Before becoming a QI Elf, cartoonist and author, Stevyn Colgan spent three decades in the police force, and here he opens up some of his most intriguing case files over the years and reveals a collection of cunning plans for cracking down on crime.
While based with the Problem-Solving Unit, he helped to pioneer schemes such as the Good Neighbour Wheelie Bin Initiative, asking residents to bring in neighbours’ bins left by the kerb, thus deterring would-be burglars from breaking into homes which appeared to be empty. Yes, you might say that’s a wheelie good idea.
The book shows how effective policing is not just tough on crime, but also on the causes of crime. It also documents some of the frustrations faced by Constable Colgan as a bobby on the beat, highlighting the problem of being judged on measurable results, like the number of arrests, rather than achievements, such as implementing schemes which have an overall benefit to the community.
The eternal triangle of motive, means and opportunity is a familiar concept in crime fiction, but in a variation of the triangle, Routine Activity Theory (RAT) stipulates that for crime to occur, you need A – a motivated offender, B – a suitable target and C - the absence of a “capable guardian” such as a bobby on the beat, a security guard or CCTV cameras. Change one of these factors and you reduce the possibility of crime – change two of them and you reduce it even further.
In the case of street gangs fooling gullible passers-by with the old three-card trick, an unusual approach paid off, when 30 police officers jumped out of a London bus and took the gang by surprise, leading to multiple arrests and a dozen people being charged with gaming offences.
Staying one step ahead of the pickpockets, a successful anti-crime campaign involved leaflets being secretly placed in the pockets of passers-by. The leaflets, shaped like mobile phones, read: “If someone can get a smartphone into your pocket, they can take a smartphone out…” and gave details of a number to call for crime prevention advice.
Anecdotes like these abound in an entertaining and informative guide to this behind-the-scenes aspect of police work. To its credit, the Problem-Solving Unit often achieved its aims using limited resources, going to prove that it’s not the size of the budget that matters, it’s the way that you use it.