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Economics of Crime – Assessment of Police Reform Policy by the UK Government

Economics of Crime – Assessment of Police Reform Policy by the UK Government

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Introduction

Crime is a fundamental concept within the larger criminology discipline. The current criminological literature is littered with various theories on what constitutes a crime (Long, Lynch & Stretesky 2015). Most criminologists view crime as a contravention of the criminal code, although a few of them are opposed to this notion (Witte & Witt 2001). In addition, various countries are characterised by different criminal justice systems (Czabanski 2008) and as such, it becomes hard to have a single universal definition of crime. Consequently, the question of what constitutes crimes remains largely understudied (Lynch, Stretesky & Long 2016). It is also equally hard to measure crime. According to the National Statistician (2011), crime is difficult to compute because certain crimes are either under-reported or unreported. Since the computation of crimes enables the public to better understand crime, the complex nature of crime means that it is quite difficult to estimate the burden of crime in both England and Wales (National Statistician 2011). In the past seven years, the number of police officers in the UK has reduced significantly and while the weakened economy could point towards a rise in crime levels, crime rates have in fact been on the decline (Home Office 2011).  The goal of this essay is to assess the policy to reform the police force by the UK Government, as outlined in the report, ‘A new approach to fight crime’, in which the Home Secretary outlines the need to reduce government interference in the police force so that police officers can undertake their work with less bureaucracy and apply their professional judgement and discretion in fighting crime.  The implications of this policy shall also be examined, from an economic context, along with its impact on other factors that determine the incidence of crime.

A Review of the policy

In “new approach to fighting crime”, Theresa May, Britain’s Home Secretary, outlines the Government’s plan to reduce crime by cutting the red tape and bureaucracy faced by the police force, in effect giving them more leeway to use their professional judgement and discretion in fighting crime. According to Flatley et al. (2010), Britain’s criminal justice system is among the most expensive ones in the world, and yet a crime in this country is still high. Each year, over four million crimes are recorded in Britain, with nearly a quarter of these being violent. Public trust in the criminal justice system has also waned in recent years, with just about half of the public having trust in the Government’s efforts to protect them against criminals.

The police force has lacked the independence it needs to fight crime owing to increased government interference. Consequently, the police force has become more responsive to bureaucracy and targets, as opposed to people. According to the Cabinet Office Review (2007), only about seven percent of members of the public are aware that they should report matters relating to crime to the Police Authority. Consequently, communities feel disempowered in the fight to reduce crime rates.

Figures from a report by Home Office (2016) show a drop in the number of police officers in England and Wales by almost 20,000 since 2009. As of March 2016, the total number of police officers in England and Wales was estimated at 124,066 while in 2009, the figure stood at 143,769 (BBC 2016). This represents a 14% reduction, as shown in figure 1 below:

Source: Home Office 2016

The most affected officers are the local and font line police.  At the same time, the police force has had to endure significant budget cuts of nearly 18% since 2010.  In the meantime, crime rates have been on the decrease, with a 6% reduction in offences recorded in 2016, in comparison with the figures recorded in 2015. According to the Home Office (2016), this is a clear demonstration that the police force had the potential to deliver more with the right reforms in place.

Policy Implications

In the report, “a new approach to fighting crime”, the Government has assumed a radical shift in the fight against crime by allowing the police force to execute its duties with more freedom and based on their professional discretion. At the same time, local communities have also been empowered in that they can now hold police officers to account for protecting them (Home Office 2011). The Police and Crime Commissioners have also been empowered to develop crime and police plans, as well as the force budgets. This is a welcome development as the police are on the front line in the fight against crime. Consequently, they are likely to allocate more funds to areas that will lead to increased crime reduction.

Local communities will also have increased access to crime data, and this is yet another attempt by the Government to increase transparency in its fight against crime. Armed with new statistics on crime levels, the public can be directly involved in community policing and challenge the police in their work (Home Office 2011). The police require public cooperation in order to do their job well. Accordingly, keeping the public active and engaged in ensuring safe neighbourhoods will assist the police in executing their duties.

Scrapping of national police targets such as the stop and account forms and the Policing Pledge is also meant to end years of bureaucratic accountability and replace it with professional discretion. The two measures are projected to save a combined 800,000 hours spent by the police annually (Home Office 2011). What this means is that even with a leaner police force and the right reforms, it is still possible to maintain crime levels at a low rate. It is also an opportunity to give the police enhanced discretion to utilise restorative justice and community responses. Moreover, such changes shall enable police officers to be more innovative and demonstrate more discretion in developing strategies to fight crime that have been tailored to suit local conditions.  Elimination of bureaucratic accountability implies that there will be more police officers manning the streets. Consequently, the presence of more police officers on the streets is likely to deter criminals and would-be criminals from engaging in crime.

