This book was written based on the results of several local victimisation studies into crime on Merseyside, combining this with other research the authors had been involved with and in the area of policing. The book firstly begins by reviewing some facts and figures from the first six/seven years of Margaret Thatchers administration, notably that since 1979 crime was 40% by 1986 with a polcie force costing £58 per person rising to £117 per person in London. But even with a better paid, better equiped and bigger police force, the clear-up rate of crime had gone down from 41% in 1979 to 35% in 1984 and even more damning for every 100 unsolved crimes in 1979 there were almost double in 1984.
The book goes on then to argue that there has been a crisis in policing where the public began to distrust the police due to the tactics that were being employed ie mass stop and search operations that kicked off the Brixton riots, but also the mass mobilisation of the police during the miner's strike of 1984-5. They then go on to present one of their main ideas in the work, that the police are largely dependant on the support of the public for combating crime. The tactics have outlined above have increased distrust, because as the authors note the best indicator of whether the police will stop and search you is if you have been a victim of crime yourself. This leads to the police receiving less information about crime and thus reducing the clear-up rate.
The book then goes on to discuss the levels of violence in society and that official crime stats or victim stats are unlikely to reflect this an only really the homicide rate is the best stable measure of violent crime (more recently hospital records have also been used).
They also argue against the idea that crime is wholly socially determined but also against the ideas that one needs to be tough on crime, which they then go on to put forward the Neighbourhood Crime Scheme in Detroit as a way in which to reduce crime rates arguing that democratisation of the police is necessary by local government having control of police appointments and a truly independent complaints body. They also set up over 3,500 schemes, mostly organised through existing residents and tennants bodies into bodies that set local policing priorities, rather than just talking shops.
The book then discusses the problems the police experience when they try to collect information themselves through co-operation with other public agencies and by massive databases, stop and search and wiretaps which in the most case turn out to be rather expensive for very little gain (very little information is collected and people who would have talked to you to provide info otherwise won't anymore).
This leads them on to suggest their solution which has many elements of the aforementioned Chicago scheme. They argue that police policy should be controlled by local government sub-committees consisting of elected councillors and some co-opted police representatives. This group would also have responsibility for encouraging real debate on crime based on the real information (and not hyped tabloid craze) as well as conducting local crime surveys.
They argue that such a system would have a maximum voluntary reporting by the public and would use the minimum amount of coercion, and would fully respect civil rights which would again make the police more efficient in their work.
My main problem with this book comes from the authors lack of understaning of class and the state. They reject the idea that crime will only wither away under socialism, suggesting that neglects the fact that some reforms can be won in capitalism that can make workers lives better, but these reforms are snatched back by the ruling class at the first opportunity they get, note the increased use of stop and search in the UK after the 9/11 attacks and the 7/7 attacks. They also reject the idea fo the state being organised to repress workers struggles, but they fail to understand that it is this only in the last analysis, so whilst not every action is directed against workers, when the stakes are high (such as the miners strike) they will be used to their full.
Their notion of class seems to be only in the relevance of the class origins of someone, rather than in the Marxist view of the conditions people live under. For Marxists it is conditions workers exist in which make them the most revolutionary class due to appaling working conditions but also the fact they have to work more as group or unit that any other class, which leads them to take group or collective action. These errors permeate the work unfortunately.
Their idea of a solution is also sadly lacking. They correctly argue to democratising the police as an urgent step forward, but they do not mean the same democratising as Marxists would mean. For myself it would be the right of the police to a trade union that was lost after the 1919 police strike (see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/liverpool/l2). I would argue that a police force ought to be organised with the election of officers subject to the right of recall on the same wages as the rest of the police officers (with the police only receiving the wage of an average worker). The police should be controlled by a democratically elected local committee, with local elected representative, elected trade union representatives as well as elected police representatives. I would also include elected representatives of the judiciary in a small number, but subject to the judiciary itself being elected.
Such a body would be responsible for policing priorities and the other tasks suggested by the authors. But I would also demand the democratisation of the press to allow full discussion of crime, as the current capitalist papers constantly distort crime reporting (see The New Politics of Crime & Punishment by Roger Matthews and Jock Young, where Young discusses the headlines produced by all newspapers in response to recently published crime figures where they said crime had increased when in fact it had decreased).
As mentioned above, these demands must be coupled with the demand for a socialist society, with production planned to meet the needs of people under democratic control.
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