GUEST COLUMN: Community policing has made our streets safer, by Coun John Knight

NSST Police - stock
NSST Police - stock

It is not often you will find a politician confessing to being wrong.

So let me be the first and state that with regard to the effectiveness of community policing I was categorically wrong. There I said it!

When the idea of uniformed civilian community police officers (PCSOs) was first suggested, like most people I thought it was policing on the cheap.

A decade on, the experiment has been an unqualified success. Our streets are now generally safer, whole estates that were regarded as no go zones have been regenerated, and most importantly of all, a renewed respect for the police has sprung up in our towns.

Of course this has not been solely the result of community policing. To make such a claim would be ridiculous. A more aspirational district council, better education and higher employment levels have all played their part. But so too have the uniformed PCSOs who have walked our streets, entered our schools and community centres and built up relationships with sections of the public that ten years ago merely saw the police as intimidatory and hostile. Through these men and women community policing has become as much about taking social action as legal and this has helped build a mutual respect. Vitally, in seeing uniformed officers on our streets with regularity, members of the public have reacted by examining their own obligations to good law and order.

I am convinced that the secret to community policing is not the level of financial resources thrown at it. This will invariably fluctuate from Government to Government. Much more lies with the capabilities, outlook and attitude of our patrol officers.

These officers and indeed the scheme as a whole are now under threat. The Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping is under unrelenting pressure to investigate ever more sophisticated levels of crime, with ever fewer resources.

We should not underestimate how challenging his predicament is. But my real fear is the easy option may be to cut funding for those officers who currently walk our streets.

Some senior police officers do not want community policing. They will tell you there is no evidence that beat patrolling reduces the incidence of crime. This is true. But to me it also misses the point. For the law to be respected it has to be visible.

To be seen working not just to convict, but also to encourage others to not accept a crime ridden, fearful environment. Why? Because a police force alone cannot prevent crime. It seems obvious to me that a community that trusts its police force is much more likely to work with it and to help it fight crime as a consequence.

These relationships have not been built overnight, but they can be destroyed overnight. If experienced, dedicated officers are removed from bread and butter community policing, purely through financial imperatives, then communities will be the worse for it.