Speech to PF Asuntos Internos Permanent Congress

This speech was delivered without notes to the international PF Asuntos Internos Permanent Congress on 23/10/2014 at the Policia Federal, Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City. The text is taken direct from the transcript.

Good afternoon everyone, I’m just going to settle my nerves down. Well, I’m fairly sure it’s afternoon, but I’ve got jet lag…

I wanted to start by saying a huge thankyou to my hosts Luis and Anna, their boss and everyone else involved in making this seminar possible, and for organising the excellent tours that started this morning at the operational command centre, and concluded at the President’s bunker.

What struck me, in the bunker, was the superb access to data, on mixed platforms, which can be used to guide police response, decisions on resource deployments, everything in real time.

What really struck me was this fantastic system relies absolutely, and I mean absolutely, upon the data being reliable. Imagine what would happen if the air traffic data was wrong and was used to guide planes across Mexico…it would be a disaster. Imagine if the crime data was wrong, and that was used to guide policing and resource deployments across Mexico…

There’s an excellent commitment here, to getting policing right, and I see nothing in this room but dedicated people who want to make things better…and the truth is: they want to do this in one of the toughest policing environments in the world, and that is to be commended.

It’s further to be commended because the latest victimisation survey in Mexico, which I was sent last night, indicates that 93% of crime goes unreported, because people don’t trust the police. That’s almost all of your crime and you don’t know about it…now think again, about what I just said about air traffic control…

If the data is wrong, the planes will crash. At the moment, you have the facilities to guide your policing deployments, but you don’t have the data to make sure that you are doing it properly.

I’m incredibly humbled to have been asked here, and you should all be properly proud of the people that have made this happen so, if it’s alright with you, can we have a quick round of applause for our hosts…
…thank you.

And I would like to say, that I’m more nervous stood here, than I was when I stood before my own government and told them that our biggest police force was fiddling the crime figures.

I want to tell you a little bit about the job, policing. Because it is The Job, not a job…it sort of consumes you, and it is very easy for people to fall into a pattern where they play the games which exist…and those games would be: fitting in with your friends, fiddling the crime figures, and not recording crime, because it’s easier. That was what I found in London, that was the experience that I had.

What I’m here to talk about is the dangers of incentive based police response, corruption risks, performance indicators and the linked misconduct…but: who am I?

Very briefly, I started in Derbyshire Constabulary in 2004 and transferred to the Metropolitan Police in 2009. My background, really, was combating organised crime, in particular Crack Houses…we have a large crack cocaine problem in the UK, and what that does is drives acquisitive crime…what I worked out very quickly is that you can swiftly identify crime patterns which are linked to other types of crime, and – if you do that properly – you can come up with proper strategies to combat it…but it goes back to correct data, because, if your are not getting the information that you need, you are not – by any means – going to be able to do anything about it.

Now…the international failures in crime data are pretty well known. They weren’t previously but they are now. In the US, in New York, there were significant problems uncovered with CompStat -the system developed to monitor statistics and drive the zero tolerance approach to policing. They would have monthly and weekly meetings and look at their priority crime types, focusing their efforts on reducing, for example, robbery…or stop and frisk:they would want to see a larger proportion of people being searched in the streets.
What actually happened in New York, Chicago and – it transpires – LA was that people were being driven to reduce these crime types, but they weren’t reducing crime, there were no less victims….what they were doing was getting a report of crime, doing their duty and writing it down, but effectively screwing it up, and throwing it away; the reason being that it then didn’t appear on their books…so, you’ve got a bin, full of crimes that nobody is investigating, you have victims who haven’t received the service they deserve from their police force, and you have, fundamentally, a bunch of people in public office saying that crime has come down, when it hasn’t: it’s just been hidden.

It’s absolutely and utterly pointless, a discredited approach.

Some of the work that I did, resulted in a Parliamentary Inquiry into crime statistics. We have have two measures in the UK, Police Recorded Crime (PRC) and the British Crime Survey (BCS).

