Published 18 December 2019
Law and order may have been the dog that didn’t bark during the election campaign, but that doesn’t mean it won’t become a major focus over the next 12 months. Crime is now the third biggest issue of concern to the public behind Brexit and the NHS, at its highest level since the 2011 riots.
With the government majority built on constituencies in the North and Midlands, in which crime is typically higher, there is now a political urgency to visibly improving outcomes across the justice system. How this translates into policy and priorities during 2020 will be a key question for policing, probation, the courts and its private sector partners. Below, Crest sets out five key topics and milestones for the year ahead, and how we plan to make our own contribution to them.
1. The return of antisocial behaviour
Tackling antisocial behaviour (ASB) was once a cornerstone of election manifestos. Until the 7/7 bombings refocused the Home Office on terrorism and security, ASB dominated the crime and justice agenda through policies such as neighbourhood policing and antisocial behaviour orders. Thereafter, it tumbled down the political priority list and stayed there while concern rose about higher harm offences such as domestic abuse.
Police figures do not, at first sight, make the case for a renewed emphasis, with a 39 per cent decrease in ASB over seven years. But this fall coincides with a 200 per cent increase in public order offences, which the Office for National Statistics suggests many forces use to classify ASB.
More significantly, the public experience differs markedly from the police data. The Crime Survey of England Wales shows that 39 per cent of the public have experienced or witnessed ASB in the previous 12 months - the highest figure on record. As Crest’s Harvey Redgrave and Callum Tipple highlighted in a recent paper for the Tony Blair Institute, the survey found drug-related behaviour has been driving this increase. A separate survey for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that the proportion of respondents who say crime and antisocial behaviour is a “very big” or “quite big” problem in their local area increased by 10 percent between 2017 and 2018. This cannot be ignored indefinitely, particularly in northern constituencies now held by the Conservatives and traditionally hotspots for ASB.
With PCC elections in May and a renewed focus at the Home Office on drugs, ASB is likely to be re-recognised as a live issue, albeit a function of the deeper-rooted problem of drugs.
2. Getting to grips with drugs markets and organised crime
It is not just antisocial behaviour which illegal drugs markets appear to be fuelling. There is evidence that the rise in serious violence in towns and cities across England and Wales is due in part to oversaturated markets for class A drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, which is driving competition between gangs both locally or through county lines dealing operations.
The Home Office will next year publish Professor Dame Carol Black’s independent review into how drugs are causing serious violence. Delayed since the summer, it is expected to shine a light on demand - who takes drugs, what drugs they take and how often. At the same time, the government will be hoping to get a better handle on how best to target the supply.
An independent review by former Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey on how law enforcement and the justice system respond to organised crime is due in the spring. His recommendations will focus on the powers, funding, capabilities and governance required to bear down on drugs trafficking, modern slavery, and sexual exploitation and could have far-reaching consequences for how the National Crime Agency, the network of regional organised crime units and local police forces work together.
Certainly, Crest’s own research, by Sarah Kincaid, Sophie du Mont and Gavin Hales, to be published early next year, suggests that law enforcement at all levels has an incomplete understanding of how drugs markets work. We hope it will be a valuable contribution to what is likely to be one of the biggest policing debates over the next 12 months.
3. PCC elections
Some of the voices in this debate will change following the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and Mayoral elections in London and Greater Manchester.
In 2016, only a handful of PCC areas switched between parties (Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Dyfed-Powys, Humberside, and Leicestershire) though several independents (Gwent, Hampshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, North Wales, Surrey, Warwickshire, and West Mercia) were squeezed out. Will the political earthquake which saw safe Labour seats in the North and the Midlands turn Tory, cause aftershocks for Labour PCC candidates in the same areas in May?
Irrespective, a significant turnover of PCCs is expected this time around, with around a third already announcing they will not be standing for re-election. Their successors will be faced with a number of pressing questions to answer: How should policing distribute the bulk of the 20,000 additional officers between forces over the next two years? How many should be deployed on visible policing to meet the expectations of a public wanting to see and feel more officers in their communities, versus the need for greater investigative capability?
As Savas Hadjipavlou and Ellie Covell develop Crest’s demand modelling work we will be providing robust analysis to inform these discussions. Strategically, which specialist capabilities, such as firearms or roads policing, should be standardised and regionalised? And can we expect a more muscular Home Office, bringing to an end a near decade-long policy of non-intervention in local policing priorities and decisions? Priti Patel’s announcement in October that she was making £10m available to chief constables to spend on a Taser uplift they had not actually requested may prove to be a portent of what is to come.
4. Effectiveness of the criminal justice system
While we have spent much of the last ten years debating the impact of spending cuts on policing and the criminal justice system, the debate to come will be around effectiveness. Nationally, the charge rate has halved in five years with barely 8 per cent of recorded crimes resulting in someone appearing in court let alone being convicted.
This raises profound questions about legitimacy with the public likely to question the value in reporting crime if it is almost certain to go undetected. The 20,000 uplift [in police officers] may have changed the narrative but if the Home Office are smart, they will tie the additional funding to an expectation that it translates into better outcomes.
There is a similar story in other parts of the criminal justice system. More money is being promised for the Crown Prosecution Service and prisons - but the debate will soon turn to how that money is being spent and whether it will lead to a reversal of falling prosecutions and/ or reoffending. The mistakes which allowed serial rapist Joseph McCann to roam free while on probation are likely to be picked over in an independent review even as the Ministry of Justice seeks to reverse the bulk of the Grayling legacy on probation.
Already, there are concerns that the re-nationalisation of offender management will not address some of the fundamental structural problems that have bedevilled the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms. Nick Hardwick, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, has described the justice system as “malnourished”. An overarching question for 2020 will be how rapidly agencies are able to digest the additional resources heading their way and increase their productivity without putting each other under pressure or causing bottlenecks. Callyane Desroches has spent several years exploring how best to measure the performance of local criminal justice systems and next year will bring PCCs and other leaders together to share the lessons.
Finally, 2020 will be a pivotal year for counter extremism policy and the Prevent programme in particular. In January, Hashem Abedi will go on trial charged with 22 murders in relation to the 2017 Manchester Arena suicide bombing by his brother Salman. An inquest will likely be held into the London Bridge attack which has added a new dimension (the rehabilitation of convicted terrorists) to the radicalisation debate.
However the long term question remains: how do we stop vulnerable, often young, people from being drawn into terrorism to begin with, whether Islamist or Far Right? The government will be hoping an independent review of Prevent by Lord Carlile will provide answers which form the basis for a consensus after years of polarisation driven by two opposing narratives. One argues that Prevent has become such a “toxic brand” among British Muslims that it does more harm than good and should be scrapped or subjected to fundamental reform. The other claims that many of Britain’s Muslims are in denial about the threat posed by Islamist extremism and that is they who “need to do more” not the police or government.
Crest’s own research, based on focus groups and polling run by Manon Roberts, Dan Forman, James Stott and myself, suggest that neither narrative is supported by the evidence and each uses a broad brush to paint a misleading picture of Muslim opinion. We will be publishing our findings in the New Year and hope that both critics and supporters of Prevent, listen carefully to the voices of everyday Muslims and consider what they say.