Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Gesture politics?

One should, I suppose, be grateful that Mr Brown, in his spending review yesterday, is making funds available for increased policing. However, I doubt I am the only one who has reservations about the way the money will be spent – mainly on an increase in the number of community support officers from 4,000 to 20,000.

The idea is to boost police visibility in the streets and so reduce anti-social behaviour, but there is more than a whiff here of gesture politics. Although these officers are in uniform, they do not have the same powers of arrest as a police officer and are being put on the streets in order to offer "an increased layer of reassurance to the public". They are not intended to reduce crime, so much as to reduce the fear of crime.

Actually, I have some sympathy with senior police officers who argue that high visibility patrols contribute very little to either the prevention or detection of crime – if that is all they are: high visibility patrols. The value of putting police back into the community is that they inter-relate with that community and pick up vital intelligence. That is what solves crime.

But does putting a few strangers in a police uniform, and sending then in pairs to stroll round the streets, gossiping with each other, actually contribute anything? The CSOs I have seen on our streets are strangers. They are not “community” officers in any real sense of the word. And in pairs, very often male-female, they often seem more interested in each other than in what is going on around them. And I cannot recall ever having seen the same pair twice, so there is very little chance of them building a relationship with the community they are supposedly policing.

And if, as Jan Berry, chairs of the Police Federation, the extra spending on these officers comes at the cost of investment in other areas of policing such as training and equipment, then we certainly will not be better off. Money spent on getting an effective and workable computer intelligence database would, for instance, be a much better investment.

In short, therefore, want we all actually want - police and public alike - is effective policing, not gesture politics. I fear we got the latter and the former is no closer.


At 11:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 3:19 pm, Blogger Richard said...


At 7:19 pm, Blogger Mick in the UK said...

You're quite right about the community constables seeming to be more interested in each other from what I have seen in Bradford.
If they posted a couple at every set of traffic lights in, lets say, Girlinton, they could nick every other driver for not wearing a seat belt, and probably a lot of tax/insurance dodgers to boot.
On the question of visibility, I made an entry a while back on my blog regarding a very unusual sight in Darwen, Lancashire, where I saw two Police officers in dark tunics walking the beat, and not visible for 2 miles to all the Chavscum in Darwen.
If you do see a Police officer in Bradford, you WILL see him from 2 miles away.

At 12:32 am, Blogger Richard said...

If you see a real constable actually walking, they call the television crews out to film it, it's so unusual.


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