Policing in the 21st century or is it?

We finally have a view of what the new ConDem Government want from policing. Or do we? In all the words that appear in the new document we have done nothing to redefine what we want from the police service, or our police officers and police staff. Instead, we refer back to the words of Sir Robert Peel. We want the police to tackle everything from anti-social behaviour through to counter terrorism.

Since the introduction of the now defunct Policing Pledge and confidence measure the police service has been even more focused on improving the service that is provided to local people. This includes listening to what matters to them at a very local and direct level.  This means finding the most appropriate ways to discuss issues with them, moving beyond the traditional public meeting. Forces have become very innovative with drop-in centres, surgeries and virtual meetings all part of the engagement mix. They have also developed systems to identify, with the public, what the local priorities should be. So what do we gain by the new approach?

The Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people consultation document today says “the public do not know how to influence local policing” and the Chief Constables will be accountable to the public through the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. I would argue that this goes further away from the Big Society than the police service already is. Through the work of Neighbourhood Policing Teams there are many, many more ways for people to give views directly to both the Chief Constable and to their local officers. This happens in a direct link, and not through a third-party elected or unelected.

I have my concerns about the effectiveness of the current role of the police authority. These are a group of well-meaning individuals who do their best to take account of local views and question senior police officers on their delivery. They have invested time in ensuring this is representative of the very diverse communities that exist. A big issue will be how the new Police and Crime Panels will work with the Commissioner and how it can increase accountability. The risk is that instead of becoming more accountable we may find the police are less accountable as only a certain section o f their work is ever subject to scrutiny. I will wait with interest to see how the 43 Police Commissioners are pulled in to do the Government’s bidding despite the protestation of moving away from Whitehall control.

“We want the public to be safe and feel safe, have a real say in how their streets are policed and be able to hold the police to account locally, having more opportunity to shape their own lives.” Policing in the 21st Century.

The heart of the Big Society - neighbourhood policing teams

And yet the report claims that this is a ‘deal where the public are in control’.  It is active citizenship. I believe we already have this with police and community meetings that involve local authorities and also the Home watch and Neighbourhood Watch schemes. What is clear is that effort needs to be put into the Big Society elements that take the best elements from Neighbourhood Watch and other voluntary schemes and replicate them across all communities. Additional specials would be good, but it isn’t all about that level of volunteering. We need to give people a whole range of opportunities to get involved in policing that is linked to their skills and available time.

It is disappointing that the radical thought also moves to call on police to provide information to the public to help them know what is happening and hold police to account through this timely information about crime, anti-social behaviour and value for money. Again, isn’t this where police force communication strategies have been developing information that can be issued speedily at a local level, that includes crime data, perception, confidence and satisfaction data and day-to-day information about public meetings. The key communication element is further development of national systems to show crime data and requirements for weekly reporting. This despite all the research that shows people really aren’t interested in statistics. What matters to them is that police turn up when they say they will, and when they do that they receive a good quality service.  And yet, despite our Big Society ethos the consultation report still takes a narrow approach on communication and the provision of information.

In a nutshell the consultation document today, is another reworking of what already exists. It fails to address some fundamental questions about what the public actually want from the police, instead it outlines again what the Government of the day think the public wants from policing. We have continued to sit navel gazing rather than look to neighbourhood management and where agencies can work together to build the real Big Society.

Read the document here http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/tell-us-about-reforming-police

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