Back in January I wrote this post about the appointment of our new boss. In the list of things I very much doubt we'd get (and thus far we haven't) was number eight's "specific targeting and extreme harassment of each divisions top 50 criminals until they are locked away, move out of London, or kill themselves." Now, the last bit may seem harsh to some people, but as I and all of my colleagues know how much pain and misery someone would have to have caused over a number of years to get into the top set of criminals for a given area, few of us would shed a tear if they were to turn up swollen and bloated after a couple of days at the bottom of the Thames.
When I was a probationer in my old force we had a new divisional commander who moved to us from a neighbouring force, and at one of his meet and greet sessions he outlined his strategies for winding a few of the local criminal necks in. Aside from more 'encouragement' for the local CPS prosecutors to actually work at putting some of them to court for the right offences (and not busting the offence down to get an easy guilty plea) he wanted us to harass our top twenty or so criminals. By harass he meant executing arrest warrants at the most inconvenient times possible like Christmas or their birthday, searching them when and where possible - but especially in public - if there was even the slightest grounds, and getting in touch with all known members of their family to trace them if they were named as suspects in a crime allegation.
The most encouraging bit was that in ordering us to assertively target people he knew that we'd be subject to complaints from the suspects as well as family members, and possibly members of the public. "That's my problem, not yours" he said "and besides, if they are complaining, then it's working"
This type of Policing is extremely labour intensive, it's not just a case of putting one or two officers on the suspect, you need dozens to get proper 24 hour cover for just one person. Overt surveillance is not as difficult as covert as you need many more, but you still need resources to put into it and you have to sustain pressure for some time before you actually see any effect, but as Essex Police have shown the time and effort IS worth it. By targeting known burglars and basically making their lives a misery for a change, they have drastically reduced the number of residential burglaries compared to the year before.
As a preventative measure - in lieu of burglars actually getting any meaningful prison sentences - harassing them works. They're not going to be able or willing to go out in the dead of night and screw someone's house or garage over if they know that outside their own house are a couple of Police officers ready to follow them. Their thieving burglar mates aren't going to want to hang around them, and other people will know that they are a criminal if they constantly see them walking down the street with a couple of Police officers a couple of steps behind.
There are inevitably going to be ECHR issues and some could (and probably will) argue that we are breaching their right to privacy, free assembly, family life etc but to be honest I don't care about that. My personal belief is that if you breach someone else's human rights by committing crime against them, then your protection under the human rights act should be forfeit.
There is also the cost factor involved and eventually justifying that cost. If we harass our most prolific criminals enough then they will either stop committing crime or move out of the area. This drop in crime is great for you and me, but not so great for those holding the purse strings. How can you justify spending a fortune on a crime reduction tactic when there is no crime to speak of? That paradox of proactive policing is one that the government have failed to grasp for so long, and it's the main reason for the removal of beat officers - a Police officer walking around is going to reduce both crime and the fear of crime but how do you measure prevention?
Annoyingly we can't say "well Billy burglar used to commit 1 burglary a day, so over the last year we've prevented 365 burglaries" because someone will just say "prove it" and we can't.
The only way is to look at what happened in the previous year, but if you are that successful and continue to reduce crime there comes a point where there is no crime year on year and someone is going to suggest that you don't need the money to continue policing that way any more. Harassing criminals, getting in their faces, ruining their weekends or parties and generally making their lives a misery is a proven method of reducing crime, not only from them but from other people who see what will happen to them if they get on the list. How about a bit of consequence to their actions for once?
PS, I will be revisiting the other points on that list but as Essex have proven the point so well I thought it only right to acknowledge it!