection rate for burglary of dwelling houses (Fig. 2)

(Fig 2)

3.6 Whilst trying to deflect the spotlight elsewhere Assistant Chief Constable Hyde’s explanation for this reversal in fortune amounts to an admission of previous misdemeanours in the West Midlands:

“We have very rigorous and ethical methods of detection and set ourselves the highest possible standards. We will not record something until it comes back from court whereas other forces will record it as a detection from the point it has been signed for by the defendant.” (Birmingham Post 20.4.2005)

4. Malpractice Spreads

4.1 An examination of forces known to have experienced similar problems with “gaming” type practices re-affirmed the reluctance of HMIC to expose such behaviours to public scrutiny (Patrick 2011c) and it was concluded that they were subscribing to a professional body approach to regulation, the antithesis of accountability in the democratic sense:

“it is incompatible with the concept of accountability as a series of linkages leading from the people to those with delegated responsibilities via parliament and the managerial hierarchy since it brings on stage a set of actors who see themselves answerable to their peers, rather than to demos” (Day & Klein 1987).

4.2 In the absence of any effective deterrent it is unsurprising that such practices have spread, partly through the promotion of individuals who have mastered “gaming practices” and then employed them in new policing areas. Collier (2006) described this process as “competitive isomorphism” and Eterno and Silverman linked the spread of malpractice to the promotion of NYPD officers to other Police Departments in the US. Another reason has been the simplistic, superficial duplication of the NYPD system and model throughout the US. The Police Federation of England and Wales have also been at the forefront of exposing such abuses, commissioning research which highlighted the phenomenon (Chatterton 2008):

“Current pressure from the management system is inducing more competitiveness and compelling people to engage in even more dubious practices: “We can’t be truly ethical about this because the rest of the BCUs aren’t and we’re not going to be the worse performing BCU. So as soon as you get a good performing BCU people from other areas go there to find out what they are doing that is going to benefit victims of crime on their area [sarcastic]. And nine times out of ten it’s not to do with best practice, it’s to do with how their housekeeping is better than our housekeeping. That’s the way of life.” (Chatterton 2008:46–47)

4.3 This force by force infection is graphically illustrated by the sudden fall in recorded crime linked to the reinterpretation of the National Crime Recording Standard introduced in 2002 (Fig 2). The source of this can be traced to the Street Crime Initiative when extremely thin evidence suggested victims were reporting crime falsely in pursuit of bogus insurance claims. This led to victims being required to prove the validity of their reports (Patrick 2011a).

Fig. 2

4.4 The spread and scale of the abuse relating to detections became apparent when HMIC carried out a quality control audit of non-judicial disposals, including TICs, in 2006/7 (Table 1):

(Table 1)

4.5. In contravention of convention the full report was never made public however the abuse of informal warnings (included in the non-sanctioned detection column) did lead the Home Office to withdraw them from the performance framework and led ACPO to approach the Information Commissioner (ICO) for advice on how to address the breaches of the Data Protection Act. The Commissioner crystallised the issue:

“From my perspective I am most concerned that individuals were not being informed that they were considered to be the perpetrator of an offence even though this did not involve a legal process, especially if such information could be used in future Enhanced Disclosure relating to them..... I am also worried by the sufficiency of evidence used. If a police force is going to label an individual as the de facto perpetrator then they must have a good objective reason for doing so.” (Information Commissioner 26.3.2007: Unpublished)

However, he declined to take any proactive action to alert the public.

4.6 The other “side of the coin” in relation to this type of “gaming” practice is the fact that offenders escape justice, as their offending behaviour is minimised or goes unchallenged. In the case used to highlight this (Patrick 2011c) a suspect recorded as responsible for kidnapping was never spoken to by the police and went on to murder a baby boy. It should also be noted Ian Huntley received an informal warning for a sexual offence prior to murdering two young girls. The remedial actions taken to prevent the abuse of the caution and informal warning procedures should have resulted in more appropriate interventions being employed to tackle criminality, particularly assaults where the offender is known to the victim, and this may provide an explanation for the reduction in homicides from 2006/7 (Fig 3). However this would require further research.

Fig 3

200203 includes 172 homicides attributed to Harold Shipman.

2005–06 includes 52 homicide victims of the 7 July London bombings.

5. Conclusion

5.1 Good Governance and effective regulation committed to democratic principles of openness and accountability is the key to improving police leadership. The current system is wholly inadequate. The management information on which senior officers are held to account is little more than sophistry and it should come as no surprise that those presiding over such illusion should be involved in other forms of unethical conduct.

5.2 The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners provides the means by which Chief Officers who proscribe to or ignore unethical practices can be removed. However addressing the current malpractice unilaterally would leave reforming Commissioners open to criticism for under-performance. Similar constitutional arrangements in the US have not been a bulwark to “gaming” there. In the UK the political imperative to reduce robbery rates motivated a re-interpretation of the National Crime Recording Standard leading to victims being treated as suspects (Patrick 2011a). This suggests that remedial action needs to be led by HMIC supported by Central Government. The appointment of a non-police Chief HMIC provides the opportunity to reform this crucial body and realign it towards ensuring probity as opposed to concentrating on performance. The Home Affairs Committee could have a crucial role in scrutinising the work of HMIC and a new College of Policing would have a place to play in reinforcing the highest standards expected by the public.

5.3 The stated desire of the current Home Secretary to dismantle the central system of control through targets provides the opportunity for Central Government to distance itself from the performance of local Police Forces. This would enable it to return to its more traditional role of ensuring standards. However, it would still be advisable to be open with the public about the un- reliability of the existing police performance data to prevent a “moral panic” when the issue is addressed. The current level of public scepticism and mistrust of official data should assist in managing this process. The twelve months following the appointment of the new Commissioners and Chief HMIC provides an opportunity for this process to occur. This would ensure the public have a valid means of assessing the effectiveness of those entrusted with delivering policing. Leaving the situation as it is will contribute to a gradual loss of public trust in the State.

Dr. Rodger Patrick ex Chief Inspector West Midlands Police. PhD based on the impact of Performance Management on Police Governance.

October 2012


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Prepared 19th July 2013