The West Midlands and Staffordshire police forces are to abandon Home Office targets – allowing officers to decide whether to make arrests.
The Midland forces have followed Surrey and Leicestershire in a revolt against Government performance measurements, in a return to what has been described as “commonsense policing.”
Both will abandon the targets, which require them to record small scale incidents, such as playground fights, as criminal offences. Instead, they will see the bobby on the beat given the discretion to treat minor offences as only minor offences.
Christopher Sims, Chief Constable of Staffordshire, said he had been alarmed by the large gap between his force’s high ranking in Government tables and the public’s disappointment with street-level policing in the force area. We had reached the point in policing where targets had become an end in themselves,” he said. “Yes performance is important but the pendulum had swung a bit too far and we became obsessed with numbers rather than delivering good policing.
“I expect to drop down the league tables because I am no longer chasing every one of the dozens of performance measurements. But the only league table that really counts is what the people in my area think of their police force.”
His comments followed Surrey’s acting Chief Constable Mark Rowley’s announcement that it would not pursue “misleading” Whitehall targets, but would allow officers to better prioritise their time.
He added it would mean Surrey – currently joint top of the police force league table – would also slide down the rankings as a result, but said it was not always “sensible” to spend time recording or issuing penalty notices for the most minor offences.
“Quite simply, local people’s safety, confidence in police and their satisfaction when they call us for help, are more important than misleading targets,” he said.
“Do we really want every teenager who does something stupid to get a criminal record?”
Mr Rowley insisted the move would not put the forces at odds with the Home Office, which he said endorsed a report produced last year by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, HM Inspector of Constabulary, which suggested too much emphasis had been placed on minor crimes
He recommended forces seek to achieve the “dual goal of public trust and confidence in crime statistics by ensuring all incidents and crimes are recorded and proportionately responded to” and called on ministers and the criminal justice system to refocus on serious crime and other issues which matter to local communities.
In addition, Sir Ronnie said influences from inside and outside the police had made forces “risk averse” and said police often do too much paperwork and fail to deliver a good service.