Do bobbies on the beat really cut crime?

Discounted new TVs on sale Burglary rates may also have fallen as the value of second-hand goods dropped

Interesting to read that former home secretary David Blunkett believes the police shift from the reactive "Z-Cars era of flying squads" to preventative neighbourhood policing has been responsible for the "dramatic drop in crime" since the mid-1990s.

Quite why crime rose inexorably from World War II until 1995 and then started falling is a question that still puzzles criminologists.

Because crime didn't just fall in the UK. It fell in almost every developed Western nation from pretty much the same time.

It fell in Canada and in the United States - even though those two countries operate very different criminal justice policies. It fell in Scandinavia and fell along the shores of the Mediterranean. It fell in Australia and fell in Iceland.

It would be ridiculous to suggest the police have no impact, but how much does the activity of the local constabulary influence crime rates?

Evidence that police have more than a marginal impact on offending is hard to come by. It would appear that bigger forces are at play: economic, demographic, social, cultural and technological.

The reason volume car crime fell so dramatically from the mid-90s is probably much more to do with improved vehicle security than the reintroduction of bobbies on the beat.

Falling domestic burglary rates may also have been affected by the installation of locks and alarms but, equally, may have dropped along with the value of a second-hand TV or DVD player.

Community support officer A PCSO on the beat

Home Office research in the mid-80s concluded: "A patrolling police officer could expect to pass within 100 yards of a burglary taking place roughly once every eight years. Even then they may not even realise that the crime is taking place."

The latest thinking is that so-called intelligent policing can help to bring down the numbers of certain offences. Targeting crime hot-spots or known offenders does seem to get results without necessarily moving the criminality elsewhere.

But the claim that neighbourhood policing is a significant factor in preventing crime remains unproven. The bobby (or PCSO) on the beat may provide a comforting uniformed presence that makes the law-abiding feel safer. They may bolster community confidence which may, in turn, encourage people to obey the law.

There is, however, little hard evidence that the renaissance of the neighbourhood bobby explains the dramatic falls in total crime we have seen since the mid-90s.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I believe a Beat Bobby would receive more respect from the public than PCSO's, especially from the younger generation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I grew up living in the rural countryside and now live in a large city centre. I cannot honestly remember when I see a "bobby on the beat". The only time I see the police is either as a motorist when they are fineing someone doing 33 mph in a 30 limit or on a friday/saturday night stopping drunken louts from killing each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    A bit like the effects of CCTV. People think an area covered by CCTV is safer, whereas it just means crimes MAY be recorded although the camera can be pointing away from the incident. Generally speaking there is not somebody at the other end of the camera waiting to pounce as soon as something untoward appears to be happening and it would be the same with bobbies on the beat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Crime has reduced significantly, particularly"volume" or acquisitive crime,committed mostly to fund drug habits.Various schemes have helped that either address addiction, or have targeted "Prolific Offenders" making life difficult for them when tempted to offend,almost always when still on licence after a prison sentence.
    However,seeing police on the street has a comforting effect for most of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Seeing a Police Officer on foot patrol is not comforting to me, I worry that their time is being wasted on a PR exercise.

    I would rather they were enforcing the laws on organised crime and dangerous driving.


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