Police & Crime Commissioners – engaging communities


November 2012 saw the election of Police and Crime Commissioners and yesterday I attended a conference entitled ‘The democratic governance of policing: the role and implications of elected Police and Crime Commissioners.’ The standard of speakers had to be seen to be believed. Some of the top UK professors, a highly rated Chief Constable and yes, even a PCC! The speakers examined the history associated with PCCs and asked what the future may hold. There were those for PCCS and those against, and there were a few who were ambivalent.

However if I had to choose a theme that ran throughout the day it would be the relationship between the PCC, the police and citizens.

The PCC at the event mentioned very early on that through an online process called ‘Listening to you first’ he had received over 2,000 responses from citizens expressing their views of policing in his area. This raises the obvious question of what about those who do not have access to IT? There was no mention of face to face meetings or other methods of community engagement. The police are increasing their use of social media and there is a real concern that it will eventually become a substitute for shaking the hand and having a conversation with a person.

The Chief Constable present spoke of the attendance at Police and Community Together (PACT) meetings at which citizens are able to direct policing resources to address their issues. The monthly meetings, about 100 of them, are known to about 40% of the population in this area and yet only 1% attend. In fact one woman who lives in this area spoke of being the only person at the meeting. What are the police doing to improve this statistic and encourage non active citizens, those who do not have the passion for active citizenship to come out of their homes and sit with their neighbourhood policing team and discuss the issues that concern them?

Another speaker spoke of the ‘new narrative’ for policing in Scotland as a result of the creation of a single police force. The mission for the new police will be to improve safety and engage communities. This is a fundamental aspect of modern day policing on one that the eminent professors at the conference have all, at various times, written of. But the question is how will the police and PCCs do this? Through Facebook? Twitter? The internet?

The police are not taught specific methodologies to help them engage with communities, especially these communities that are ‘hard to reach.’ This raises another issue. Are people called ‘hard to reach’ because the police and partner agencies do not have the skills or knowledge to know how to engage them?

The hard fact is that engaging communities is now and has always been a fundamental constituent of policing, however, it is not one that is written into the student officer training programme. With the introduction of PCCs the police and partners are entering a new paradigm, one that will require them to jointly engage with ALL members of society, not just those who acknowledge their civic duties.

What is needed is a police leaders who understands the value of community policing and willing to introduce the police to tried and trusted engagement methodologies. Is willing to take a risk. Is willing to learn from the experience. Any takers?

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