Visibility and Crime: Doing More Than Just Looking

by Jen Turner

By Terry from uk (Clear up day uefa 15 May 2008 manchester) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent BBC report has revealed that, according to Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes. He said GMP followed a strategy also “adopted” by other forces and recorded crime had halved in 10 years. Data released in July showed that crimes recorded by police in England and Wales fell by 7% in the year to March 2013.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Sir Peter said “We look at every crime when it is reported, whether there is a line of inquiry – it might be around witnesses, house to house, forensic, CCTV, but if there is no reasonable line of inquiry, I don’t think the public would expect us to pursue that”. He added: “That’s a balance between of investigating crime after it has happened and targeting known offenders. Most crime is committed by a relatively small group of persistent offenders.” In April, Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales, said focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots in future would save taxpayers’ money and keep more people safe. “We look at all crimes to identify patterns of offending and to build the picture of where we need to target police patrols. In many crimes there are no witnesses, no CCTV and no forensic opportunities.” Tony Lloyd, the force’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Let me be clear that I expect, and the chief constable expects, that with all serious crime no effort will be spared to bring the criminals to justice.

These thoughts are particularly interesting if they are considered in relation to a 2011 Geography Compass paper by Ian Cook and Mary Whowell. Their paper recognises that, from studies of ‘panoptic’ CCTV surveillance to accounts of undercover police officers, it is often mooted that visibility and invisibility are central to the policing of public space.  Yet, Cook and Whowell aimed to critically analyse this relationship. Drawing on the practices of a variety of policing providers and regulators, and the work of geographers, criminologists and other social scientists, their paper examines how and why visibility underpins the policing of public space. First, the paper considers the ways in which policing bodies and technologies seek to render themselves selectively visible and invisible in the landscape. Secondly, it explores the ways in which policing agents attempt to make ‘incongruous’ bodies, behaviours and signs variously visible and invisible in public space. The critique of this then calls for a more deeper understanding in two areas: (i) how other senses such as touch, smell and sound are socially constructed as in and out-of-place and ‘policed’ accordingly; and (ii) how the policing of undesirable bodies and practices is not simply about quantitative crime reduction, but conducted through qualitative, embodied performance. It is this point that takes us back to the figures provided by GMP and leads us to question whether police forces across the country should be doing much more than simply ‘looking for’ crime.

books_iconIan R. Cook and Mary Whowell (2011) Visibility and the Policing of Public Space. Geography Compass, 5: 610–622.

60-world2

Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes, BBC News (ONLINE), 5 Sept 2013.

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