When I ask people whether policing should be ‘evidence based’ everyone says, Yes.
We all seem to agree that what we ask the police (and partners) to do should have the outcomes we want to see – whether that is deterring crime and anti-social behaviour, or bringing criminals to book. We want to know ‘what works’. We want to put our money into measures that make a difference and that means we need ways of evaluating the impact that something is having. Likewise, when the government gives us additional funding for, say, tackling serious crime, they want to know what outcomes we will be looking for and how we intend to evaluate them. There is no point in throwing money at activity that has little or no effect.
This is why our South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), for example, only gives funding to community projects that are clear about what they want to do and how this can be measured.
I agree with this, though I am not sure it is always as simple as it sounds.
Take road safety. I had a very interesting conversation last week with a local authority officer who has responsibility for road safety, including advising on traffic calming measures, speed limits, road signs and the like.
His budget is very limited and every change brings a cost – the cost, for instance, of putting up a new speed limit sign and the annual cost of keeping it in good order. So he has to prioritise, he builds an ‘evidence base’. He often starts with the number of accidents there have been along a stretch of road. This makes residents very cross. They say, not unreasonably, ‘So we have to have someone killed before we can get the speed limit reduced.’ He also knows – again part of his ‘evidence base’ – that what slows drivers is not so much a reduced speed limit – the evidence suggests that makes 1mph difference – but what drivers see ahead of them. If the road is straight and devoid of hazards, they tend to put their foot down, whatever the signs say. But if they see parked cars ahead or the start of a more built-up area or an island in the centre of the road, they automatically slow down.
When a request comes from a village or part of a town for a reduced speed limit he thinks about this evidence for what causes drivers to slow down. He knows that a sign will have minimal effect, even though residents are overwhelmingly in favour of it. In other words, they might feel safer though there is little or no empirical evidence that says they will be safer. The decision to change a speed limit is often, therefore, a political one, not one with that is evidence based.
Or is it? My Police and Crime Plan is quite explicit. It says I want people in South Yorkshire not only to be safe but also to feel safe. There is no reason why measures that help people to feel safe cannot be part of an evidence base. After all, we can measure empirically whether people feel more safe after a speed limit has been reduced from 40 to 30mph, say, just as much as we can measure how many accidents there have been.
A dangerous legacy
Once again we are in lock-down with all it’s rules and restrictions on our liberty. The police will again have to tread that fine line between enforcement that is widely accepted as necessary if we are to get on top of the virus, and enforcement that might be considered heavy handed. Derbyshire police seem once again to have crossed that line too readily by taking action against two women who drove five miles to a beauty spot to take some exercise. But it is not easy for the police when the law and government advice may not be totally aligned.
Fortunately, according to opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of people support the lock-down and therefore will support the police. (79% in a YouGov poll) This is important not just because our way of policing in this country is dependent on the police doing what the public want – policing by consent – but also because last week we had a dramatic illustration in the United States of what happens when members of the public begin to disrespect authority, including the forces of law and order.
President Trump leaves his country with a dangerous legacy.
Brendan Warburton MBE
Congratulations to Brendan Warburton who received an MBE in the New Year honours. Brendan is the head coach at the Sheffield Amateur Boxing Club in Sharrow.
I have been to the club – we gave then some funding – and seen the work he and his staff do. They take young people who might otherwise be adrift in the streets at night, open to temptation and exploitation of many kinds, and give them something purposeful to do and something positive to aim for. Above all they teach the young people to respect themselves and one another, whoever they are and whatever their ethnicity. The honour is well deserved.
I hope you are staying safe and well.