Police have marginal impact on crime rate

Press release

24 January 2012

Police have marginal impact on crime rate

In the run up to the elections of police and crime commissioners, Professor Robert Reiner is to challenge the current view of the role of the police in the new paper titled In praise of fire brigade policing: Contra common sense conceptions of the police role. He argues for a rediscovery of the social role of policing, beyond crime control, and a frank recognition that they are primarily there as a first line response to people in distress.

Reiner, who sits on the Labour Party’s Justice Policy Working Group, argues that “the most important address for crime control is not Scotland Yard but 11 Downing Street” as the police can only contribute to social pacification in conjunction with broader policies spreading inclusive citizenship and social justice.  He accuses the Labour government under Blair of initiating an ‘arms race of ever tougher law and order’.  

He suggests that police performance should not be judged in terms of the overall crime rate, on which they can have only a marginal impact. Nor should crime detection be a crucial indicator of policing, as it is more a function of crime levels than the quality of investigations.  

Professor Reiner said: “Fire brigade policing is a term originating from the 1970s, and is associated with a Starsky and Hutch world of sirens, speeding cars and flashing blue lights.

“While this view of policing has been discredited there is a principle at its heart which should be rescued: that the central police role is to function as an emergency service against a sea of troubles, where in reality only a minority of calls to the police unequivocally concern crimes.

“The political consensus that the police should be primarily engaged in crime fighting overstates the ability of the police to control crime, when the drivers for crime and disorder largely lie in deeper social causes.  This creates unrealistic expectations and diverts attention from the police’s more fundamental peacekeeping role.”

Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said, “With the arrival of the elected Police Crime Commissioners it has never been more important to define the role of the police.  Are they peacekeepers or law enforcers?”

To launch the paper Baroness Hamwee is hosting a Parliamentary launch at the House of Lords on Tuesday 24 January where Reiner will deliver a short speech. The paper is the first in a series of What if….? pamphlets. The pamphlet series is being developed in a partnership between the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Mannheim Centre at the London School of Economics.  

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Mannheim Centre at the London School of Economics are working in partnership to establish a new pamphlet series that challenges conventional thinking on penal issues. 

Further information

Journalists wishing to attend should RSVP to sophie.willett@howardleague.org or 020 7241 7866

The Parliamentary launch  is take place on Tuesday 24 January, 3.30pm – 5pm, in the Attlee room, House of Lords, Westminster, London SW1A 0PW

Robert Reiner is Emeritus Professor of Criminology in the Law Department at LSE. He is author of Law and Order: An Honest Citizen’s Guide to Crime and Control (Polity Press 2007); The Politics of the Police (4th Ed. Oxford University Press 2010); Policing, Popular Culture and Political Economy: Towards a Social Democratic Criminology (Aldershot: Ashgate 2011); Chief Constables (Oxford University Press 1991); and The Blue-Coated Worker (Cambridge University Press 1978). He was awarded the British Society of Criminology's Outstanding Achievement Award in 2011.