Crime and politicians
By Masud Khabeki
Political parties’ record on crime is criminal in Pakistan as crime is one of the few things in our country that is booming under the political regimes. Perhaps, our political parties had been more concerned with creating wealth rather than redistributing it, they clearly neglected to speak on law and order and have a complete silence to increase the number of police and policemen’s pay. But it is not just wages increases that our policemen need. The government has a duty to be seen to support law and order and to protect people and property. The police are thus doing a difficult job, in difficult times and they need the support of all the people—and that includes government ministers. Many policemen feel that there is only one way through which they can make the government understand their plight. And that is by leaving the force.
Politicians often talk about issues, which worry the public and there can be little doubt that crime is a major issue. The publication of criminal statistics attracts a lot of public attention. Apparent rises and falls in the rates of crimes are discussed with the government of the day claiming credit for any fall in crime and disputing the reliability of any recorded rises. The opposition party in the parliament routinely blames governmental policies for any increase in crime and disputes any fall.
In Pakistan, crime has never become more of an election issue. The political parties have failed to produce even a poster campaign on the theme of crime, criminality or crime prevention during election periods. The present ruling political party, despite its claims of being the party of law and order, has done little to decrease the steadily rising crime figures. For many decades, the rise in fear of crime coupled with the rise in recorded crime has meant that crime needs to be considered as an issue in our political environment. There is a steady debate seen as a political issue arguing about the significance of the statistics and about the causes of crime by the politicians. There has been, for example, considerable political controversy over the extent to which rising crime can be attributed to greed or badness on the part of individuals, to family problems or problem families or whether it is related to wider social factors such as unemployment or the strength of discretionary powers vested in bureaucracy. Unfortunately, such debates have never been a part of political discussions and our political parties always get away from these types of responsibilities. Contrary to the situation in Pakistan we could find a steady effort by the political parties across the world, but we would take only the example of UK to find how their political parties are inclined to face crime and punishment debate and how they have succeeded to create awareness among their people to settle the issue. The analysis could be achieved by an overview of the political manifestos of their three major parties and promises made by them during and after the election campaigns.
The manifesto of political parties of the UK is very clear regarding law and order, crime and punishment issues and juvenile justice etc. in their country. We would find clear indications about their concerns mentioned in the preceding line, while our political leaders never showed any concerns and even avoid such strategies in political processions or debates. For example, community policing is at the heart of the Labour Party’s law and order future plans. They have firmly committed themselves in protecting police funding, in maintaining the number of police officers on the beat in future. They continue to roll out their Asbo-dominated attack on anti-social behaviour that includes parenting orders and acceptable behaviour contracts. In fact, all of the three major political parties of the UK want to be seen to be tough on crime. Similarly, the Tory policy making the most headlines is their commitment to having police forces run by directly elected commissioners. They are in favour not to replace chief constables but need police authorities in office voted by the public. On the one hand, Labour party is pressing ahead with the Asbo-led attack on anti-social behaviour, the conservative has hinted that they may abolish Asbos. A possible alternative suggested by the party is grounding orders, which would confine children to their homes for up to a month for bad behaviour.
The Liberal Democrats’ main focus is on increasing the number of police officers on the streets. They have pledged to recruit an extra 3,000 officers. Their theory is that an increased police presence will deter criminals more than tougher prison sentences. The party plans to increase the availability of jobs and education for people in prison, aiming thus to reduce the number of repeat offenders and providing steady help and then decrease, prison numbers. To cut gun and knife crime they propose a scheme whereby hospitals will share patient information with police, for the targeting of gun and knife hotspots. They also plan to introduce directly elected police authorities.
Again, the Conservatives are bent upon banning orders to outlaw groups that incite hatred or cause fear. They are in favour of Extremism Disruption Orders (EXDOs) to stop “disruptive” individuals from speaking in public or holding a position of authority. They are in favour of a new law setting out victims’ rights. They also intend to draft a new law to make it easier for the police to collect information about internet activity by suspected criminals, and a Communications Data Act, requiring companies to start storing certain types of information. They intend to replace the Human Rights Act with Bill of Rights to give UK courts and Parliament the “final say”.
Labour’s Party wants to scrap Police and Crime Commissioners, which the party says would save £50m. Labour’s want to empower local residents by giving them a say in deciding crime-fighting priorities and in favour of allowing people to have access to police planning meetings. They want to bring back control orders to combat extremism and revive prevent strategy. They need a ban on convicted child sex offenders from working with children. More money is on their agenda/manifesto for frontline policing to prevent cuts in officer numbers. They are also in favour of appointing a new commissioner on domestic and sexual abuse cases. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats want an end in prison sentences for personal drugs possession as they are in favour of allowing users to have non-custodial sentences and appropriate medical treatment. They want to replace Police and Crime Commissioners with Police Boards made up of councillors from across the force area. They promised to pass a Digital Bill of Rights to help protect people from unwarranted intrusion and give them more control over their own data. They are in favour of making ‘stop and search’ more accountable by making the wearing of body cameras by officers’ particularly compulsory in some areas and for firearms officers.
Our political parties have to confess that the origins of crime lie deep in society, in families, where parents do not support or control their children, in schools where discipline is poor and in the wider world where violence is glamorized, and traditional values are under attack. These causes may well include wider social factors. Instead of blame game, we have to eradicate the progressive creation of mist and fog created by the broadcaster, social workers and politicians who have constantly creating excuses in which criminals operate and infect thriving in many respects. We need clear minded politicians like Tony Blair, who as a Labor Party spokesman for Home Affairs, popularized the slogan that government should be ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’. He further argued that “nobody excuses crime because of social conditions but it is plain common sense that if young people are brought up in a culture of no job prospects, poor education, violence, drug abuse and family instability then they are less likely to grow up as individually responsible citizens”. Obviously, such vision is completely absent in our political parties as we have been failed to groom leadership in our political parties, rather we had these assets as an heirloom and had closed the doors for the academicians and experts as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.
Masud Khabeki works as an Adjunct Professor of Criminology at Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi.