The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has recently been heralding an initiative in Essex where officers harass ‘yobs’ by following young people around with video cameras. The Guardian recently published an article (30/05/08) written by one of their journalists who had spent a day with the ‘Operation Leopard’ police taskforce.
The journalist describes how the police roam the estate looking for a ‘hit list of individuals’, filming them and anyone they are with and occasionally visiting their homes. Apparently those filmed have the right not to be, but as with many ‘right’ that we don’t have when it suits the authorities, the journalist notes that this option wasn’t given to any of the 15 people filmed in his presence.
But one of the many problems of such ‘targeted’ police work is that it targets either stereotypically contrived sections of the population, or ‘known offenders’, the latter given only a tiny proportion of all crimes committed are ever arrested isn’t the ‘evidence-based’ approach its advocates make it out to be. But also, as a conversation the journalist has with a 19 year old target uncovers, just because someone has committed one or more crimes in the past, doesn’t mean they will do so in the future, indeed many people who have engaged in criminal or anti-social behaviour when they are young simply drop out of it later or ‘grow up’ as the 19 year old expresses it.
Many working class people rightly feel threatened by ‘street’ crime and anti-social behaviour, so it is perhaps understandable that many residents on the police’s survey supported the initiative believing the inconvenience of a dozen or so youths is worth it if crime is reduced. There are two problems with this though, firstly that saturation and intimidatory police tactics can often provoke a fierce backlash from the relatively powerless groups subjected to them. Secondly, there aren’t enough police officers to operate such schemes everywhere, and given that it doesn’t remove the underlying causes of such actions, as many residents themselves expressed, once the operation leaves the estate crime and anti-social behaviour will probably increase again.
Socialists do support the use of policing to tackle crime, but only under local democratic control and we would favour a more reactive use rather than proactively harassing people, who often are completely innocent. But this would be as an auxiliary to tackling the problems at the root of crime, unemployment and alienation which give many young people no future under this current capitalist system.
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