Confidence in the police

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 themselves, when they report offences to the police, according to the BBC. Other media, including The Guardian and the Huffington Post, also paid attention to the findings of this review.

Although the Association of Chief Police Officers appear to be explaining them as a consequence of austerity, these practices of telling victims to investigate crimes committed against them are not new.

When I reported an incident that according to the police constituted identity theft and harassment, the officer I spoke with informed me that I had to do the legwork myself if I wanted anything done because the police didn’t have the manpower to investigate these high-volume crimes. He also explained that what had happened to me could be very unsettling. He asked me whether I wanted counselling as it was available if I needed it. I appreciated that, but I declined.

That was in October 2008, when austerity measures did not play any role.

According to the BBC, the reviewers (led by Roger Baker) made similar observations, namely that this trend of telling citizens to solve crimes started before the budget cuts.

What may be related to the budget cuts, is that (in my own experience) police officers appear much less likely to offer any assistance with the psychological consequences of crimes people have been subjected to, even in more serious cases (other than standard phrases about victim support in automated recordings and printed information materials).

I think that I can safely assume that confidence in the police is currently worse than it was in 2009.

A September 2014 poll conducted by my local newspaper, the Portsmouth News, showed that only 8% of the respondents believed that police would properly investigate if they’d reported anything other than very serious crimes to the police. This number remained fairly constant during the increase of the number of respondents; the only brief deviation I saw was a percentage of 9.

But what does this low number mean?

In January 20913, the University of Twente in the Netherlands published a Bachelor thesis on the topic (confidence in the police). Notably researchers in the US and other non-EU countries have already conducted a great deal of work in this area.

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. Confidence in the police is also a good indicator for the quality of policing and of how well the public accepts the authority of the police as well as its actions.

Four factors play a role in the theoretical model to predict confidence in the police:

  • age;
  • gender;
  • direct experiences (how much contact people had with the police and whether they viewed it as positive);
  • indirect experiences (how much police-related reality TV people watch and how much they like these shows).

These factors also influence people’s fearfulness.

Confidence in the police consist of the following six components:

  • Integrity;
  • Lawfulness/legitimacy (whether police officers observe the laws in their actions;
  • Efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Democracy (fairness, openness about policies and responsibility for actions);
  • Intention (work ethic).

How does the above relate to crime figures?

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.” I wonder how these numbers relate to the numbers of actual occurring crimes. Does citizens still report as many crimes to the police as they used to when they have experienced over the years that the police won’t investigate anyway? About 90% of all rapes go unreported, I read the other day.

The Flagship also gave numbers based on a March 2014 survey with 849 respondents. Of those respondents, 2% had experienced burglary, 1% mugging or robbing and 3% was assaulted such as beaten up. It did not mention the percentage of these crimes had actually been reported to the police. It did mention that 40% of the respondents fear burglary, 17% fear mugging/robbery and 14% fear being assaulted or beaten up.

How fearful citizens are of crime and of becoming crime victims is generally related to how much confidence they have in the police.

In essence, the fearfulness among the public does not represent citizens’ “degree of silliness” but reflects police performance and the degree of confidence people have in the police.

How much confidence people have in the police is also related to how much confidence people have in other organisations, in general.

In the Netherlands, how much confidence people have in the police is positively correlated to the quality of the contact they had with the police in the preceding twelve months, but negatively correlated if they were a victim of crime.

The Dutch study at the University of Twente was based on survey data for 125 respondents in the Netherlands.

In the same year, the Erasmus University published an extensive study of trends in the public’s confidence in the police and what they mean.

Thanks for reading. Do you still report crime to the police?

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