The BBC recently reported that UK police forces were 'sleepwalking' away from communities - they quoted Zoe Billingham an Inspector of Constabulary as saying the police now had less time for "vitally important preventative work in communities". This is against a background of severe cuts to police budgets.
I would go further than that and argue that in many cases UK police a deserting vulnerable communities and are leaving the criminals in charge.
I was a police officer up until 2006 and since then I spent a number of years working in a deprived community in South East England. This community, like many other similar communities, has a larger number of unemployed people, people with more illnesses - physical and mental - and also more offenders and drug addicts - than most others.
It is important to say, of course, there are also hundreds of families living there as well who just want the best for their children who don't go around breaking the law and just want to feel safe.
Over the years local neighbourhood policing has been reduced from regular appearances by a competent and confident constable and a couple of PCSOs to very rare appearances by a PCSO.
I fully respect PCSO's as individuals - many of them are excellent and many go onto become very good full constables. However - PCSO's have fewer powers - are less well training and less confident than full constables and often don't get the support they deserve from colleagues.
At one time there was a clear sense that the police were in charge of the public spaces in this community but now there is a clear sense that the drug dealers and drinkers and antisocial individuals are in charge.
Open drug dealing goes on - intimidation of shop keepers and pub staff goes on - shouting and drinking and occasional fighting goes on - all under the useless CCTV system which is ignored by pretty much everyone.
Older people are afraid to go to collect their pensions - school children have to walk passed drug dealers to get to and from school.
From around 11am - providing it is not raining - the small number of criminals are in charge of the public spaces.
If anyone objects to this - the drinkers and drug dealers will intimidate and threaten them. If the police are called - the drug dealers and drinkers will do their best to find out who called them - and it is no fun for those whom they suspect.
The police are told about these things but they have many other pressures on them and being mere human beings - they don't appreciate how bad it is because they are not experiencing it for them selves.
Their response is to ask people report these things on the 101 system or online - even though they know that it can take ten to twenty minutes to get through to someone on the 101 system and people often give up. Not everyone has a computer and not everyone is confident with computers.
And all the time - residents are frightened and being found out reporting things to police. It is a 'perfect storm' of difficulties reporting things - fear and the inefficiency of the reporting systems.
Often the police will complain that no one reports things - but they don't often ask why this is.
These reporting systems are slowly replacing the face to face contact that there should be between the police and the community leaving people frightened and less supported.
If a community like this had a confident and competent officer - who they saw on a regular basis - who actually knows what is going on and takes a pride in looking after the area then they will feel safer and, I believe, actually be safer.
As it is the police occasionally swoop in and arrest drug dealers (once or twice a year) and they will come when the actual violence starts - but they are not there in between these events when the honest residents and their families have to live with the intimidation and criminal activities of a minority.
The police don't exist in a vacuum - they are subject to cuts and pressures from ambitious politicians. Police get blamed for too many of societies failings - but their retreat from the communities is wrong and is a betrayal of those who most need them.
Senior police officers live for statistics and crime figures and base careers on playing with numbers - when the real fear and suffering goes on unrecorded.
That an old person is too frightened to collect their pension or that a child has to pass active drug dealers on the way to primary school is not recorded in the figures and the politicians and senior police officers don't know or care about it.
The more police withdraw from neighbourhoods - especially the most vulnerable ones - the more they are failing in their most basic of duties - to make communities safer.
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