Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We're The Cucumber Police Son, And You're Nicked

Photofit of wanted cucumber- members of the public should not approach

Even by the usual standards of target mayhem, the Police Federation's dossier of ridiculous cases brought to satisfy the Home Office arrest targets is jaw-dropping:

"They include cautioning a Cheshire man for being "found in possession of an egg with intent to throw", arresting a child in Kent for taking cucumber from a sandwich and hurling it another youngster and nabbing a 70-year-old for criminal damage after he cut back a neighbour's conifers too far.

One West Midlands officer was told to caution a man for throwing a glass of water over his girlfriend - while two Manchester children were arrested under firearms laws for having a plastic toy pistol.

In Kent, a child was held for hurling cream buns at a bus - and a West Midlands woman was arrested on her wedding day for criminal damage after her car hit a car park barrier when her foot slipped."

As the Federation itself says, the whole thing is a bad joke, with law-abiding people being criminalised for non-crimes, and vast amounts of police time being wasted. (See here for Tyler's own criminal record- he now has three stop-and-search dockets and only needs one more to complete a framed set).

It's all very well for ministers to blame the police ("why oh why oh why can't they just use some common sense for goodness sake?"), but what this underlines once again is that you simply can't manage big public service organisations by means of top-down statistical targets.

As night follows day, once they're set measurable targets, the organisations will devote all their energy to satisfying the letter of those targets even at the cost of the spirit of their job. It happened in Stalin's tractor factories, it's happened in the NHS, it's happened in Britain's schools, and it's clearly now happening in the police.

Judging by the blogs and phone-ins, droves of disgruntled officers are considering imminent resignation. And even if they stay (police officer retention has always been well above average), onside they most definitely ain't.

As we've blogged ad nauseam, the only way forward is to abandon the whole top-down management structure and to reconnect policing directly with its customers. They really are the only ones in a position to make those all-round nuanced judgements on whether their local police are fit for purpose. Just like the judgement they make when they choose to shop at Tesco rather than Sainsbury- where there are no target league tables to guide them.

Roll on those locally elected sheriffs.

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