PRC is what police forces would record themselves, which is as worthless as that piece of paper that I just threw over there. The BCS is very much like the survey you guys have here, it’s the public view of crime, so fundamentally more accurate. In England, it’s approximately twice the amount of recorded crime that the police have ever displayed, so you can see the immediate disparity…

In the wake of the Parliamentary Inquiry, PRC is, now, no longer a valid national statistic…it’s been screwed up into a ball and thrown into the bin: a huge irony, as it’s exactly what they were doing with people’s crime for years.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), is the independent organisation appointed to review police forces in the UK. They’d never really looked at crime data before, it was boring – not a sexy topic…they’ve looked now and they’ve found out is that crime in the UK, and the UK is widely regarded as having a decent police force, were lying about criminal offences to the tune of 25%.

In the latest set of figures, which has come out since PRC was scrapped, and since the Inquiry, some PRC has increased by 25%…I’m no one really, in the grand scheme of things, but I estimated, based on the figures, that crime was under-recorded by around 25%…it’s no coincidence that crime has now gone up…

Crime hasn’t actually gone up, it’s just that, instead of being in the bin, it’s on the books.

There’s a Borough in London, called Southwark, in 2009 it was was uncovered that the specialist sexual offences command had been throwing rape crimes in the bin…they been visiting victims, vulnerable people who’d been subjected to horrific ordeal, and were effectively telling them: you don’t want to go to court, it won’t be very nice; the jury won’t believe you, because you were drunk, because you wore a short skirt; because you have mental health issues. “Nobody wants this rape on our books, because it makes us look bad”…seriously? If it makes you look bad, and that’s what you’re worried about…any police officer who says that, is in the wrong job.

Rotheram…the latest in a long line of sex scandals in the UK. For years, children were sexually abused, they went to the police, reported the abuse, but they were dismissed for years – no one will believe you, nobody wants to investigate this, it will make our figures look bad.

The result of gaming the crime figures is that you have a generation of children and their abuse was permitted.

All of the things that I’ve just described, that is, academically, what they would call ‘gaming the system’. People misunderstood this for years, they thought it was just a bit of fun, get crime down, make people happy…but what actually drives it didn’t get uncovered until the 2000’s…

[Brief description of the academic work of De Bruujin and Dr Rodger Patrick]

They found, in policing, this system of perverse incentives, where people could be offered promotions if they could show crime reductions…

What this meant is the people who were, fundamentally, a little bit power hungry, would go and say to their junior officers “I want you to make robbery/rape/ burglary look better” and what developed was this way of making the system work for them, this fashion of screwing up offences and throwing them in the bin, of reclassifying a robbery as theft, a rape as a no crime…

…and the scale…and the type of thing…told us, for the first time, that it’s not just front line officers who are the corrupt ones – that’s the general view, I suppose, even the view that I had – that it’s the cop who has contact with the criminal who has access to the envelope full of cash…what policing had in fact done, was find a way of offering ranking officers a financial incentive to act in a way that wasn’t correct.

So, what does this actually mean? Well, we’ll go through it….

The first thing is failing victims…you guys, you already have 93% of people that don’t trust you…7% are the people that are coming to you and you are begging for that investment of trust, and you need that trust, because without even that: you might as well pack up your shop; you might as well not be here at all.

Failing those victims, when they do have their crime reported, or recorded, erodes what trust is left…victims rightly have an expectation that when they suffer an offence the police will do what they are trained to do, treat them properly, with respect and dignity.

Every single one of us has a duty – and we all make a promise when we start in the police that we’ll behave in a certain way – did we ever promise that we’d talk victims out of the crime that they’ve reported? No.

Jorge [previous speaker] talked about evidential burdens, and the presumption is that the police investigate the crime and establish whether or not one has occurred. We don’t just make an arbitrary decision, based upon a statistical target, to not record the crime or make it disappear…that just means you’re letting down the people you’re there to serve in the first place.

On the back of the police trucks, it says ‘protect and serve the community’, it doesn’t say ‘lie your way to better crime figures’…it doesn’t say ‘we don’t feel like doing that today’…it says ‘protect and serve the community’.

So, protect and serve them, by doing it properly.

