Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Safer Communities, Volume 10, Issue 4
In the UK, the world of community safety is changing rapidly. Government cuts are being felt in the sector and many local community safety teams are being restructured and, in some cases, disbanded. It is not yet clear what impact this might have on crime and disorder in the UK or what issues will be raised for the governance of community safety.
Thinking first about the potential impact on crime and disorder, most criminal justice professionals and criminologists accept that crime has dropped over the last 15 or so years. However, it is not at all clear what contribution an expanded community safety sector might have made to this drop. As we look back on over ten years of growth in the sector, the failure to produce enough credible evaluations of the many projects and programmes that have been implemented during community safety’s “time of plenty” becomes ever more obvious. Making the case for continued investment in partnership working, pinpointing the interventions that deliver the best return on investment and providing a robust evidence base for the development of “payment by results” approaches are all hampered by the relative paucity of good evaluations. The challenge now for the sector is to innovate in a way that allows community safety to make a contribution, but with fewer resources and, crucially, to demonstrate that impact by building in credible, but relatively low cost, evaluation. This is a tall order, but not impossible. This journal is always keen to hear from practitioners and policy-makers who are developing innovative approaches to community safety and the editors will always support practitioners and policy-makers to write-up and present their work. Please contact us.
Turning to the question of governance two of the articles in this edition address important changes that are taking place. Peter Joyce considers the coalition government’s intention to replace police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of policing, and particularly police governance, Joyce assesses the rationale for this reform based on the historical development and current operations of police authorities and considers the potential problems that may arise from its implementation. Joyce anticipates a number of potential problems with the reforms including: the running costs of the new arrangements involving, as they do, the election of a new commissioner every four years; the extent to which the diversity of local opinion will be represented by an elected commissioner who might be beholden to a particular group of voters; the operational independence of chief constables; and, the nature of the possible threat to the visible accountability of chief constables. Joyce also sets out concerns about the impact of the new arrangements on inter-force co-operation and the extent to which the new arrangements might encourage a focus on local crime and disorder issues at the expense of other crime and security issues.
John Houghton, who has worked both as Senior Police Officer and latterly as an academic considers the future of community safety partnerships. Like Joyce, he takes a “long view” charting the development of the partnership approach over the last 40 years. While he finds that there is still general support for the “Partnership Approach” from the agencies that make up this process, he is less confident that the public is as accepting. Houghton is concerned that the Partnership Approach has “not developed as swiftly and as surely as anticipated”. Looking forward he argues that the increasing professionalisation of the community safety field provides the best strategy for securing its continued development.
The youth justice system is also undergoing rapid change. Perhaps one of the most interesting initiatives currently being piloted is the Youth Reinvestment Pathfinder. It draws on “Justice Reinvestment” principles and seeks to reduce the number of children and young people in custody. The mechanism by which this will occur is the “incentivisation” of local authorities to reduce the use of custody for young people. Currently, local authorities do not bear the cost of sending young people to custody. Through the Pathfinder, the areas participating will be incentivised to reduce the use of youth custody by investing in preventative and diversionary approaches alongside community-based interventions. Those areas would do well to consider recent research conducted by Di Hart from the National Children’s Bureau. She notes that a significant proportion of children receive a criminal justice disposal, not for the direct harm they have caused to the community but because they have breached the conditions of a previous court order. Her article describes a qualitative study aimed at increasing understanding about the mechanics of breach as currently deployed and its impact on children. The findings indicate that inflexible guidance on enforcement can constrain practitioners and disadvantage the most vulnerable children without any evidence that it “works” in making communities safer. Hart concludes that a refocusing towards positive engagement would be more productive.
Some of proposed reforms in the youth justice system have also caught the attention of Harry Angel who surveys the current state of the youth justice sector in his own inimitable style. Angel takes a wry look at policy developments shaping the “new ‘new youth justice’ ”. He is sceptical about many proposed developments and concerned about a possible erosion of civil liberties. However, he saves his most cutting remarks for the academic left whose response to recent events is, he argues, incoherent and irrelevant. The editors welcome responses to Angel’s comments.
Our final paper in this edition will be of particular value to first time researchers in the criminal justice sector. In a personal reflection on his early experiences of research in the criminal justice system, Daniel Briggs highlights several important aspects of doing research in prisons. His experience suggests that people in prison may be quite selective about information they disclose if interviewed and that prisons, rather than prisoners, can act as significant barriers for researchers – operationally as well as institutionally. He, therefore, recommends that the researcher should try to go beyond “the interview” at all opportunities and look to engage as much as possible with interviewees – even if it means walking around the wing, playing pool or seeing their cells.
Finally, Safer Communities is producing a special edition on the English riots/disorders of 2011. Papers of between 1,500 and 5,000 words are invited that are relevant to this issue. Papers might cover one or more of the following:
social and economic causes of the riots;
the role of social media;
media coverage of the riots;
responses of communities;
responses of the police and wider state;
responses of the courts; and
implications for criminal justice reform Implications for social policy reform comparisons with previous riots.
Papers might draw on the early findings from empirical studies commenced in response to the riots, apply relevant theories and ideas or analyse practice and policy responses. Opinion pieces are also welcomed.
If you are interested please submit a provisional title and abstract by the end of September 2011. Full articles should be submitted by the end of October 2011. If you would like to discuss your idea for a paper please contact the editors Chris Fox (email@example.com) or Tim Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the guest editor for this edition Dan Briggs (email@example.com).
Tim Bateman, Chris Fox