Posted by: iangilbert | January 7, 2011

Don’t Con-Dem neighbourhood policing

Must get back to blogging… This week I attended a Neighbourhood Action Panel meeting for Victoria Ward, and I’ve been meaning to write about neighbourhood policing for ages.

Neighbourhood Action Panels (NAPs) are meetings where the police get together with local residents, neighbourhood watch co-ordinators, councillors and other agencies to discuss what law and order issues are around in the community and what the police’s priorities should be for an area.

Every community was given its own neighbourhood police officer – a fixed point of contact between local residents and police – who could get to know the area, the local issues, the trouble spots and the trouble-makers. Through NAPs, the neighbourhood police team could be held accountable in a simple and straightforward way. At least in our part of Essex, more senior officers take a close interest to make sure that this was working properly.

Thanks to the previous Labour, every Neighbourhood Police Officer had a team of PCSOs to assist them. Once the Tories decried PCSOs as ‘plastic policemen’ but our local MP was forced to eat his words and apologise for that. He must have realised that they were extremely popular with the people they came into contact with, filled a useful gap between fully trained police and civil enforcement and were excellent value for money in tackling low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.

We all know that the fear of crime is worse than the reality. But what goes alongside that is a sense of powerlessness, that your concerns aren’t being listened to, and that whether or not your report crime or be ‘a good citizen’ nothing will change. This leads to a vicious circle of disengagement with the police, which is of course particularly acute in more deprived areas.

The police cannot tackle any sort of crime without the co-operation of the public – if someone has had a helpful response from the police when they reported a bit of minor anti-social behaviour, they are more likely to share evidence of more serious crime. If they feel ignored maybe the next time they won’t share evidence of drug dealing over the road.

I’ve seen our Neighbourhood Police and PCSOs start to challenge this vicious circle. I’ve seen them meet extremely skeptical members of the public who’ve had a raw deal in the past. I’ve seen them slowly gain their confidence. Victoria ward still has some very serious social problems, but whether you go by the anecdotal evidence of what I hear real residents say at public meetings, or the endlessly debated official statistics, progress is certainly being made.

This week officers were able to tell us about a very successful drugs operation in the Queensway area, which has resulted in a number of people being remanded. The Queensway flats have a very bad reputation locally, and to be frank, much of it has been deserved. But there’s no doubt that the tower blocks are safer than they were a few years ago, largely thanks to the local police, but also South Essex Homes, Turning Tides and the anti-social behaviour unit, and indeed ordinary residents who have helped the police.

If this progress is reversed by budget cuts, the effect on the poorest neighbourhoods and the most vulnerable people will be far more severe than anything else this government might throw at us.

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