Thursday, 24 March 2016

Police Focus

Police perform an extremely valuable and often dangerous job. I have long been of the opinion that without police, civilised society as know it would incredibly quickly descend into total chaos. That's quite bit more responsibility than simply ensuring end users can send email, which just happens to be one of my many responsibilities at my job. Equally, police officers often are sworn at, threatened, assaulted at work, and get to deal with some of society's most depraved members on a very regular basis. If *you* had to do that, it would be only natural, necessary and even healthy for you to develop mechanisms to help you cope mentally with such threats. Bluntly put, to at least some degree, you will become jaded and almost detached from the suffering you get to witness repeatedly. Perhaps the greatest testiment to how tough a job I consider policing to be is that I wouldn't want any of my kids to join the police.

I am an outspoken critic of roads policing, where I believe much needs to change, but I remain overall very supportive of police. If you are one of those "All police are pigs" types, we won't get on well. At all.

Historically, roads policing has always been seen as a bolt-on to police work, as opposed to something that is central and core. Everything I've seen so far leads me to believe police themselves view roads policing as not their most important priority.

Of course anybody can make wild assertions, but backing them up with facts is a different thing altogether. In this case, I will back up my views with facts obtained from Devon and Cornwall Police themselves, via a few Freedom of Information requests.

Specifically, I wanted to contrast the focus on murder investigations as a core police function with roads policing, often viewed as an unfortunate bolt-on.

I asked D&C Police for the total number of deaths classified as either murder or manslaughter during 2014, and I asked them for the total number of traffic deaths during the same year. Additionally, I asked them for the total number of officers available to murder or manslaughter investigations, as well as the total number of officers assigned to traffic policing.

The answers I received weren't clear at all, with D&C Police saying the number of officers assigned to a murder/manslaughter investigation varies greatly, even during an investigation, and that it would therefore take far too much time to provide a clear figure. This was a fair point, and one that I hadn't considered when I submitted the FoI request, so I revised my request to ask only for the number of officers permanently assigned to such investigations.

Here are the results:

Total number of deaths categorised as murder or manslaughter during 2014: 10
Total number of road deaths in 2014: 56

Total number of officers permanently assigned to murder/manslaughter investigations: 59
Total number of officers assigned to roads policing: 177

On the surface this is actually looking pretty good for roads policing, isn't it? But let's dig a bit deeper, shall we?

For starters, the number of officers assigned to murders and manslaughters can be far higher than 56, once we factor in SOC officers, additional constables drafted into an investigation on a temporary basis, trained search officers and even occasionally police divers. However, since we cannot put a number of those, we'll work with the numbers we've been given.

Basic maths tells us that on average there are 5.6 officers permanently assigned to each murder/manslaughter case. Of course, in the real world that number would vary with the complexities of each case, but for our purposes the average value would suffice.

Basic maths also tells us that on average there are only 3 officers assigned to each road death. Once we accept that the murder/manslaughter cases always have additional officers assigned, while traffic police also double as armed response officers (and are therefore not dedicated to roads policing, and not always available for such duties) it becomes quite obvious that Devon and Cornwall police dedicate more than double the resources to murder and manslaughter cases than what they do to traffic policing.

Now let's step this up a bit: Devon and Cornwall are mostly rural, and population density overall is low. However, Devon alone has more miles of road than all of Belgium. There is research that suggests a strong link between violent crime and population density and certainly D&C Police's own figures seem to support this: of the six murders in the force's area during 2014, at least four were in urban areas. Equally, of the four manslaughter cases, all were in urban areas. That means out of the ten deaths, eight were in urban areas, one was on a farm, while the last was at a quarry.

This simply means, statistically speaking at least, that you're rather unlikely to be murdered anywhere in Devon or Cornwall, and far less so outside of cities and towns.

On the roads, however, it is a completely different picture, and road deaths are distributed all over, with rural roads featuring higher than urban roads. This means that D&C Police chooses to deploy fewer resources to a cause of death that kills many more, despite the fact that policing the roads is more difficult.

It is plain to see where that strategy is leading: carnage on the roads, with ineffective or often non-existent policing. It is clear as day that we need a big increase in resources dedicated to roads policing and that roads policing really should become the primary focus of the force's area. After all, of everything the police deal with, NOTHING causes more deaths than traffic violence.

Even more scary is the fact that we all need to use the roads. It is not like we have a choice. Sure, we can travel by train, but that isn't door-to-door, and to get from home to the train station and back we still need to use roads.

With murder or manslaughter investigations, police tend to make a difference after the fact. With traffic policing however, police have the opportunity to make a massive difference to prevent deaths due to traffic violence, but for that to happen, the force needs to shift its focus and accept traffic policing as absolute core to what it does.