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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Stop the Rot O'Connor

I have been torn away from my analysis to study the headline news in the UK about the police and anti-social behaviour (ASB). Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has published a number of linked reports about policing ASB in England and Wales which can be found here. They are important and interesting documents that unusually for the Home Office, are of varying quality. That aside there is so much I could comment on but I will be brief.

The authors behind this report are Sir Denis O'Connor and Prof. Martin Innes, the architects of Reassurance Policing. This makes everything a bit surreal because to large extent they are saying that RP and its offspring Neighbourhood Policing (NP) has failed to properly address ASB, probably their primary raison d'etre. In O'Connor's case he seems to acting as if this radical change in policing style which he championed and the Labour Government supported with vast amounts of money had not taken place in the last 10 years.

I argue that there are two styles of visible (uniform) policing - Community or Neighbourhood Policing and Response Policing. The two have to be properly balanced. Prior to O'Connor's NP initiative dating back to 2001 in Surrey and London and being adopted throughout England and Wales in the next four years to an extent that it is now embedded everywhere, the balance was out of kilter in favour Response Policing. Unfortunately the balance is now out of kilter the other way. Response times have been lengthened and the types of incidents police will attend promptly have been reduced to accommodate NP. What has the research published today found? ASB is best dealt with promptly and decisively as it is happening - the role of 24 hour Response policing. I am actually in favour of NP as it provides a balanced approach to policing but not at the expense of Response Policing. For NP to be effective the officers must command respect and be proactive using the full range of policing powers; and I would argue be on duty when the problems on their patch occur. Unfortunately at least two out of the three criteria do not apply to Community Support Officers, who are the backbone of NP.

Lastly, there is politics behind this. O'Connor I am sure pushed for the Police Confidence overarching performance target and the Policing Pledge under Labour as these support NP. The present Home Secretary stamped on them with her (in)famous shoes, and kicked them into the dustbin. This I think explains O'Connor's amnesia, he has to act like he is starting the fight for NP all over again with the looming government spending cuts. It also probably explains why the reports have an unfinished, unloved feel about them.

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