Tom Winsor: We can rebuild trust and faith for the victims of crime

POLICING today has developed significantly from the occupation that Peel envisaged at the beginning of the 19th century. The sophistication and resources of some who are engaged in crime mean that the profession of policing will continue to require people of the highest integrity, intelligence and skill.

The needs of the police service for such qualities are intensified by the weight of the modern criminal law, and the demands and expectations of the public and other agencies of the state.

The culture of the police has many great strengths. It is a culture of determination, courage, hard work and achievement, of facing any challenge or danger and confronting it in full measure. There is a considerable degree of goodwill in the police, in making sacrifices – personal and otherwise – to protect the public, deter crime, disrupt criminal networks, apprehend criminals and so make communities safer.

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It is therefore extremely important that the first obligation of the police, in preventing crime, is given the attention and resources required. In that respect, crime prevention is likely to be a major part of HMIC’s inspection programme for 2013-14.

It should also be acknowledged that crime prevention is not the sole obligation of the police; as I have said, it is the obligation of every citizen. And that includes the other agencies and emanations of communities and the state.

Parents and families, as well as schools and other educational institutions, must instil in children a strong appreciation of right and wrong, and the reality, instincts and inclinations, motivations and means, to behave as responsible, law-abiding citizens, and not to be drawn into disorder, crime or the circumstances which create and intensify the conditions in which crime is the easiest and most attractive option.

Prevention is also an obligation of health professionals, particularly in the field of mental health where undiagnosed or untreated illness can, as we know, lead to the commission of serious violent crime.

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And the other parts of the criminal justice system, namely the Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary, the Prison Service and Probation Service, have material parts to play in ensuring that offenders are prosecuted, receive appropriate sentences which meet the combined purposes of punishment, public protection and rehabilitation, and that the probabilities of reoffending are kept to the irreducible minimum.

The criminal justice system should operate as a single system, with properly designed and efficiently operating interfaces. In too many respects, this is still not the case. And the quality of inter-action and co-operation between the wider public and protective services, including social services, health and education, needs to be improved, with each service fully and properly discharging its responsibilities rather than abdicating duty in favour of the one public service which will never say no.

In this and so many other respects, police and crime commissioners have a very significant part to play. If the police are to maintain and intensify the essential levels of public support which I have described, it is necessary also that, consistent with the single and overriding principle that entry into and advancement within the Police Service should be entirely according to merit. Every effort also needs to be made to ensure that the people who join the police service come from the widest possible pool of talent in society, including the communities which are under-represented in so many other fields of public and private activity.

The degree of public acceptance of the use of police powers, and the extent to which communities will support the police, is, to a material extent, a function of the trust and confidence of communities, and whether the police officer in that community resembles the inhabitants of that community. And therefore, the police should significantly intensify the steps they are taking to inform and encourage members of the parts of communities who are not proportionately represented in the police, about the attractions of a police career.

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In addition, it is essential that the criminal justice system never forgets that when an offence has been committed, a victim has been created. There are hardly any victimless crimes, and psychological injury can be just as severe as physical harm.

The destruction of the fragile confidence of a citizen in his or her safety in the home or community can be severe, life-changing and long-lasting. It is important that the police, and the other agencies of the criminal justice system, discharge their obligations of compassionate and sensitive engagement in communication with the victims of crime, to rebuild their trust and faith in their safety and security.

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