15th September 2018
Part 4: Neighbourhood Policing, Local Policing or Community Policing and its Role in Community Safety?
I have never really liked the term ‘Neighbourhood Policing’, as in the United Kingdom (UK) and particularly in Wales, there is a tendency to describe geographical areas as communities, rather than neighbourhoods. The term ‘neighbourhood’ appears to be an Americanism and fails to capture the feeling of community, such as ‘community spirit’. It also excludes virtual and non-traditional communities, which may be considered to be communities of shared character or identity and/or common concerns or problems. More recently, ‘Local Policing’ has been used to describe Neighbourhood Policing, rather than reverting to the more traditional term of Community Policing. However, there does not appear to be any reluctance in the use of the terms Community Engagement, Community Cohesion, Community Intelligence and Community Safety. The designation of Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) is also used in preference to Police Neighbourhood Support Officer. What is so wrong with the term Community Policing, (which encapsulates all communities whether geographical or otherwise)? Why is its use avoided? Is there a lack of understanding of what Community Policing actually means? Henceforth, I will use the term Community Policing in preference to Neighbourhood Policing.
Community Policing in the UK appears to have its origins in the community policing experiments in the United States of America (USA) during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and the communal policing style, particularly the democratic communal policing style in the UK during the 1970s.
By the early 1980s in the USA, attention had turned to reducing the fear of crime within communities by increasing visible police foot patrols, introducing public outreach and policing disorder. This led to the hypothesis generally referred to as the ‘broken windows theory’, where signs of physical decay and social disorder are tackled to prevent any escalation in disorder.
In the early 1990s there was recognition in the UK and the USA that the response policing culture introduced in the UK as unit beat policing in 1967, had become too reactive, with a greater emphasis being placed on enforcement. This approach needed to be balanced with more proactive policing activity and saw the development of crime prevention and reduction programmes, problem-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing. There was a developing theory through research and the work that was being undertaken in the USA, that information provided by communities or community intelligence could provide intelligence not just in relation to crime, but in relation to other issues that were of equal importance to the people living, visiting or working within a community. It was believed that if the police tackled these community issues as well as the crime issues, then not only would crime reduce but the fear of crime would also reduce and public confidence in the police would increase.
In 2008, Community Policing was formally implemented in England and Wales under the National Neighbourhood Policing Programme, or was it? Community Policing is often considered by those responsible for policing as a soft option, carried out by a few select police officers and PCSOs located in small geographical areas and is not considered by many to be real policing. This is a misconception, as Community Policing (as it was originally intended), is a style of policing undertaken by all police officers and staff, no matter what their designation, to identify, action and resolve problems within a community (including virtual and non-traditional communities), by utilising policing models such as problem-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing, and in particular community intelligence-led policing managed within the National Intelligence Model (NIM). Problems within this context would also include more serious crimes and disorders, such as terrorism. Community Policing was and is about putting the right people in the right place at the right time.
A Community Oriented Policing Style (COPS) puts the community (whether geographical, virtual or non-traditional) at the heart of policing. It takes into consideration the views, needs, problems, priorities and expectations of the people living, working and visiting a community or who have an involvement in a particular community. Community Policing is proactive and preventative, it involves partner agencies and is victim focused. The alternative is the Offender-Oriented Policing Style (OOPS!), which is reactive, isolated and detection focused. This responsive policing model is generally considered to be unsustainable, creates demand and in the long term may prove to be a grave mistake (OOPS!).
Examples of Community Policing, may involve intelligence staff and detectives being located within a community and proactively working with partners and members of the community to prevent and detect crimes. The intention being to focus on providing the best possible service to the community and victims or potential victims, whilst ensuring that their needs are satisfied and their expectations met. Similarly, the myriad of police squads, units and departments, who are generally centrally based, responsive and detection focused, should be intelligence-led and integrated into the communities that need them most. Their ethos should be to detect crimes to the benefit of victims, not to increase detection rates for particular crimes for the benefit of their organisation. Their role is one of Community Safety.
Much has been said recently about the changing face of policing in the 21st century and the increase in cyber-crime. Reference has been made to withdrawing Community Policing officers from their communities and placing them in inaccessible offices in an attempt to tackle cyber-crime. I take issue with this, as firstly, when a crime is committed whether it be a cyber-crime or otherwise, either the perpetrator or the victim will live, work, visit or be part of a community. If the perpetrator is from overseas, then a victim in the UK will still be part of a community. As I have advocated in the examples above, real policing, Community Policing should involve putting more resources into communities rather than removing them. Secondly, should police managers be removing police officers from communities to undertake a role in cyber-crime prevention and detection, which is a very technical role and will require extensive training, even for those who may have some information technology skills. Surely, it would be more prudent to employ staff who already have these skills and a penchant for this type of work. e.g. cyber security graduates. It is evident that police numbers in England and Wales have fallen in recent years and a number of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and Chief Police Officers are now considering recruiting police officers. Maybe now is the right time to recruit the right people with the right ‘cyber’ skills to tackle cyber-crime in the virtual community. This I would suggest, is Community Policing.
In summary, I would advocate that Community Policing is not about deploying a few select police officers and PCSOs in small geographical areas. It is a style of policing that involves all police officers and staff (e.g. response officers, detectives, dog handlers, roads policing officers, counter-terrorism officers, crime scene investigators, information technology staff and call centre staff), partner agencies and members of our various communities. It utilises problem-oriented and intelligence-led policing managed within the NIM to ensure that problems within a community, including more serious crimes and disorders, and terrorism are prevented and detected by putting the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time. It also develops Community Engagement, Community Cohesion and Community Intelligence and enhances Community Safety.
Please see previous blogs:
Dr Garry Thomas, TSF
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18th September 2019
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