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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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Police Policing the Police: seen this one before?

police wiltshire institution reform

A behavioural change case study in institutional self-regulation involving a new top cop at the Wiltshire Police – results TBC…

What links carbon drawdown and the Wiltshire Police?

Greenwash is the carbon flavour of a more profound problem – how we humans organise ourselves, and how we change our behaviour in response to new circumstances.

To mitigate the worst impacts of our fossil fuel addiction, we need immediate, profound behavioural change. Humans are historically ill-suited to this.

Individuals, communities, states and other tribes have long responded to imminent existential threats with overnight behavioural change – invasion, disease, revolution. But outside of Hollywood disaster movies concerning aliens or asteroids, we’re not well evolved to deal with species-wide existential threats.

Covid was a trial run – a global threat requiring immediate, coordinated, radical response. Like any viral pandemic, it could have been averted at any point by isolating all potentially infected people at any given time for longer than the incubation period of of the virus.

Compared to the climate emergency, Covid was a relatively small threat but it was sufficiently concentrated in time and space to get our attention. We failed that test for entirely predictable reasons – our comparison of the responses of two tea-drinking island nations has the details, and we’ve also reflected on the climate action lessons from our global response.

But homo sapiens, at an individual and species level, has a remarkable capacity to learn from mistakes as well as repeat them.

See Through News seeks practical ways of effecting rapid behavioural change that speed up carbon drawdown by helping the Inactive Become Active. As such, we’re keen students of attempts at behavioural change at any level or scale.

One of our See Through Games projects, The Learn Game, and its paper-and-pencil version GRIBbage, are designed to drive home that top-down Government Regulation is the shortest route to carbon drawdown. The Act Game is one way to implement changing the rules, including levelling the playing field for anyone trying to reduce, rather than increase carbon usage.

But people, places, companies and institutions can also – and increasingly are – doing it for themselves, without waiting for top-down regulation.

As we seek to promote and encourage such self-regulation, we need to study it.

Here’s a case study from a semi-rural police force for around half a million people in the UK. The topic – reforming the police to help rather than hinder victims of domestic abuse – may appear completely unrelated to carbon drawdown.

View in through the goggles of self-regulated institutional behavioural change, however, and it becomes a very interesting case study indeed.

If you’re still unconvinced, try a trick we learned during a trafffic Speed Awareness Course. When reading the following, posted in our pilot Level 4 (State/Country/Province/Prefecture) Facebook Group, See Through Wiltshire, whenever you read ‘domestic abuse’, try substituting ‘carbon abuse’…


Wiltshire Police’s New Broom

A fresh face, especially at the top, offers the chance of a new start. Wiltshire Police needs more than a new broom to get it out of its current shambolic state.

New Chief Constable Catherine Roper will be particularly aware of the mess awaiting her.

Her current employer, the Metropolitan Police, is even more engulfed in scandal and corruption than her next employer. The Met’s new head is assuring his bossesTwo or three Met Police officers per week are expected to appear in court on criminal charges in the coming weeks and months’. What will Roper do about Wiltshire’s ‘rotten apples’?

Coming from The Met, Roper arrives aware of the plummeting public confidence in those supposed to protect us and uphold the law. She’ll know all about the trauma that a failing police force inflicts on those it’s supposed to help. She’ll be familiar with the reputational damage the police suffer when each failure emerges. 

In the current climate, honeymoon periods are likely to be brief, if not cancelled. First impressions will be critical in buying Roper time and credibility. The head of any police force is its public face, so the wider the gap between words and action, the more the focus of blame shifts to the top cop. Just ask Cressida Dick, Roper’s former boss at The Met.

Media heat is currently focused on Roper’s current employers, but her move to Wiltshire risks becoming a leap from frying pan to fire. A record-high 6 out of Britain’s 45 police forces are currently in Special Measures. Roper’s moving from Commander in Central Specialist Crime at the biggest, to top cop at one of the worst.

Rotten Apples and Icebergs

Time and again, police forces have proven the cover-up can be much worse than even the most heinous crime. With each cover-up, the Rotten Apple defence rings hollower.

Single cases can legitimately be dismissed as Rotten Apples. Sanctimonious finger-pointing at ‘evil monsters’ or ‘rogue officers’ works fine – if it happens once in a blue moon. When ‘one-off’ cases turn out to be ‘two-offs’, then ‘multiple-offs, well, all bets-are-off. 

When Rotten Apples multiply, police chiefs can no longer preach from the moral high ground. They have to demonstrate both humility and an iron will for genuine reform. Each new Rotten Apple recalls another journalistic cliche – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more senior the officer mouthing the ‘Rotten Apple’ defence, the more compromised the entire force becomes. And the more rapidly credibility evaporates. 