Your government, the same as mine, relies on you for accurate data. The President’s bunker relies on you for accurate data…because, in critical situations, they need to make decisions about where you need to be; how many bullets, how many blackhawks, how many Dodge Chargers…if everything they are making those decisions upon is wrong, then you are lying to them, you are deceiving them…and they are going to make bad decisions.

I’d say more about deceiving the public, if we were in England, but I think the 93% vote of no confidence makes that discussion irrelevant.

For me, the next thing is, there’s a phrase which involves swearing so I’ll just say it makes me very annoyed, leaving offenders to offend. As police officer’s, our job is to catch criminals, and put them in prison so they can’t do it again…when you are keeping crimes off your books, with named suspects on them – and they do do this in London by the way – you are leaving the criminal on the street to go out and rob the next person, commit the next burglary, steal the next car, kidnap the next person…rape the next child….and you’re leaving them to it for years.

Again, this comes down to the crime statistics.

Crime pattern analysis, the next thing on the list, is really, really simple: type of crime, modus operandi, when, where, who lives nearby, who does that type of crime…it’s incredibly basic policing…yet…it relies upon a pattern of crimes to analyse and, if there isn’t one, all of your…Platform Mexico, all of your analysis and research, all of your intelligence briefings…they’re worthless. Not worth the paper they’re written on…you’re investing in the numbers and not the crimes.

When they set targets in London, it transpires that they had no idea what types of crime were the most frequently committed, which were the most serious to the public…and the reason they didn’t know was because, for years, they’d been lying to themselves fore years…and I do say years.

After I gave evidence to Parliament, Lord something of Kirkwelpington, who used to be the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – who rose through the ranks, his entire service thirty years, ten years in the House of Lords guiding policy on policing…after me, a PC, went to Parliament said this was wrong, he said “Oh yeah, we’ve done this since I was a probationer”…Well, that’s great Sir, thanks for confirming that you’ve risen through the rank structure and, the entire time, turned a blind eye to what is, fundamentally, the manipulation of the crime statistics; to misconducting yourself in a public office.

What this also means, is that the entire target structure that has been set up is known to be based on fallacy. If the Mayor’s office wants to reduce seven types of crime, do they know it’s the right seven types? The answer’s no, they’re looking in the wrong areas, the wrong types of offenders…the impact of it so deep and so broad, that to try and capture it in a brief presentation like this, is tragically difficult.

Those offenders that are left to offend…will they ever get to court? Will we ever to get put the evidence before a judge and ensure that they go to prison, not just for that crime, but for every crime they’ve committed? The answer is no…because the crimes are in the bin, that person is never going to stand before a judge, there will never be the evidence gathered….and what that means is that the entire criminal justice system is being let down.

I’ve mentioned the bunker a few times, on allocation of resource, do you want to know what happened in London? They used a set of data, which they knew to be incorrect, to redesign the shift patterns for uniform police officers across the capital…that’s from a police force of 32,000 people, which serves nine million people.

Didn’t any of you hear about the London Riots in 2011? No? Basically, London was on fire for several days, there were gangs of marauding criminals smashing their way into shops, burning down people’s houses, people died…the police lost control of a city the size of London, and the reason they did is because, on a Saturday night, there were 3,200 out of 32,000 police officers on duty. 10% of a workforce, on what is well known to be the busiest policing day of the week, in the busiest policing period of the year, the summer….but because they based their restructuring on manipulated data, data they knew to be inaccurate, it cost the city lives, £270 million in damage and it cost the police force £100 million in overtime, to correct their mistake.

Because of the system that people rise through, by turning a blind eye, that was buried at page 108 of a report written much later. Because admitting the mistake would mean admitting a personal error…and that’s when we get to the crux of the matter: who’s going to stand there and say “Yes, Sir, it was me, I made people die, I cost London £370 million”.

No one’s going to say that, realistically speaking…so, you then get into this second realm of perverse incentives, where people who have invested in that system have to protect themselves from their own errors.

