Thursday, July 22, 2004
Cops and Robbers. posted by Richard SeymourDeeply concerned with the sumptuary proclivities of the British working class, the media has undertaken a campaign to bore us all into getting drunk. How? Endless, wall-to-wall stories about Binge Britain, drunken rage, youths vomiting on the street, policemen condescending pissed members of the public... On top of this, guns and knives seem to be a real pull for newspapers, especially if it happens to be connected in some way to Yardies or asylum seekers. The merest hint of a Muslim connection might also come in handy if the paper in question wanted to do a splash headline like "Al Qaeda Chief Claims Asylum, Benefits, and Kills Granny".
And since the government have been working to stoke all this shit up in what must be another of the Prime Minister's headline grabbing "initiatives" , I was planning on digging up all the dreary old facts which reveal the government's fervent crusades as the ineffectual, incoherent drivel that they have always been. Don't have to, though. The Independent has already done that for me. To summarise, since 1995 crime has dropped by 39%. Most of the drop is in property-related crime (burglaries, car theft etc), but there has also been a reported decline in muggings and other forms of violent crime. Now, the trouble with the Independent's article is that it relies on the British Crime Survey (henceforth, BCS). This has typically been regarded as being more reliable than recorded crime statistics, but there are some problems with it.
For one thing, it doesn't deal with murder - because its surveys are based on face to face interview, and you can't interview a dead guy without a ouija board. For another, it does not interview anyone below the age of 16 (common practise in surveys, opinion polls etc). Since there has been a large shift in violent crime toward young people (beating each other up, nicking mobile phones), this means that their statistics are wanting in that single area. Now, the recorded rate of violent crime has gone up year on year since 1991. This is not due to any particular change in the number of policemen on the beat (oddly, even David Davis was acknowledging this today), or to any alterations in punishment schemes. Britain did not become a more "permissive" society during the 1990s, certainly not as far as crime is concerned.
Every reputable study suggests that there is no established empirical connection between the number of policemen on the beat and crime levels. In Britain, for example, the number of policemen sharply rose during the Eighties, and crime rose coterminously. In the Nineties, crime dropped while police numbers dropped at the same time. If one were to infer an empirical connection from these statistics, one would have to conclude that the police are a bloody jinx. They are not, however - they just have no discernible impact on crime rates. It's just a populist measure that politicians can undertake without costing themselves too much in extra taxation. Looks good, makes no difference whatsoever. What does make a difference is targeted, sensible policies which undermine the causes of, and opportunities for, crime. For example, the continued decline in unemployment (however over-stated that may be) has undoubtedly been a key factor in reducing the level of economic crime. The trouble is, when recession hits it will flare up again. So, the first thing that is needed is a vigorous strategy for pursuing full employment and eliminating poverty. The government, accepting the monetarist orthodoxy that there is a natural rate of unemployment which one can only affect through certain supply-side measures aimed at boosting skills, does not have the intellectual resources or the moral courage to tackle this problem. Brown's back-handed, and relatively slight, boosts to low income families are insufficient to cope with this problem (although it has had the wonderful statistical effect of pushing a million kids from just below the poverty line to just above it). In the short run, a genuine social-democratic government could increase taxes on profits, investment and higher incomes, while reducing taxes on lower incomes. More money could be channeled into social benefits and pensions; the government could pledge to introduce a 35 hour working week to relieve an over-worked labour force and maximise employment opportunities for those on the dole; and where businesses fail local communities (by cutting and running when the market turns against them) the government could nationalise the business and keep people in employment. Those measures in themselves would be far from revolutionary, and yet would do a great deal more to reduce crime than any of the government's synthetic recycling of tough-sounding policies.
As for violent crime - since the bulk of the increase is due to the mass availability of mobile phones to young people, supposing they have the cash, and the even bigger demand for them, I suggest certain measures be taken to make it less easy to steal the fuckers. According to the Metropolitan Police, "As many as 10,000 mobile phones are stolen every month. Two thirds of the victims are aged between 13 and 16." 28% of all robberies in 200-01 were mobile phone thefts. The only way to reduce this is to make stolen phone useless. There is a national database being set up to help block phones which have been stolen, and if your mobile gets nicked you can now have it immobilised . And while I'm on the topic of crimes committed by the young on the young, it is worth noting that most young criminals are dabblers and not persistent offenders. They "commit just a few offences and then desist". There are only a small number of young repeat offenders, and most of this can be reduced by reducing motives and opportunities for crime (tackling poverty, making school a place worth going to, funding local amenities). I do not believe that locking up young people in secure units does anything but introduce petty criminals to potentially major criminals - it makes little bastards worse.
Finally, I come to other kinds of violent crime. Sex crimes are apparently down, which is lucky because I have no idea what can be done about this sort of thing, besides tagging rapists cocks. With bricks. There are obvious things you can do about paedophiles, such as not placing them in houses next to schools, and replacing funding for monitoring programmes which were able to reduce re-offending rates to 3%. Murder remains relatively low in the UK, and very little of it is carried out by strangers. The only way to curtail any rise in the murder rate is to keep a tight lid on the implements of slaughter - guns, machetes etc. Domestic violence is often concurrent with child abuse, because violent men hit both wives and kids. It is disproportionately younger women who suffer domestic violence. In this instance, it is only the combined action of a criminal justice system and a welfare system dedicated to tackling the problem seriously that can reduce the problem. Precedence is a good guide, since most people who abuse their wives and kids once go on to repeat the offense. Banning smacking would also be a good step. Finally, there is the marked rise in racially motivated violence. One thing the government could do to stop the rise in racism is to stop participating in it. Every inflammatory statement from that berk, Blunkett, validates another aspect of the BNP's propaganda - Nick Griffin boasted about this to The Guardian. There must be efforts to challenge racism within the police, as well as in local areas. In that regard, the actions of civil society - political parties, the Anti-Nazi League and United Against Fascism - are of far greater import than those of the government.
Remember when you feel yourself sink under the crime wave that the government are pretty useless and the police are almost never there to help.
(Note from the Fringe: Someone is accessing my site now from Cardiff University. Psychology department if I'm not mistaken. I also appear to have a visitor from France, and someone visiting my site from parliament via 4 Glengate. This power is going straight to my underpants.)