Policing in Waltham Forest: priorities

Following on from my series about knife crime, this and the succeeding post look at wider aspects of policing in Waltham Forest.

A sensible starting point is police priorities.

Under Mayor Johnson, the focus was on the so called Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) Seven – violence with injury, robbery, burglary, vandalism (criminal damage), theft from the person, theft of motor vehicles, and theft from motor vehicles.

However, shortly after taking office, Mayor Khan introduced some important changes. The previous system, it was argued, had imposed an inflexible and centrally determined model, ignoring the variations on the ground. A better approach was to focus on ‘the things that really matter in communities themselves’.

The result of this change in thinking is that each borough police force now has to focus on the following mix:

(a) a ‘mandatory’ number of ‘high-harm crimes’ – sexual violence, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, weapon-based crime, and hate crime;

(b) antisocial behaviour (said to be ‘an important issue in every Borough’); and

(c) ‘two local volume crime priorities’, to be chosen on the basis of ‘local knowledge, crime data, and police intelligence’.

So what does this mean for Waltham Forest? Well, it turns out the decision about ‘local volume crime priorities’ already has been taken, with the choice being burglary (‘theft, or attempted theft, from a premises where access is not authorised’) and robbery (‘theft with the use of force or a threat of force’).

That is clear enough, but tracing exactly how and why this conclusion was reached is rather more difficult than might be imagined.

MOPAC claims that the system of agreeing borough priorities involves ‘partnership with local police leaders and the elected local Council’.

However, there is no obvious record of this happening. Perhaps then Cabinet portfolio holder Cllr. Ali sat down with the Mayor’s representatives and thrashed it out himself.

What can be said is that (according to their minutes) the issue does not appear to have been discussed by either the LBWF Communities Scrutiny Committee or the Waltham Forest Safer Neighbourhoods Board, which given their remits is surely surprising.

Moreover, consulting recent crime statistics (for which see the succeeding post) provides only qualified support for the choices made. Burglary clearly fits the stated criteria, accounting for 9 per cent of all crimes in FY 2016-17. On the other hand, the reason to include robbery seems less obvious. There were 651 such offenses in 2016-17, which is 3 per cent of the total. Yet if the word ‘volume’ is taken seriously, a much better case can be made for car crime (2828 offenses or 13 per cent of the total) and any one of ‘assault with injury’, ‘common assault’, and ‘harassment’ (where the figures are respectively 1676 or 8 per cent, 1986 or 9 per cent, and 2421 or 11 per cent).

And this leads on to a wider point about the whole exercise. Mayor Khan’s approach – which it appears has been implicitly accepted by LBWF – introduces a new hierarchy of crime, where particular offenses are said to cause greater ‘harm’ or ‘impact’ than others, and thus ‘matter more’.

One issue is whether such judgements rest upon hard evidence, or simply reflect the political imperatives of the day, or even perhaps Mayor Khan’s wish to be re-elected.

A related issue is whether they are necessarily fair.

For example, car crime seems to have been entirely downgraded. But what of the person with limited means who has to use their car every day to get to work, or do their job, and then has it stolen? Don’t they suffer considerable ‘impact’?

There are obviously no easy answers to this kind of conundrum, but a bit of open debate would at least force those in authority to publicly explain their choices.

What’s unfortunate (to say the least) is that, as already noted, those in Waltham Forest who by rights should be in the vanguard of such debate have so far failed to rise to the challenge, and apparently just rolled over without even a whimper.

Related Posts

Policing in Waltham Forest: priorities

Knife crime in Waltham Forest: a nasty little scandal (1)

Knife crime in Waltham Forest: a nasty little scandal (2)

Knife crime in Waltham Forest: a nasty little scandal (3)

Knife crime in Waltham Forest: a nasty little scandal (4)

Knife crime in Waltham Forest: a nasty little scandal (5)

The LBWF Gang Prevention Programme: yet another missed opportunity