THE BLOG

Poor Children And Families Will Suffer Most As Community Policing Is Neglected

08/03/2017 15:27 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 15:28 GMT

Until recently I was employed by a council as a community worker in a deprived community - it consisted of around 4000 people and many of its homes were owned by the local authority who were obliged to house people with many needs in that one area. This included residents with physical and mental health problems as well as a smaller number with addiction and anti social behaviour issues.

There were a smaller group of what I would describe as hardened criminals who dealt in drugs and were prepared to physically intimidate residents and rivals if required.

They dominated the public spaces and often dealt in drugs openly - probably aware that few residents would take issue with them since most in the community were scared of them. They drank heavily and often behaved in a threatening and abusive way to each other and to local residents and shop keepers.

The children of the many families living there had to witness this behaviour on a daily basis - on their way to and from school and if they ventured into the local shops - which many of them were frightened of doing. These children were - and are - being brought up living with this experience. It is normal to them.

As an ex police officer I would work with the council and police as much as I could to get action taken against this small number of criminals - but it was an uphill struggle to get decisive action taken - for many different reasons. It did not take long for these criminals to become hostile to me and to stop what they were doing when I was nearby.

The neighbourhood policing team consisted of very occasional visits by a PCSO, who when she was there, would tend to avoid the area where the problems occurred. In many respects I didn't blame her since these particular individuals were unpleasant to deal with at best. That and also I suspect she was not given the appropriate amount of support by her managers and it is my experience that PCSOs are often not empowered and in a position to take decisive action.

The problem was that even though this arrangement provided virtually no neighbourhood policing in reality - it most likely allowed police managers to 'tick the box' for neighbourhood policing and at the same time prevent more effective arrangements being put in place.

The housing managers had an opportunity at one stage last year to evict the main culprit from his house but the police intervened and effectively stopped the eviction because it was convenient for them to have this particular person in that community.

Of course this left him in place to continue to intimidate residents and deal in drugs as he saw fit - leaving residents to suffer his behaviour - leaving families and children to suffer the consequences - and leaving him further empowered because he had not been evicted.

I should say at this point that when I was a police officer I am not sure I appreciated how valuable neighbourhood policing could be. I imagine some of my attitudes to it at the time would embarrass me these days - but now I have seen it from the other side.

If the local police actually cared about the situation (or were allowed to care) then they would have ensured that a suitably empowered and equipped officer - or officers - actually spent a lot of time in that community. This officer would have challenged the behaviour of these people and ensured that they did not feel free to intimidate the community without consequences.

This would lift the responsibility of ordinary residents having to initiate action themselves and risk their windows being put in - or worse. Residents might feel inclined to help police in different ways if there was a relationship with them.

Instead the local police seemed to be dismissive of the needs of that community and were indifferent at best to the situation.

I doubt that this is the only community suffering in this way in the UK. I suspect that, nationally, neighbourhood policing is also suffering because of the cuts to police funding.

I know that neighbourhood policing has for many years been the 'poor cousin' of policing to all the more glamorous and exciting forms of police operations.

Poorer communities are often looked down upon by some officers - as deserving the poor quality of life they experience - because that view is often mirrored in the rest of society. Poor people deserve all they get after all.

It is a mystery what the new elected Crime Commissioners are doing about all this (if anything) since they all seem to keep a low profile when there is public debate or policing issues come to light.

It is also my experience that police resources will be directed at more influential communities - the ones where the money is - the ones that need it least. These are the wealthier places where the more confident people live - the ones that know other people of influence and can get things done - for themselves. These are the areas that need neighbourhood policing the least.

Meanwhile the children and families in the poorer communities will be the ones who suffer as neighbourhood policing is slowly withdrawn from the places it is needed most.