Fixed Penalty Notices as a Means of Offender Selection

AuthorHannah Guille,Melanie Wellsmith
Publication Date01 March 2005
Date01 March 2005
PSM 7(1).doc..98 Wellsmith .. Page36 International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume 7 Number 1
Fixed penalty notices as a means of
offender selection

Melanie Wellsmith† and Hannah Guille‡
† (Corresponding author) Research Fellow, Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, Crime
Science Laboratory, West Bromwich Police Station, New Street, West Bromwich, B70 7PJ.
Tel: 0845 113 5000 (ext. 79116335); email:
‡ Senior Forensic Investigator, South Worcestershire Division, Divisional Headquarters,
West Mercia Police, Castle Street, Worcester, WR1 3AD. Tel: 08457 444888 (ext. 4013);
Received: 7 January 2004; revised and accepted 10 May 2004.
Melanie Wellsmith
is a Research Fellow
different than for the control group. When repeat
employed by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime
fixed penalty offences were analysed, this pro-
Science, University College London at its Crime
duced a higher hit rate, although it remained
Science Laboratory in the West Midlands. She
lower than expected from other studies. A number
has previously worked as a crime analyst with
of problems in carrying out analysis on these
Sussex Police. Her current research involves
types of data are discussed and it is suggested that
working closely with Sandwell Crime and Dis-
a study in which checks are made at the point of
order Reduction Partnership (CDRP), Sandwell-
issuing an FPN might well yield far higher rates
Drug Action Team (DAT) and West Midlands
of active criminality, and might provide a more
Police to achieve reductions across a number of
powerful trigger for offender self-selection. Further
offences, particularly dwelling burglary and vehi-
areas for research into self-selection triggers are
cle crime, as well as drug-related issues.
also suggested.
Hannah Guille, a Registered Forensic Practi-
tioner, is a former Research Fellow of the Jill
Dando Institute and now works as a Supervisory
Forensic Investigator with West Mercia Constab-
The central problem in policing is the opti-
ulary where she was previously employed as a
mal distribution of enforcement resources
Scenes of Crime Officer.
across possible targets. Targets may be peo-
ple most liable to commit crime (offender
targeting), or places, times and people most
likely to host or experience crime (location
This research assesses the capacity of fixed pen-
and victim targeting). Trends over the last
alty notice (FPN) infractions to form the basis for
decade have increasingly located responsi-
targeted police attention to more serious or chronic
bility for location and victim targeting with
offenders. Offences of this kind were associated
local Crime and Disorder Partnerships,
with concurrent criminality, relative to a group
leaving offender targeting as substantially
selected from the electoral register. Over half of the
(but far from exclusively) a police responsi-
notices issued were not associated with a named
bility. This paper describes an approach to
International Journal of Police
individual, presumably because many vehicles did
offender targeting wherein targets select
Science and Management,
Vol. 7 No. 1, 2005, pp. 36–43.
not have a current registered keeper. The ‘hit rate’
themselves for police attention by their
© Vathek Publishing,
for concurrent criminality was not significantly
actions. A core attraction of this approach is
Page 36

Wellsmith and Guille
that it leaves law enforcement less vulner-
is problematic in that it allows free rein to
able to charges of discrimination. Examples
grudge and prejudice.
of the approach have been implemented
An alternative to targeting people
(see Kelling & Coles, 1997; Maple, 1999),
directly is to target contexts in which the
but it seems important to develop the lit-
hit rate of offenders is likely to be partic-
erature by providing more examples of the
ularly high, as (for example) breathalysing
kinds of behaviour which may be used as
those driving out of pub car parks at closing
‘triggers’ for police action, together with
time. In the extreme case, the police create
the criteria whereby their value may be
ostensible crime opportunities by ‘sting’
operations. These have been used sparingly,
If all citizens, from the neonate to the
not least because of the possible charge of
terminally ill, were a priori equally likely to
entrapment, whereby crime opportunities
have committed offences meriting police
are made so appealing that even those who
attention, the targeting problem would be
would not normally commit offences are
simple to resolve, albeit impossible to fund.
seduced into doing so. The attractiveness of
Resources would simply be evenly spread
sting operations (and targeting those leaving
across the population. At the other end of
pub car parks and the like) is that offenders
the continuum, with criminality restricted
select themselves for police attention. They
to a small proportion of the population,
In the sting operation, the police engi-
policing would consist of surveillance of
neer additional crime opportunities, and are
those known or presumed to be criminally
thus vulnerable to ethical attack. However,
active, subject to respect for their human
the world already affords many crime
rights. The targeting continuum can be
opportunities, and those who accept them
thought of in terms of the assumption of
thereby volunteer without the need for
the proportion of the population which is
added inducements. The major part of the
criminally active. Given that not...

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