Scrapping off bureaucracy in the police force and reducing unnecessary costs will go a long way in improving the efficiency with which the police force executes its duties (Home Office 2011).  More importantly, this move will result in the police force saving hundreds of millions of pounds and crucial time.

Key crime trends after the implementation of policy

In the latest statistics on crime in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics revealed a year-on-year reduction in crime rates. In its March 2016 report, the Office for National Statistics revealed that since 1981, when the CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) was started, crime rates increased and peaked in 1995, but since then, have been on a downward trend, save for a slight increase in 2006 and 2008, as shown by figure 2 below:

(Source: Office for National Statistics 2016)

In 2016, some 6.3 million crime incidents were recorded in England and Wales, compared to the 6.8 million reported in 2015 (Office for National Statistics 2016). This represented a 6 % reduction in crime rates. The Office for National Statistics further reported a 7 % decrease in crime in March 2015, compared to a year earlier (Office for National Statistics 2015).  In June 2013, a CSEW survey estimated the crime incidents in England and Wales at 8.5 million, which was a 7% reduction in comparison with the figures of a survey conducted the previous year.

As can be seen from the statistics above, there has been a year-on-year decrease in crime levels ever since the 2011 “new approach to fighting crime” policy. From an economic perspective, crime rates are directly related to the prevailing economic conditions. Individuals are driven by two incentives to engage in crime: positive incentives and negative incentives. According to Marshal (2015), positive incentives are the “opportunities available in the legitimate economy” (p. 111), as evidenced by current wage and unemployment rates. Accordingly, lower unemployment and higher ages lead to less crime, and vice-versa.  Conversely, negative incentives refer to “the costs of participating in the illegitimate economy” (Marshal 2015, p. 111).  Such negative incentives include arrests and conviction rates. Accordingly, increased arrests and convictions lead to declined crime rates. Ehrlich’s market model of crime acts as the basis of the incentives for the crime.  The model acts as a standard that guides people while making decisions on whether to partake in crime or not. (Ehrlich 1996).

Other policies to reduce crime

Other policies that have been shown to reduce crime include increasing the minimum wage and increased spending on police. According to Machin and Meghir (2004), increasing the minimum wage acts as a better alternative to crime and hence a positive incentive. This is supported by economic models which show an increase in crime with limited labour market opportunities.  Unemployment thus acts as a key indicator of crime (Draca 2013).  On the other hand, increased spending on the police leads to reduce crime, especially if linked to the introduction of new policing strategies (Machin & Marie 2011).

The fall in crime as reported elsewhere in this paper could also be due to social change and improved private security, such as the use of CCTV (Flanagan 2008).

In sum, the policy by the Government to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in the police force could be the much-needed policy change in order to reduce crime rates in England and Wales even further. These changes empower the public to participate in community policing and to also keep an eye on the police. On the other hand, the police will have more freedom to exercise their discretion in the fight against crime. This will lead to savings in times of time and financial resources due to the implementation of policy reforms.  Other policies that can be implemented to supplement this one includes minimum wage and increased spending on police.

 

References

BBC (2016). Police officer numbers drop by nearly 20,000 since 2009. [Online]. Czabanski, J (2008), Estimates of Cost of Crime: History, Methodologies, and Implications,

  • New York: Springer.
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Ehrlich, I (1996),’ Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 43-67.

Flanagan R (2008), The Review of Policing: Final Report, London: Home Office.

Flatley, J, Kershaw, C, Smith, K, Chaplin, R & Moon, D. (Eds.) (2010). Crime in England

and Wales 2009/10: Findings from the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime.

Home Office Statistical Bulletin 12/10. London: Home Office. [Online].

Home Office (2011). User Guide to Home Office Crime Statistics. London: Home Office. [Online].

Home Office (2011). A new Approach to fighting crime. [Online].

Home Office (2016). Police Workforce, England and Wales, 31 March 2016. [Online].

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Implication, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Machin, S & Marie, O (2011),’Crime and police resources: the street crime initiative’, Journal of the European Economic Association, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 678-701.

Machin, S & Meghir, C (2004),’Crime and Economic Incentives’, Journal of Human Resources, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 958-79.

Marshall, R (2015), Back to Shared Prosperity: The Growing Inequality of Wealth and Income in America, New York: Routledge.

National Statistician (2011). National Statistician’s Review of Crime Statistics: England and Wales. [Online].

Office for National Statistics (2015). Crime in England and Wales: Year ending March 2015. [Online].

Office for National Statistics (2016). Crime in England and Wales: year ending Mar 2016. [Online].

Witte, AD & Witt, R (2001), ‘Crime Causation: Economic Theories’, in Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice, London: MacMillan.

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