Letter: A police force suffering from frustration cannot solve society's problems

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your front-page story (25 February) confuses fact and interpretation in the matter of crime figures. The number of crimes detected against the number reported gives a percentage clear-up rate. Last year, in South Yorkshire, police officers were more productive than the previous year by 16 per cent, arresting more criminals.

But, as in other police forces, reported crimes rose by a greater proportion, so reducing the percentage 'clear-up'. These rises can be associated with a number of factors - weather, reporting practices, insurance considerations - and are often the result of our own practices: encouraging more women to report sexual offences against them, for example.

Less to our credit, a former police practice was to keep recorded crime artificially - and often falsely - low and detections high, to please chief officers and, no doubt, the Home Office. In South Yorkshire, these practices have been banned as incompatible with standards of honesty. Despite this, our productivity has increased.

The Home Secretary's planned reforms are to do with economies and efficiency, which, in principle, all 43 forces agree are necessary and with which most of us are well advanced - a fact warmly acknowledged by Kenneth Clarke.

The Independent should not confuse the issue of those police reforms with the failure of society - parents, church, schools, media, the criminal justice system at large - to deal with those who do wrong. The police are working against long odds; we arrest thieves and robbers red-handed, only to see them released by an apparently helpless magistracy, free to cock a snook - or the modern one-finger equivalent - at what should be a dignified process in support of good, honest people. The law is now widely viewed as a laughing stock.

Corrupt individuals within the police have played their part in this, and the service has - just in time - grasped the nettle. Sympathy is swinging behind us, but what we need is urgent practical help: a review of the new Criminal Justice Act and its working effects (especially looking at how the seriousness of a crime is assessed, the relevance of previous convictions, and how 'tariffs' for fines are arrived at); a review of the rules of 'disclosure' to defence lawyers; a fresh look at the abuses of the right to silence; assessment of how bail is awarded to active thieves and men and women of violence.

There is enormous goodwill in our offices, daily facing violence and refusing to be downhearted in the face of queues of work at the start of each tour of duty. They will face reorganisation, restructuring and economies with their usual cheerful shrug; what they will not take lightly is the feeling of creeping hopelessness that systems that are meant to deliver justice are out of touch with dangerous realities on our streets.

Yours faithfully,

RICHARD WELLS

Chief Constable

South Yorkshire Police

Snighill, Sheffield

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