Police are most effective when the public approves of their actions

Torsten BellSun, 4 April 2021, 7:15 am

Questions of police effectiveness are up in lights here and abroad, with the Metropolitan police the current focusA new study, published by Warwick University, reminds us this is nothing new. Looking back to the creation of the Met in 1829, it examines the impact of our first modern and centrally organised force.

The Met was a controversial change to policing, focusing on deterring, not just punishing, crime. New rules limited alcohol – and violence – on duty. And it worked. Robbery trial numbers decreased by 40% (London was smaller, so this meant 12–15 fewer robberies a year). Police reports show violent crimes fell 39%. The approach spread, with new county police forces reducing crime by 19% when of a decent size.

But the world of research doesn’t just support the “robust policing” side of the argument. New US research finds that not prosecuting non-violent misdemeanours (such as trespass) reduces the chances of the culprit reoffending. Having a police force is a good idea, but bringing people into the criminal justice system doesn’t always reduce crime.

Paying attention to the evidence matters. As the Met’s founder, Robert Peel, said: “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.” True then, true today.

• Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org

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