Nick Ross has been a long-term campaigner for a wholesale recasting of crime policy.
He founded and chairs the advisory board of the UCL Jll Dando Institute of Crime Science, where he is a visiting professor, has been a member of several UK government crime reduction committees and is an adviser on leadership to the National Police Chiefs Council.
His book Crime, how to solve it and why almost everything we’re told is wrong ‘explores a theory of crime so simple and universal – and in its way obvious – that it’s almost shocking’ (Matthew Parris).
Crime has been with us since Adam and Eve and, surprisingly, God didn’t spot the solution. Rather than punishing the miscreants, it might have been better had he put the forbidden fruit higher up the tree.
We have been too slow to realise how strongly crime levels are dictated by temptation and opportunity.
It took a lot of research to persuade me of this. When in 1984 I started presenting Crimewatch I shared everyone’s presumptions that crime is caused by criminals. It seemed obvious: if we want to cut crime we must cut criminality.
Quite by chance, three years later, I had an epiphany. As well as presenting Crimewatch I was reporting for the BBC and, at the start of China’s astonishing race towards modernisation, I stood on a top-floor balcony in a dusty town with the local mayor. He proudly pointed out the local hospital, a big school and a prosperous cluster of new houses. Why, I asked, were some of the new homes surrounded by barbed wire? The mayor responded sorrowfully: ‘Burglaries,’ he said. ‘Mostly televisions.’
I hadn’t realised burglary was a problem in China.
It wasn’t,’ said the mayor.
‘So what changed?’ I asked.
The mayor recoiled slightly as though it were a trick question. After a moment he responded gravely: ‘We didn’t have televisions.’
Human nature remains more or less constant from one generation to another but situations change, and it is those evolving situations that largely determine how much is stolen, how many people are assaulted and how many citizens get hooked on drugs or even child pornography. The message is that if you want to cut crime then you need to spend more time on low-hanging fruit.
By seeing crooks as the big issue we tend to not to notice how important immediacy is. We favour solutions which are remote – improving parenting, for example – rather than improving security at the scene of the crime.
We still need to catch offenders – I am a proud trustee of Crimestoppers – but we cannot arrest our way out of trouble.
The Crime Book website click here.
More on Nick’s involvement in crime policy click here.
Click here for an interview with Nick Ross by Sara Thornton (Chair, National Police Chiefs Council) for the Cumberland Lodge National Policing Conference.