A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Learning the appropriate lessons from the riots
14/10/2011 10:20:00

Yesterday, the Backbench Business Committee granted me a three hour debate on the response to the riots that scarred our town and other parts of the UK in early August. You can read my full speech here but in essence my argument was that two months on we have a much clearer picture of what happened and what the appropriate lessons are for public policy.

In the immediate aftermath, there were two competing narratives of why the riots happened. The first, most bluntly articulated by the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, was that the riots were a spontaneous reaction to Government cuts (“If you’re making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt against that”, Newsnight, 8th August). The second, articulated by much of our media, was that they were the result of a feral generation of teenagers.

The evidence doesn’t support either of these narratives. Far from being spontaneous, there was a significant degree of organisation behind the riots. 19% of those arrested in London to date are known gang members. According to the Ministry of Justice, 73% of those who came before the courts before midday on 12th September had a previous caution or conviction and the average number of offences they had committed was 15. So the riots were not a political protest by people with no previous criminal record that got out of hand. And in Croydon only 15% of those arrested have been under 18, 38% have been under 21 and 7% have been over 40. So the riots were not solely, or even primarily, the work of teenagers.

Lesson one then is that we need to tackle gang culture and lesson two is that we need to reform our prison system so that it does a better job of addressing prisoners’ underlying problems - few if any educational qualifications, mental health problems, drug and/or alcohol abuse - because at the moment a high proportion of those released go out and re-offend.

The next issue relates to the police response. The Met have been honest enough to admit that with the benefit of hindsight they didn’t have enough officers on duty on the Sunday, Saturday and Monday (the figures, if you are interested, were 3,380 on Saturday, 4,275 on Sunday and 6,000 on Monday). On Tuesday, we saw a massive increase to 16,000 - and it worked. So yes the police can’t be immune from the need to save money and yes we can reduce bureaucracy so that a higher proportion of the officers we have are on visible duty but numbers matter. The Government and the Mayor need to work together to make sure we make savings without reducing frontline policing.

I have spent the last few weeks visiting schools and colleges in and around my constituency to talk to young people about what happened and what we need to do to stop it happening again. On most issues, they agree with their parents and grandparents but on one issue - attitudes to the police - they have a very different view. Many young people - particularly young black men - don’t feel the police are on their side. When they are stopped and searched, they don’t feel they are treated with respect. I am sure that many police officers feel young people don’t treat them with respect either. The Met has come a long way since I was a teenager but clearly there is more to do. We need our police force to be more representative of the people they are policing and we need young people to understand that the police are there to protect them and police officers to understand how it feels to be stopped on a regular basis.

The final lesson relates to how we punish people. According to the Ministry of Justice, those who committed offences during the riots were more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence and to receive longer sentences than those who committed the same offences a month earlier. I support the decisions the courts have taken - I think it was important to send out a clear message that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and that it has done a lot to restore some faith in our criminal justice system. But there is also evidence that it has helped to reduce crime. If you compare the four weeks from 17th July to 14th August with the four weeks from 15th August to 11th September, property crime in Croydon is down about 30% and violent crime about 20%. You would expect to see a significant reduction in property crime because clearly a large number of property crimes were committed on 8th August and you would expect to see some reduction in both types of crime as a result of the extra police on our streets. But the reduction in violent crime in Croydon is larger than elsewhere suggesting there is something else at work. The answer appears to be that, in the short term at least, prison works - a number of prolific offenders have been put inside and that has reduced crime. As is often the case in politics, we are being offered a false choice by those who argue the way to cut crime is to be tougher and those who argue that the answer is to reform our prisons to reduce reoffending. Why can’t we do both?

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Readers' Comments

On 14/10/2011 17:57:00 Tony Martin wrote:
You believe that Croydon Police should be more representative of the racial makeup of the borough. In which case would you agree that more than half of the news agents in Croydon should be white owned and run and that there should be no more than 2 non-white players in the England football team? Or do you consider racial quotas to be a one way deal? In these times of savage cutbacks it is more important than ever that what police officers we have left are employed on a best person for the job basis.
On 14/10/2011 19:57:00 David White wrote:
I congratulate you on securing the debate and agree with you on some issues e.g the need to improve rehabilitation in prisons and to tackle gang culture.

However I don't think your conclusion that a 20% reduction in violent crime in the 4 weeks following the riots was due to tough sentencing bears up. There were far more police on the streets after the riots and, as Andrew Neil said, there was an element of post-riot exhaustion even amongst criminals. So you are not comparing similar periods.

Also few people would object to custodial sentences for the worst offences. What some lawyers wers saying (eg John Cooper and Ming Campbell) was that some of the sentences for the more trivial offences were out of proportion and likely to be overturned on appeal. You have absolutely no evidence for saying that if their view had prevailed there would now be more crime on our streets (unless you argue that locking up everybody would reduce crime to zero!)

In your interview with Andrew Neil you said there are slightly more police in London this year than last. However you have supported the reduction in police sergeant numbers in Croydon so this does not add up.

You have not yet produced your sources for the crime figures you refer to. Again as pointed out by Mr Neil in New York this information would be available to the public almost immediately. Is it right that you are making political points about figures which the public has not been able to scrutinise?

On 14/10/2011 23:41:00 Gavin wrote:

First of all, I am not calling for quotas or positive discrimination. I'm just saying that we need to do more to encourage people from black and minority ethnic communities to apply to join the police so that over time the Met better reflects the city they are policing. Second and more importantly, there is a huge difference between policing and who serves you when you go to the newsagents. Policing in this country has always been on the basis of consent and if that consent isn't there we have a problem.


There were far more police in every part of London - that wouldn't explain why there has been such a large fall in violent crime in Croydon compared to other boroughs; the fact that our police have made more arrests than virtually any other borough would.

Re SNT sergeants, one of the ways in which the Mayor is increasing officer numbers is by removing some sergeant posts and hiring extra constables, who are cheaper to employ. You are of course free to oppose this change but that means you are campaigning for fewer police overall for a given budget.

The figures I quoted in my speech come from the Borough Commander.

On 15/10/2011 09:27:00 Tony Martin wrote:
You talk about policing by consent, if we had a Police Force as opposed to a Police Service and a zero tolerance to crime by the Police, the Media and the Courts, then there would be far less crime.

As you pointed out there is a big difference between Police and News Agents with Police being far more important but the principle is the same, I would like to go and buy a paper without thinking I’m in a foreign country.

So would you agree with my first statement at least in principle?

Respect needs to be earned, after watching the Notting Hill Carnival on TV, I tried to have my picture taken with a police officer and was told NO! I didn’t even consider asking him to do a dance for me, the police are being told to show respect to Blacks particularly around volatile situations like the Notting Hill Carnival.

Also where can we find the Borough Commander's figures?

On 17/10/2011 13:07:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
Tony Martin. You miss the point about police being representative of the community.

It is not just a question of making all policemen look black and asian to fulfil some ideological PC dogma about quota levels. It is to do with community cooperation.

Back when the police forces were founded they were highly controversial as much of the public felt that they were simply there to serve the interests of the rich in oppressing the poor. So Sir Robert Peel set out a set of ground rules of how the police would operate practically. These were known as the 9 Prinicples of Sir Robert Peel and have been revised over the years by other policemen and political leaders. The central principle of them all is, however, as Sir Robert would have said "the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions". Or as Sir Richard Mayne better put it "the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives".

This is not a piece of woolly liberal hand ringing it is a political philosophy espoused by a famous Conservative Prime Minister that the police can only do so much without the cooperation of the community. Or as DCI Burnside might have put it …”Attempting to have a proportionate number of black and asian policemen in the Met helps them to feel it is okay to grass up their mates”. No he never said that, I made it up, but that’s really what’s being said here in a circumlocutory way. While the technology of policing has greatly improved over the years the bottom line is that really the police are still reliant on criminals and people who know criminals being prepared to grass their mates …for the greater public good. Or indeed in some cases for a reward. Without sources of information the police are pretty powerless and that’s why they always want to do their local-neighbourhood-community-policing Dixon of Dock Green routines down the bottom of my garden. They need people to trust them so they can collect information. So the philosophical and practical problem with, for example, stop and search is that it is an open admission that that co-operation of the public is just not there and this can result in a vicious cycles that leads to further and further breakdowns of trust. As most policing relies on people grassing up other people, if the police stop and search black and asian people too randomly too often then the situation goes from one of unfortunate necessity to a complete social alienation. So no information …so no go areas and increases in crime. So even if you do catch a few perpetrators this way the level of alienation caused by the techniques used can end up reinforcing gang cultures. The we're-being-treated-like-criminals-anyway-so-let's-behave-so effect. That's not to say police should never use such techniques in moderation but ...it’s a difficult path to tread and …they're not always going to solve the underlying problems…? Anyway I hope this goes some way to explain why it is generally regarded as a good idea to have a representative level of ethnic minorities in the police. In a way that probably is not as important in the grocery trades. It is not all PC nonsense. It is a logical approach to a logistical problem.


“But there is also evidence that it has helped to reduce crime. If you compare the four weeks from 17th July to 14th August with the four weeks from 15th August to 11th September, property crime in Croydon is down about 30% and violent crime about 20%.”

Could that be because everything has already been stolen?

On 24/10/2011 20:10:00 Gavin wrote:

Has it ever occured to you that the person serving you was probably born in this country and is as British as you are? Why can't you get beyond people's skin colour?

On 25/10/2011 19:42:00 Tony Martin wrote:

Yes it has occurred to me that the people serving me may have been born in Great Britain and in that case are legally as British as I am although obviously not ethnically or culturally as British as I am.

By your standards the Police and most Young Black Men are as British as each other so can’t the Young Black Men see beyond skin colour? I’ll take by your lack of an answer that you do see racial quotas as one way deals.




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