I’ve just read in the London Evening Standard about a teenager being stabbed in a late-night brawl on a train near Strawberry Hill. The 17-year-old victim was also sprayed with a noxious substance. He was taken to hospital to be cared for by the NHS.
A police spokesman said: ‘Thankfully incidents like this are extremely rare . . . and we police a CCTV-rich environment . . .’ What a shame it isn’t a policeman-rich environment.
Elsewhere I read about cuts to police funding; about 900 officers sitting at computer screens trawling social media for hate crimes; about abysmal clear-up rates for burglaries – can it really be as low as 5 per cent? Just occasionally, aggrieved citizens find ingenious ways round this. I recall a pragmatic lady whose garage was being ransacked, and who called the police to say she had just killed the burglar. She got an immediate response.
But should it all have to be so Alice in Wonderland?
Here in my little corner of East Switzerland, the Gemeinde (local authority) has just issued a questionnaire about how we rate its competence and accountability. Of the 4,500 residents, a quarter were sent the questions, and I was one of those randomly selected. Among the issues we had to rate for effectiveness and their importance to us personally was the police presence in the community.
In fact it is really quite low – never a bobby patrolling the streets, only the occasional patrol car driving through. This is almost certainly because crime here is rather low. The Swiss are keen on rules and regulations at an individual level (for example in our apartment block there’s no using the washing machine at lunchtime, and no running the jacuzzi after 10pm). They are often ridiculed for this sort of thing, but to my amazement they are usually quite happy and willing to respect the rules. So while I said the police presence was an important issue for me, I also rated their competence highly – both responsible and appropriate.
Just imagine a London local authority seeking council taxpayers’ views on this. And many other issues: How do you rate our refuse collection? Are local taxes fair and well spent? How well do we maintain your roads and pavements? How well do traffic-calming measures protect slow movers, ie pedestrians and cyclists? Do you feel safe here? As I filled in my 12-page questionnaire, I mused over how I would have been answering each question had I received it at my previous home in south-east London.
In the UK, it is fashionable for local and central authorities to base their policies on ‘evidence’, but increasingly it seems to me that they are actually searching for evidence to justify favoured policy decisions. Maybe for a start the local authorities should be allocating some of their scarce resources to this kind of real evidence-collecting, rather than the usual inflated management pensions and diversity officers. And more to the point, actually being prepared to act on the opinions and preferences of those who pay for them.