Crime affects every family, every organisation, business and every country.
Governments spend substantial amounts on law enforcement and dealing with crime after it has occurred; but shouldn’t the focus be crime prevention and crime reduction? This piece looks at what is going wrong between the public, government and the police. There is a huge gap between how we want to be policed, how the police want to police us and how we are actually policed. Why is there this gap and what can be done about it?
First of all, what does the public want? I believe the public is not interested whether burglaries have gone up or down by five per cent. They want to know that when they go to bed at night, they are not going to get broke into.
What kind of policing the public is getting is clear from a recent letter I received from one of my followers. She had noticed six police officers manning one female. Why, she wondered, do the police need six officers for this task? But when her house is burgled, you cannot find a policeman for love or money.
Serious crime is ignored and minor crime elevated to the level of the serious in order to satisfy the measurement regime. The police are forced to make fools of themselves; and for what end? Fulfilling government targets is not leading to better policing. One officer told me recently: We are bringing more and more people to justice—but they are the wrong people.”
The public prefer the foot patrol as top of the list. Sadly, the government prefers to reward that ‘visible’ evidence of police action. The absence of crime and disorder is not a target—not even for safer community policing.
Dear Mr President, now that we have slid into 2020, there are three key messages to keep in mind: make law and justice policy decisions based on evidence, not populism; be open to public scrutiny on any changes you propose; and keep testing what works and what doesn’t.
Focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots would save taxpayers’ money and keep more people safe. But “primitive” technology is limiting officers’ ability to do that.
Crime prevention was the primary purpose of policing and, with regard to persistent offenders in particular, officers must make it as hard as possible to commit the crime in the first place.
Resources should be targeted at crime hotspots, used to identify repeat and vulnerable victims of crime and find out where the most prolific, persistent and dangerous offenders in the community reside.
But to do this, officers need access to much better technology, ideally a smartphone-like device so each individual could hold force intelligence in his hand.
The crimes to watch
Focus on policies that work to prevent or reduce real crime problems. Don’t be distracted by populist issues, pet projects or knee-jerk reactions.
Instead, look to the substantial evidence base on what does and doesn’t work to reduce real offending, at times the government often seems pressured to respond to media by enacting ‘’tougher law and order policies’’ – even if being tough doesn’t always cut crime or help the victims of it.
In my view, develop a blueprint for evidence-based crime policy for reducing criminal activity in Kampala Metropolitan areas. Establish an independent agency to collate, analyse and interpret crime data and develop evidence-based policy.
Invest in evidence-based early intervention programs to reduce offending by young people, including social support for at-risk youth.
Consultation and evaluation
Your government should also focus on rebuilding engagement and trust with the institutions of law and justice, and with the community.
Good relationships with the judiciary, legal profession, police and prison staff are essential to an effective criminal justice system. Re-introduce or respect parliamentary and other processes that facilitate this, and welcome input from the community and relevant experts.
Build partnerships with the private sector and with universities to assist in developing the evidence base essential for good policy. Support your public servants to provide independent and experienced insights on difficult problems.
Listening to this kind of frank and fearless advice before you bring in new big policies is the best way to avoid a public backlash in the long run.
Some people will urge you to simply tackle “law and order” problems. Aiming for law and justice for all citizens is, in many ways, a much tougher ask.
But if your goal is a safer Uganda, law and justice is the best way to achieve it – and that means starting with the evidence before you, and using it to build a case for change.
The author is a private investigator and founder of Richards Private Investigations.