Policing by quota

This isn’t going to be a particularly long post, it’s just going to outline an issue that has affected me recently and I’d be interested to know if it has affected anyone else or if it hasn’t what you think about it.

I live in London and I own a bike. The reason I own a bike is because it is cheaper and faster than other forms of transport over short (>5 mile) distances. This is relevant because in the past month I’ve been stopped twice by police because of how I was riding my bike, the first time I was cycling through Camden and I noticed that four cyclists on the side of the road were being given tickets by four police officers (there were two police cars parked around them). Naturally I wondered what was going on, ten minutes and half a mile later I found out. As I was cycling a police car turned on its sirens and sped in front of the cyclist who was ten or twenty metres ahead of me, as I tried to cycle round they shouted for me to stop to. It transpired that we had apparently both gone through a red light on a crossing. Now I’m not going to dispute that I did this because to be honest I don’t know if I did or didn’t. It was a crossing not on a junction, no one was on it, when I rode up to it I looked right and saw that the crossing man was red and two seconds after I went through all the cars did as well. The police officer agreed that all of this was true and that she did indeed see me go through under these conditions. However she then said that I was unlucky because that particular week was “Camden Safer Cycling” week and they were cracking down on cyclists, she then produced a fist full of fines and gave me one. I’m not complaining about her, she was polite and fair and I probably did go through when the light was red. What was unsettling about it was that instead of exercising due discretion as she normally would for such a minor event she had to give me a ticket to get rid of the pile that by policy had to be gone by the end of the week.

"Sorry mate but I have to give out twenty before I clock off, tell your friends yeah?"

Last night this worrying type of policing was shown on the BBC’s traffic cops program. This show follows traffic police throughout Bedfordshire (my home county) as they fine people for tinted windows, number plate font etc before showing gory pictures of traffic accidents so that we can all learn what should be obvious. Again I don’t think the police did a bad job on this program, I’ve got nothing against the officers. However at one point they revealed that Bedfordshire police have implemented a “credit” system. Under this system police officers have a quota of credits that they must reach each month, activities like handing out fines are worth a small number of credits and arresting someone awards an officer a higher amount. This to me seems nuts and here’s why, it’s not because I think there shouldn’t be a system of monitoring policing and encouraging crime fighting, it’s that a credit system doesn’t address specific crimes. What it does do is, as one officer complained on the show, take away an officers discretion. An offence that usually would get a warning (perhaps because the person is unaware of their crime e.g. tinted windows) now get’s a fine because the officer needs to rack up their credits. This one credit system is bad in my opinion. Rather than taking types of crime such as knife crime and setting a goal such as “10% reduction in a month” officers can simply supplement their credit score by tacking strings of minor and even trivial offences.

This may all seem like a personal rant, its not but it is inspired by something that happened to me. Author Charles Stross has an interesting take on this over on his blog, we all commit minor crimes now and then (often without knowing it) but as surveillance increases the opportunity for us to be caught increases.

But what do you think? Is a quota the right way to police? Have you experienced something you feel is pedantic? Leave a comment!

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  1. #1 by Giles Cuddy on July 15, 2011 - 11:15 am

    Quota systems for the Police is ridiculous! What next, a kill quota for touring soldiers?

  2. #2 by Tarek on July 15, 2011 - 11:47 am

    Police need to remember their priorities. Lets cut the crap and keep it real. An hour spent fining cyclists is an hour less that is spent on more serious crimes. E.g. Your house gets burgled. Police officer spends half a day working on the case. Then said officer goes ‘oh I have to finish my credits, time to fine cyclists’. Leaves your case and spends the rest of the day doing something that is arguably useless.

    • #3 by ryanbegleyonline on July 18, 2011 - 10:03 am

      Exactly. I’d hate to be around an officer who had a couple of hours left of his shift and a few hundred credits to get rid of…

  3. #4 by Dan Clarke on July 17, 2011 - 9:46 pm

    Your criminal tendencies rather undermine the legitimacy of this article.

    • #5 by ryanbegleyonline on July 18, 2011 - 10:02 am

      The fact that the pot calls the kettle black doesn’t stop the kettle being black Dan 😛

  4. #6 by Ian on July 17, 2011 - 10:41 pm

    If I were reponsible for PR within the Beds Police Force I would be asking a few questions to some of the officers who appeared in this weeks Traffic Cops. The two female officers enjoying their few moments of TV fame, showing sheer enjoyment at giving out yet another ticket for minor traffic offence. Complete waste of tax payers money employing Police officers to do this type of work when there are so many more serious crimes to be investigated. I guess thats too much like hard work , much easier to park up and catch passing motorists.

  5. #7 by Yvonne on July 21, 2011 - 7:34 pm

    Oh dear! This is absolutely horrific. Beds Police definitely need to re-train some of their staff. It is obvious that some of them are taser-happy. So many instances of assault, it is shocking. I don’t understand why there is such a need for them to swear so much. Surely there are ways of handling ‘potential criminals’ without mis-handling them! I am sure they do a fairly good job and that must count for something but what we have seen is very low standards of policing, unfortunately.

    • #8 by ryanbegleyonline on July 21, 2011 - 10:46 pm

      Definitely Yvonne. Tonight’s episode showed some officers being completely unprofessional in my opinion. Some of them did a good job but others were violent, abusive and quick to assert their bullying authority. To top it off the show ended by pointing out one-by-one that nobody arrested in the program was charged and were all let go.

  6. #9 by Abid on July 20, 2012 - 2:14 am

    They just picking on pity crimes, why can’t there grab the big fishes, eg drug dealers, murders ettcc! I recently had my tints peeled off when they wernt even dark and £30 fine.! One of word to describe the police PATHETIC!

  7. #10 by Yvonne Calverley on September 10, 2012 - 1:01 pm

    in the show I watch what made the cop so happy was to able to crush cars due to no insurance I found most disgrusting which is up the person in my country and I found they were rude disgusting and thank god our police force could show them how to police and deal with the public even underarrest you are treated like a person

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