The other side of policing

Being a police officer can’t be easy these days. My previous post may have sounded pretty harsh to some, but I have had this present post in the works for some time too. Obviously, police officers get to see a lot of bad stuff that most humans could happily do without, but that’s only the beginning.

investigatedWhen I look at police, I always have in my mind the distant memory of when the hotshots of Dutch police got together during several weekends, taking a good look at what was going on in their forces. ( I seem to remember that they did that in their spare time, unpaid.) Then they started to do away with a lot of crazy stuff that was handed down to them by the Ministry without there being any basis in reality for it.

What follows is not an in-depth analysis of what is going on in England & Wales, but a low-resolution snapshot taken from some distance, a bird’s eye perspective. It reveals an interesting landscape.

On 30 December 2009, the home office published Home Office Research Report 28: Improving public confidence in the police: a review of the evidence.

On 4 September 2014, a review of police functioning in England and Wales revealed that victims of crimes are being encouraged to investigate the crimes themselves, when they report offences to the police. The BBC and other media, including The Guardian and the Huffington Post, paid attention to the findings of this review, calling it devastating for police.

When I took a look at both reports, something that jumped out at me is that the results of the second report could be the side effect of the results of the 2009 report having been translated and applied incorrectly (someone having gone completely overboard, possibly). I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

Regardless, individual police officers are not to blame for any of this. It’s good that the latter findings were made public because it puts in perspective what always feels like an individual citizen’s experiences for the individual citizen. It makes clear that if an officer did appear to dismiss you at one point, it had nothing to do with either of you personally.

My local newspaper, the Portsmouth News, conducted an online poll in September, asking readers to indicate whether they expected police to deal with it appropriately if they reported a non-major crime. While the number of respondents rose steadily, the percentage of people who responded with a “yes” remained at 8%.  Now what does that mean? Not necessarily much.

A spur-of-the-moment online poll like this does not give an accurate impression of the level of confidence in the police. It is safe to say, though, on the basis of that September 2014 report alone that the level won’t be high.

Notably researchers in the US and other non-EU countries have already conducted a great deal of work in this area (confidence in the police). In January 2013, the psychology department of the University of Twente in the Netherlands published a Bachelor thesis on the topic, by Dominique Meijer (including survey data for 125 respondents in the Netherlands). In the same year, the Erasmus University in Rotterdam published an extensive study of trends in the public’s confidence in the police and what these trends mean (by Van der Veer, Van Sluis, Van de Walle and Ringeling).

(The Netherlands is a very different country, so I look mainly at what these authors say and found that does not only apply to the Netherlands.)

The public’s confidence in the police is based on the following six components:

  • Integrity;
  • Lawfulness/legitimacy (whether police officers observe the law in their actions);
  • Efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Democracy (fairness, openness about policies and responsibility for actions taken);
  • Competence (professional skills and expertise);
  • Intention (work ethic)

When the public has a great deal of confidence in its police force, this can lead to increased feelings of safety and a decrease in fearfulness among citizens (but the relationship is not straightforward). Confidence in the police is also a good indicator of the quality of policing and of how well the public accepts the authority of the police as well as its actions (integrity, honesty).

How does confidence in the police relate to crime figures?
One wonders. In October 2014, Portsmouth City Council’s publication Flagship reported that “crime recorded by police is down by 33% since 2007/8 and 8% since last year.” Such numbers are pretty useless as they may very well reflect that fewer and fewer people bother reporting crime.

The Flagship also gave numbers based on a March 2014 survey with 849 respondents. Of those respondents, 2% had experienced burglary, 1% mugging or robbery and 3% was assaulted (for instance beaten up). Of these same respondents, 40% feared burglary, 17% feared mugging/robbery and 14% feared being assaulted/beaten up. (I don’t know yet whether such percentages are average, or higher than average.) There was no mention of what percentage of the experienced crimes had actually been reported to the police by the respondents.

How do police officers feel about it?
What struck me more than anything else is that confidence in the police among Hampshire Police staff appears to be pretty low too. On 31 May 2014, the Portsmouth News headlined that “Less than a fifth of Hampshire police staff have confidence in the direction the force is going as it battles multi-million pound spending cuts”. It also mentioned that “only 21 per cent of staff polled feel valued by the force.” Like I said, being a police officer can’t be easy.

Half a year has passed since then. Has it made a big difference to how our local cops feel about their jobs? I doubt that.

After reading this, you may wonder what a cop makes, like I did. Here are some data. Police officers make more than retail staff and many store managers, but the salaries, though good (for the UK), aren’t stellar. (I call just about everyone who works at the police “cop” or “police officer”, for the sake of simplicity.)

If you add overtime to it, the picture can apparently change dramatically, however:

How much of a life does someone have when he or she works that much overtime?