Target culture. It’s a pejorative phrase, and understandably so. As we discovered during
the New Labour years, targets designed to encourage good public services can frequently do the opposite — replacing genuine care with box-ticking, and action with bureaucracy. I mention this
now because of an article in this week’s Spectator (do subscribe, etc.) by an anonymous Metropolitan Police officer. He describes how a target
culture has skewed the work of the force and, in some cases, even the law itself. Here’s one anecdote, which rather sums it all up:
"I know of one instance in which a uniformed sergeant stole (or neglected to hand in) some confiscated cannabis. Instead he divided it up into smaller amounts and gave it to his junior
constables, who created fictional names, wrote fictitious reports and claimed six ‘sanctioned detections’ for six cannabis confiscations. There was no suggestion of reward or profit, you
understand, just an overwhelming need to tick boxes."
"The machinations of the Met when it comes to massaging its crime figures are legendary. Every borough has a department within it called the ‘crime management unit’. Its purpose is in
theory to ensure accuracy in the recording and classifying of crimes. Its members also add their ‘expertise’ in more constructive ways. Take a robbery. A victim is attacked on a bus and punched
several times. The attackers do not use any words as they attack. The victim drops his or her iPod. The attackers steal it and run off. That would be reclassified as an assault followed by theft.
Two crimes instead of one, but the all-important street robbery has been reduced. If one of the attackers is caught on the spot and charged, however, the classification remains one of robbery
because it’s been ‘cleared up’."
How does this chime with Theresa May’s abolition of national policing targets? Not harmoniously. But the Home Secretary is aware of how the target culture prevails. In an under-reported speech earlier this month, she pleaded with police officers that, "if we’ve done away with a target
nationally, then stop chasing it locally." Expect this kind of frustration with police forces to become one of the leitmotifs of this Parliament, just as frustration with local authorities