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Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Single patrols and fear of crime

Copyright Evening Standard

The Metropolitan Police Service latest advertising campaign is about foot patrols - "walking is working" - a double meaning positive message reminiscent of negative message "Labour is not Working" that started the Saatchi fortune back in 1979. The posters for campaign were the subject of a previous post.

Apparently there is a protest on Facebook led by Police Community Support Officers and some Police Officers against single patrols. On the basis, as far as I can see, that patrolling on your own is by its nature unsafe. Here is the story in the Evening Standard.

This is where I am going to swing the lamp and start talking personally. In my police career I have worked in some of the thought to be more dangerous places in London -for instance Hackney Borough and those thought to be less dangerous - for instance Hillingdon Borough and a lot of the time I patrolled on my own. I am a supporter of single patrols with a number of provisos.

Firstly why am I a supporter of single foot patrols? The reasons are quite complex and I do not have the time to spell them out in detail here but can be summed up by saying that it makes young inexperienced officers stand on their own two feet and interact with the public on their own without having a safety net of a colleague. Patrol becomes a more community interactive exercise where personal tactics and strategies to detect and prevent crime, and solving problems are devised. Patrolling in pairs can become a stroll with a friend.

What are the provisos? The major proviso is that there must be enough other police officers available to come to the aid of a single patrolling officer when s/he needs help. As a supervisor I would more likely double people up if we were short on parade than if we had the full crew for that reason. That means not dispensing with response vehicles to allow more single foot patrols.

The second proviso is the training, skills, expectations and physical fitness of those employed by the police. Policing, especially police patrols, by its nature is not suited to everyone. It could be argued that people who in their personal lives would never consider walking in their own neighbourhood after dark on their own are not suited to police patrol work. Unfortunately such people are employed by the police for patrol work, so it is not surprising if they expect to be accompanied in their patrols.

My last point is one of perception and fear of crime. It comes back to a conversation I had with an American police officer who wanted to convince residents of a housing estate in a city in the United States that he policed that the crime levels had fallen sufficiently for them to have a lower fear of crime and start frequenting and enjoying the communal places on the estate. I said "Do your officers patrol the estate on their own, or only in numbers?" He said "I patrol it on my own but the other officers refuse to." I said "You cannot expect the residents to think the estate is safe, if your officers do not think so. Police have to take the lead, when resident see single patrols they might start believing you."

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