So how do you get to the bottom of manipulated data? It is incredibly straight forward, but I’m not going to go into the nerdy side of it, because you’ll probably fall asleep…

So I’ll keep it brief and say, if the data looks to good to be true, it is. If you see a year on year reduction in a certain type of crime, say in England where they’ve seen 20 years of reducing street robbery and every year it miraculously reduced by 8% – 8 the magic number, lucky in China, luckier in London…if it looks too good to be true, then it is.

There is no way you can look at a crime reduction of anything more 12 months and sit on your laurels, because you’re then into the realms of offender releases, new drug market mapping, anything that can comes out of your imagination….anything more than twelve months crime reduction should be immediately ringing your alarm bells.

That brings us onto the second thing: if it looks bad, it’s true. Human nature is really, really simple….for years, ever since we clambered out of the caves, we have gone around and done two things. Number one is kill other things, and number two is kill each other – or hurt each other, or get in disputes with each other over property, territory, relationships….it’s a part of human nature: accept it…

…but, from the policing point of view: if it looks bad, that is people being people, and it means you know that you are doing job right, because you know how many people are being people.

I don’t know what the term is for you, for a disposal – where you record and offence and get to the point where it may go to court, where you decide to close the crime on lack of evidence, or decide to prosecute…when you are looking at these, you can see intertwined patterns.

What you could see in the London figures, was that they were workload managing…basically, if you were to see recorded rape increasing over three years, you would see the number of detections rise and fall in proportion, say 25%…what you would then see is the number of no crimes…and that no crime and detected crime would run point for point across the three year chart.

You could see, post Southwark – when it was declared that no crime was an unacceptable approach to Rape, and it dropped almost to zero – that they started to use Crime Related Incident, a thing that they invented so still they had a bin…That is gaming the system.

That’s precisely what it is: the system allowed them to no crime for years, until they got caught, then the system changed the rules, so they came up with an alternative version which allowed them to continue in the same way.

Identifying statistical deviance sounds a right mouthful, but all it means is establishing, across the board, what your statistical norms are, for recorded crime, convictions, disposals…then map it out, ignoring your crime types…this then gives you a baseline, a median line…some up, some down but that’s fine…anything within a couple of percent is your norm. Then break down your crime types of interest, the international money being on robbery, burglary, rape, assault, and overlay them. You will then see some areas standing out significantly.

This allows you to ask yourself: are we gaming the system? And have an investigation from the internal affairs side, in those areas. It’s not rocket science, it’s a really basic, simple way of finding out if your crime figures are being fiddled and it’s worth twenty-four hours of your time.

Along with that, you need to speak to your front-line coppers, the ones who are out there recording crime, out there investigating your low level offences…because they will tell you, straight away…on one condition: that you don’t sit them down in a room and, there’s a phrase in English, “Give it Big’uns”, which is to say: “You’re down there, I’m up here, tell me what I want to hear”…all you will get is sheep, saying “Baaaa!”, that’s all that will happen.

If you want to listen, take your pips off, take them for a coffee, go for a beer, do the hard work for a shift; roll around on the floor with a criminal, chase someone down an alleyway. You will get the truth, because they will respect the way that you’ve approached them…and if you say to them, we were having a think at HQ and wondering if this was happening, they will give you a straight yes or no, and not only that, but – if it is – they will tell you where, how and who is responsible for it…in part that is because every copper – and this is international – loves to do one thing better than everyone else: moan about their superiors.

Go to the person with the biggest mouth, who moans the loudest and they will tell you…they won’t expect you to like it, don’t expect to hear anything you want to hear in a conversation like that, but they will tell you the truth.

The next crucial thing is whistleblowers…they are inherently awkward, anti-hierarchical, with marginal anarchist tendencies…like me…you might not like them, but they will tell you the truth…because they are awkward, not the kind of people you want to promote; they are not very likeable; they won’t say Yes Sir, they probably won’t respect your authority and you won’t like what they say…but they will tell you the truth.

There is a caveat, a warning with this though, you have to treat whistleblowers properly, because they are doing you a service that a myriad of others will not. They are putting themselves on the line, stepping outside of the boy’s club that policing can be…mistreat them at your peril, because if you don’t listen to them and they are telling you the truth, they will go above your head and above theirs too…and what you could end up with, if you continue to ignore the problem, is a Parliamentary Inquiry…that’s what happened in England because I’m awkward and I won’t say yes.

