European Local Policing & Democracy Conference – Rome

Here follows my address to an audience in Rome from earlier this month.  I spoke alongside colleagues from Spain, Portugal and Germany about neighbourhood policing.  It was interesting to note the similarities in approach, and our Italian hosts commented that we all spoke about policing from the perspective of the public.

Click here for a link to the slides used.

IN CONTROL – THE IMPLEMENTATION OF NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICING IN ENGLAND & WALES

Introduction

As a Chief Superintendent in Surrey Police I have responsibility for all local policing across the County of Surrey, which has a population of around 1 million people.  The overall budget of my organisation is 240 million Euros.  Almost 80% of this budget is spent on officers and staff.  Importantly, around one third of the budget is spent on preventative, or proactive, local policing compared with just under a quarter on reactive policing; responding to crimes and emergencies.

I worked with Professor Martin Innes on the National Reassurance Policing Programme, which provided the evidence and experience to implement Neighbourhood Policing across England and Wales.  Professor Innes has covered the evidence and remember that we were able to show that this approach to policing increased public confidence by 15% in some areas, which was up to 5 times more than in areas that did not have neighbourhood policing.

However, to be successful, it requires good leadership, naturally, and demands careful attention to detail in implementation.

Operational Implementation

At the conclusion of the National Reassurance Policing Programme, together with a colleague, I interviewed all of the Chief Constables of the Police Forces involved.  An interview with Sir Paul Stephenson, who was then Chief Constable of Lancashire, in the North West of England, and who is now Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police led to the following principles, which have been used in the implementation of Neighbourhood Policing in England & Wales:

  • Access
  • Influence
  • Interventions
  • Answers

These principles are important in achieving both public confidence in the police, and satisfaction from those who use policing services.

Access

This means ease of contact to police teams that are accountable for a certain geographic area, or community of interest.  In Surrey, the County is divided into 110 Safer Neighbourhood Teams, consisting of a mix of Police Officers, Police Community Support Officers and specialists, such as Youth Intervention Officers and Crime Reduction Advisors.  It is essential that these teams are well trained and genuinely care about the communities they police.  They are encouraged to have a public profile, for example through web pages for their local areas.  The geographic areas are chosen to fit with boundaries that make sense to local people, for example a particular housing estate, or group of villages, and we refer to these as natural neighbourhoods.

Influence

Giving communities a say over policing priorities in their area is central to what Safer Neighbourhood Policing Teams do.  In each Neighbourhood a monthly Neighbourhood Panel meeting is held, where the local community can vote on policing priorities.  These regular meetings send a signal that we are ‘open for business’, however, they typically only attract an older demographic.  It is important to reach out to other audiences, for example, schools and colleges, or commuters at rail stations.  In some areas, with particularly low levels of public confidence we will call at every single household to find out what concerns residents have in that area; we call this ‘A Street a Week’.  This process of giving communities influence is part of identifying signal crimes, or disorders, in a locality.  More sophisticated research tools are available to do this when needed, but to begin with it is important to train officers and staff not to assume what frightens or concerns people; they must ask and listen carefully.  As public servants we need to know what matters most to local people.

Interventions

Once we have identified policing priorities in a particular area, galvanising joint action, between the police, other community safety partners and the public is perhaps the most important aspect of Neighbourhood Policing.  It is also the most culturally difficult to achieve, and needs to be a key priority in training officers.  Joint problem solving requires a different skill set to investigation or emergency response.  It requires collaborative leadership and patience, which for some officers is a break from their police centric, task driven approach.  A structured plan does help.  My teams use a grid to present activity for each group under Enforcement, Prevention, Intelligence and Communication.  We have found in routine practice, as well as in research, that community involvement in problem solving leads to better relationships and more sustainable solutions.

Answers

Providing feedback to communities on what worked, to demonstrate that we listen, and that we care helps to build momentum and interest.  In Surrey Police we have done this on the basis of ‘You said, we did’, which is a core feature of newsletters sent directly from the Police to every household in the County.  These newsletters contain content relevant each Safer Neighbourhood Team area.  They also help to build awareness and ‘visibility’ of the police with those who do not engage or use our services.  Through evaluation we have found them to be an important factor in building confidence.

Measuring success – confidence and satisfaction

These principles offer a good guide to implementation, which if done thoroughly can improve public confidence.  At the end of April 2011, in Surrey, public confidence in the police was 88.2%, a level not routinely seen nationally for around 25 years.  But why is confidence important?

Put simply, in the UK, it is the foundation by which we can continue to police by consent.  Without this other aspects of policing, such as gathering intelligence or witness evidence, become so much more difficult.

In monitoring progress towards our goal of ‘Safe and Confident Neighbourhoods’ I receive confidence survey data down to Safer Neighbourhood Team level.  There are two key public survey measures that I pay particular attention to.  Firstly, do the police understand the issues that are important to this community?  Secondly, are the police doing something about them?  The responses to these questions help me to assess effectiveness from the perspective of the public.

However, policing is not all preventative.  It is equally important to have systematic approach to providing quality of service when do respond to crimes and incidents.  On a monthly basis, for key crime types, reports of disorder and road traffic collisions, we survey user satisfaction to measure: ease of contact, initial response, investigation, being kept informed and outcome.  What we have learnt from this data has informed our approach to ‘real time’ satisfaction, where we use police volunteers to telephone victims in the early stage of a case, thus providing an opportunity for rapid feedback to the officers and corrective action if necessary.  This approach has helped us to achieve overall satisfaction levels of greater than 80%.

Taken together, confidence and satisfaction form the centre piece of our Local Policing Plan and performance regime.  They are what I and my senior colleagues pay most attention to, because we know, that in the eyes of the public, it matters.

New challenges and new opportunities

The challenge in England and Wales, is to sustain this approach to policing through deep budget cuts.  In my organisation we are required to save around 40 million Euros over 5 years.  But now is not a time to get depressed, now is a time for optimistic leadership in policing.  So, in response we asked ourselves; why not save 50 million and reinvest 10 million to put 200 extra officers on the streets.  We will have achieved this by December 2012, and over half of these officers will go into Safer Neighbourhood Teams.  How we have achieved these savings is probably the subject of another conference or for questions later, but this aggressive approach is important in preventing us from retreating to a reactive approach to policing, and thus having to re-invent Neighbourhood Policing in times of prosperity.

Finally, I’d like to finish on a recent development to demonstrate that Neighbourhood Policing cannot be a static concept.  It must continue to evolve and adapt.  Adapt to how people access our services, and adapt to new communities.  What if we could take the principles of Neighbourhood Policing: Access, Influence, Interventions and Answers and make those available via Social Media on a smart phone?

I call this ‘putting policing in peoples pocket’ and we will launch the first Neighbourhood Policing app next month.  Users will be able to engage with their local officers over Twitter, see what actions they have taken plotted on a map and vote on policing priorities, in the same way that you can rate a song on iTunes.  Moreover, you can do this whilst commuting to work, sitting at home or talking to friends in the café.  It is a new form of policing visibility.

So, to finish, I will leave you with a question, do you know what your local police are doing right now?

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2 responses to “European Local Policing & Democracy Conference – Rome

  1. Top blog of a top cop! I feel the need to re-blog bits [with your kind permission]. its also useful for me to re-cap to ensure congruence as we move forward. R

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