Peter Neyroud is affiliated with the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Expert Panel on the Future of Canadian Policing Models.
Public policing in the developed world has been going through a very rough patch. Whether it's been riots in London, riots in Ferguson, Mo., or the G20 protests in Toronto, policing and police leaders have been making news for the wrong reasons. Beneath the headlines, policing has become more expensive at very moment when governments need to reduce costs. This has led to renewed questions about police effectiveness as crime rates fall and patterns change.
In the international debate about the reasons for the crime drop, few analyses have accorded policing the central role. As a new report from the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) sets out, police are part of a safety and security web and one of many players, but not necessarily the prime agent of change.
Across the globe, police forces are struggling to cope with escalating cybercrime, because they remain locked into a geographic model of policing with physical boundaries and nationally defined legal remits. They are also falling short with crimes such as human trafficking, child sexual exploitation and domestic violence, which cross the boundaries of countries, agencies or public and private space. This existential crisis of policing is posing a direct challenge to the legitimacy of police as institutions.
The solutions are too often seen as structural reorganization rather than more fundamental reforms. Yet one of the universal truths about policing is that approximately 80 per cent of a force's budget pays for the people. The most important reforms must, therefore, focus on developing the skills, performance and professionalism of police officers and support staff. This requires a root-and-branch rethinking of the ways police officers are qualified and recruited, and how they continue to build their expertise. In much of the Western world, police education has remained stubbornly rooted in a model largely defined in the 19th century, in which law and procedure combined with the on-passing of experience are given preference over evidence-based practice. In Britain, Canada and the United States, we train our police first to follow procedure, rather than to use the best police science to solve problems.
As a result, too many forces are still pursuing a police professional model, based around random patrol, rapid response and reactive investigation, which has largely been discredited by research and which tends to produce high levels of stop and frisk and an overreliance on discredited crime figures as a measure of success. Instead of this, the growing body of police science suggests that police should be adopting a new police professionalism based around targeted interventions, problem-solving, public engagement, partnership and strategies focused on enhancing legitimacy. This approach is well documented in the CCA's newest report, Policing Canada in the 21st Century.
In Britain, police have recognized that they need to make firm steps in this direction. Budgets have already been slashed by 20 per cent and forces are preparing for the same again in the next five years. In the midst of this budgetary carnage, a new police professional body, the National College of Policing has been established. Government has funded it to be the "What works?" centre on crime reduction and the college is scouring the world for the best research to embed in British police education. New recruits have to qualify before being able to join and most are doing so through university programs. New qualifications for managers and leaders are being designed. The aim is to move to an accredited profession, underpinned by a systematic body of knowledge.
This is a major transformation for policing and a crucial one for our societies. Police officers are hugely important symbols of our democracy, from the British bobby to the Canadian Mountie. In 1829, Sir Robert Peel recognized that a watershed had been reached and 18th-century voluntarism in policing could no longer cope with 19th-century industrialism. In the same way, we need to recognize that 21st-century policing needs to transform itself by marrying the best science and knowledge to Peel's model to form a new professional police fit for today and the challenges of tomorrow.