These people are an asset to your organisation, because they want you to know that something is wrong, why it is wrong but, most importantly of all: they want to help you fix it.

So…if your crime figures are being fiddled the only people that will tell you the truth are these people, and the only way you can identify where to look for them is starting to identify your statistical deviance…it couldn’t be any easier.

The last thing, this horrendous barrier to police improvement – and I said at the beginning that you guys are really dedicated to changing it, to challenging the norms, to stepping away from the traditional way of doing things – is reputation management…there are actually policies for this: who can talk to the media, what to do with bad news…trust your instincts instead.

If you’ve been wearing that uniform long enough, your instinct will tell you what’s right and what’s wrong…ignore your reputation management policy, ignore the superior officer who may have gone through thirty years of turning a blind eye to this…ignore reputation managers because policing isn’t a PR stunt, it isn’t a game…it certainly isn’t a tickling competition…

Ignore reputation and do what it says on the back of the trucks: serve and protect your community first and foremost…everything else is irrelevant.

Turning to misconduct and investigation….Bribery? What is bribery? Jorge mentioned it: it’s giving a police officer something to make them look one way, or another way…is it any different with an incentive? Is it any different if I stand here and say “Anna, here’s ten US dollars…don’t record any robbery for a week”…

It’s not, there’s no difference, it’s bribery….and you will have been in that situation, in order to rise to your position…you know how it works, what the system is, what will happen by making the very suggestion to your junior colleague that they should behave in a certain way in exchange for an incentive…and that’s the crucial thing: people need to stop thinking ‘it’s only data’ or ‘we’ll give you a bit of cash to do this, instead of that’.

The implication of every decision like that – as backed up by academic studies, as backed by anecdotal data, as backed up by the stories about police forces across the world – is that police forces have been bribing themselves to look the other way.

That is the nuts and bolts of what we’ve been talking about

[Overview of misconduct offences in the UK and the principle of regulatory dismissal if found guilty of operational dishonesty].

Did you lie about the number of robberies in Wandsworth last week? If the answer is yes, that’s your job finished. I don’t know what the offences are here, but I’d suggest that applying operational dishonesty is a sensible approach.

Is it criminality? For every offender left free, because you fiddled the crime figures, you have helped them commit more offences…

It’s a hard line…but one that should be taken. There’s no point dressing it up as a harmless mistake – a mistake is putting a frozen dinner in the microwave for a minute less than it says on the packet – a mistake is not under-recording thousands of crimes a year.

You have to find those involved and those accountable..to do that you have to look for them, look for the people that I’ve told you about…those who will help you…but once you find them, who is accountable?

They are, their manager is and their manager…then you just have to keep digging, because you will find the true scale of it and – if you put your hand on your heart – you will know if something is happening across the police service too…and ultimately, the day you carry on turning a blind to it, you are accountable too.

I was reading, on the plane, a book by Irvine Welsh, called Filth – an old derogatory term for the police in England – the opening lines struck me like hammer blow…because I was coming here to talk about policing, not just a job, but The Job…you risk your life daily to protect the people that you serve – or you should do, if you’re doing it properly…and I just wanted to finish by reading you this quote, from the start of the book…and it will make sense…

“The job. It holds you. It’s all around you; a constant, enclosing absorbing gel. And when you’re in the job, you look out at life through that distorted lens. Sometimes, aye, you get your wee zones of relative freedom to retreat into, those light, delicate spaces where new things, different, better things can be perceived of as possibles. Then it stops. Suddenly you see that those zones aren’t there any more. They were getting smaller, you knew that. You knew that some day you’d have to get round to doing something about it. When did this happen? The realisation came some time after. It doesn’t really matter how long it took: two years, three, five or ten. The zones got smaller and smaller until they didn’t exist, and all that’s left behind is the residue. That’s the games. The games are the only way you can survive the job”.

You have a real opportunity here, to do something different, and take the games out of the job.

Thank you.

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