How near the tipping point are we?
‘I feel very strongly that the criminal justice system is doing us down,’ said a typical Professional Security reader – a former police officer turned private security industry manager. This man is unimpressed by Home Secretary David Blunkett – ‘he doesn’t know whether he is coming or going’ – and in despair at how overwhelmed police have closed police stations, and abandoned the streets; how the Crown Prosecution Service discontinues cases of shoplifting for instance (so retailers no longer bother reporting crimes); and the well-known ‘attrition rate’ of the criminal justice system, whereby only about one per cent of all those responsible for crimes are punished by prison. ‘I think there is an enormous future for the security industry if we get our acts together,’ he says, though he is not in fact too keen on private security becoming a sort of private police force; he would rather the police be the police. But someone has to fill the vacuum. Assuming the Security Industry Authority works, the security industry needs three changes in the law to achieve this future:<br>
1) private security officers are accountable, with powers of arrest on suspicion. <br>
2) regarding private prosecutions; it should no longer be open to the CPS to take over a case (shoplifting) only to discontinue it, to give the shoplifter a caution or a final warning or whatever. <br>
3) the private security industry should have the right to seek an anti-social behaviour order. As in 1) and 2), let it be for the courts to decide a case, rather than a CPS pen-pusher. Significantly, the Police Reform Bill that became law before parliament broke up for the summer, extended the power to pursue an ASBO beyond the police and local authorities to registered social landlords (and who will they ask to gather evidence for an ASBO but private investigators’).
Individuals and businesses have learned just how serious a crime has to be before the police will judge it worthy of a response. No wonder that so much crime – and anti-social behaviour – goes unreported. There is a theory about tipping points – that any environment can sustain only so much of anything. Take crime and anti-social behaviour. Once upon a time, who would have dared to drop litter in public, for example’ Today, so many people do it that we hear on the news that cities are plagued by rats feeding off fast-food litter. The threshold at which anti-social behaviour and crime becomes unacceptable continues to rise (notch by notch, unnoticed) until quite suddenly we find that we have lost control, to the criminals; we have reached a ‘tipping point’. Then we – the security managers, the police, everyone of good will – have big problems in re-gaining control of campuses, public spaces, parks and car parks, at great cost.
Have we neared the tipping point, passed it long ago, even’ Well, security managers know all about how the police are stretching their resources by withdrawing resources from the districts less under stress – those well covered by private security, or rural areas. Police seldom see or hear from any member of the public any more unless they are a victim of crime, or a suspected criminal. Not only does this dangerously isolate police from wider society, it denies the police intelligence from the law-abiding, the proverbial little old ladies, so that police are less able to do their job well.
As for the relatively few criminals that ever reach the criminal justice system, lawyers and judges and politicians who seek to reform the system because there is so much crime around must remember that the purpose of the system all along has been to punish the guilty and deter the rest of us from crime. If you say (as the think-thank IPPR said in July) that prisons are so full that there should be fewer in prison, you forget that what matters is how the criminal justice system is perceived in society – not by the paid-up members of the CJS who run the courts. If criminals get ‘community sentences’ rather than are deprived of their liberty in a prison, is that a punishment – is it seen as a punishment’
Likewise, CCTV or electronic security measures are a means to an end – stopping crime, and catching criminals who are then punished through the CJS. It’s no good installing cameras in the hope that they will do the ‘trick’, although we are not sure what the ‘trick’ actually is. Are security practitioners able to put across a case for ridding a site of crime to non-security people – architects, facility managers, people holding the organisastional purse-strings. ven if the message gets through, do the people in property services and estates departments take any notice of the advice. Or is it that for every good reason Security puts forward for doing something about crime, others put forward many more even better reasons for doing nothing. All the while, the tipping point of criminality and anti-social behaviour (spitting, litter-dropping, bad language, rudeness, jostling) gets closer. Until one day we wake up to find crime and anti-social behaviour is out of control, the fine words and reasoning fly out of the window.