Changing the Rotten Apple narrative has historically taken something extraordinary.  Sometimes it’s brave and persistent victims. Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen, (now Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE) campaigned for years before the police took  Stephen’s murder seriously. Sometimes it’s un-cover-uppable cases like Wayne Couzens, who raped and murdered Sarah Everard. 

The harder the police try to prevent the truth from escaping, the more their internal investigation procedures are exposed as protecting themselves rather than the public. Recent revelations show fact can outstrip fiction. The Met’s internal checks and balances  have been more useless and corrupt than the TV cop show Line of Duty dared imagine.

We can understand why top cops’ first instinct is to reach for the Rotten Apple defence. Cite the importance of morale, invoke principles of fairness, emphasise the need to follow procedure. A Rotten Apple seems to offer the path of least resistance, at least from your fellow-coppers. Changing the story usually takes an actual murder, or repeat rapist.

This is what makes the Rotten Apple narrative so risky. Each failure of the internal checks and balances supposed to prevent such things allows Rotten Apples to multiply, fester, contaminate, and grow brazen with every iteration of impunity. All of which multiplies the numbers of problems, and increases the risk of exposure. We can only hope that the litany of ignored red flags, institutionalised cover-ups, closing-of-ranks, and Mafia-grade omertà are exposed in the end. We never know about the ones that aren’t. We do know, however, that it takes an ‘extreme’ case, or multiple instances, of apple rot, to prompt any genuine attempt at reform.

When such cases become headlines they reveal, to use another journalistic cliché, the tip of the iceberg. The thing about icebergs is that most of these massive dangers lurk beneath the surface, invisible unless you’re prepared to dive deep. 

Does Roper want to wait until she hits an iceberg? Or is she prepared to dive straight in, as deep as necessary, to examine and deal with what’s currently lurking below the surface? 

Roper could just hope they never emerge, but that’s high-risk. She only has to consider Cressida Dick’s fate to know the cost of ignoring the iceberg, or of only responding when it becomes visible.

Special Measures, Especially for Domestic Abuse

Roper takes charge of a force in special measures, currently failing in at least three categories. National media quote Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams’s blunt assessment of Wiltshire Police’s failures. Williams highlighted their failure to protect vulnerable people in general, and one group in particular – victims of domestic abuse.

I have serious concerns about Wiltshire Police’s performance, particularly how it responds to the public, protects vulnerable people and makes use of its resources. The force is missing opportunities to protect vulnerable and repeat victims of crime. It needs to improve the way it manages victims’ calls, so that all vulnerable people are identified. Some domestic abuse victims have received an unacceptable level of service and have continued to remain at risk.’

If Roper needs another clue to her top priority, domestic abuse is a constant refrain of the person who appointed her. In his public pronouncements, Wiltshire’s elected police overseer, Police and Crime Commissioner Phillip Wilkinson, beats a constant drum. He places domestic abuse at the top of the force’s priorities. 

Roper is safe to assume that rapid, decisive action to tackle Wiltshire’s Police’s failure on domestic abuse will be a key performance indicator for the force’s incoming top cop. 

Or as Wilkinson, less brusquely, puts it: 

‘I look forward to working with Catherine closely over the coming months and years to bring our shared goal of making Wiltshire a safer place to live, work and visit to fruition.’

Policeman, Nick Thyself

Roper faces the same problems that ended the tenure of her previous boss at The Met, and is now making life so hard for her successor. Wiltshire Police don’t face the same tsunami of outrage as The Met. Wiltshire papers are not full of stories of Wiltshire Police officers abusing their status to abuse, rape and murder women. But with Wiltshire also in Special Measures, Roper knows such revelations are likely to only be a whistle-blower, investigative reporter, or brave victim away.

How will Wiltshire’s new top cop deal with the general collapse in credibility of coppers investigating coppers?

Dramatic tension in Line of Duty was driven by the contrast between the integrity of the (fictional) AC12 anti-corruption unit, and the corruption rife among their fellow-officers. Such tensions are familiar in other workplaces, but uniquely serious for an institution created to protect the public. The police are meant to promote fairness and foil foul play – what happens when they look in the mirror?

At the Met, multiple internal investigations and appeal procedures are now exposed as ‘old-boy’ networks protecting bent coppers and promoting criminals. If Roper suspects Wiltshire suffers from the same failings, it would be unwise to pursue the same in-house solutions. 

Her predecessor, the incumbent Chief Constable, shows little appetite for this challenge. In his last few months in charge, Kier Pritchard has re-launched a road safety operation to marginally reduce road-traffic accident statistics. Wiltshire residents can deduce the seriousness of his intent and sense of priorities.  

We’ll soon find out whether Wiltshire Police is serious about its PR pronouncements. The true test of Roper’s credentials and integrity will come when she takes charge. Only then will we discover her plans to address Wiltshire Police’s documented failure to protect victims of domestic abuse.

Will her first step be to search for Rotten Apples among her new staff – including Special Constables?