High Visibility Policing (again)…

Police Community Support Officer Poster

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Although I understand the majority of the issues surrounding the lack of policing visibility these days (see previous post), I still believe that it’s one of the more worthwhile and required policing functions, one that still needs to be carried out when at all possible.

It’s one aspect of policing that the public always cry out for; “we want ‘Bobbies on the beat”…

Having police on our streets helps to influence what is/is not acceptable behaviour in our youth. It helps to provide the understanding of boundaries and the guidance they need to mature, something that is too often lacking in their home life or as part of their education.

Unfortunately, ‘foot patrol’ it’s not always the most cost-effective use of resources. It is even more of a ‘luxury’ in a large rural area where those resources are already at reduced levels. The travel time between jobs, in a sprawling rural area such as North Yorkshire can be a major factor, in providing an effective response to public demand. Mobility is therefore something of a necessity.

Today’s policing management methodology tends towards one-off initiatives and short-term operations in an attempt to resolve long-standing issues. The old adage of prevention is better than cure has, for all intents and purpose, been totally reversed because of money and performance measurement targets. After all, how do you count and quantify that which has been prevented? And even if that crime didn’t take place, could you be positive it was due to the crook seeing the Bobby on the beat and going elsewhere?

Bobbies on the beat have tended to become a reactive, as opposed to proactive policing tool and, like many things in modern policing now, it also has to have a fancy name… The output from police management school might choose to call it High Visibility Public Reassurance Patrol (or similar) however; to the public and those actually doing it, it’s still just Bobbies on the beat. It is also one of those areas of policing where the service has, to a certain extent, simply hoodwinked the public.

Although I (mostly) agree with the concept and expansion of the wider police family, I still have grave concerns in how they are actually used. The increased use of the PCSO and Special Constables was, mostly due to monitory considerations, an almost inevitable process however, the way in which they are recruited, trained equipped and deployed still lacks uniformity across England and Wales.

I do admire anyone who is prepared to step up to the mark and provide a service to their community however; I also believe that in many ways, we are actually doing both our communities and the individuals concerned a great disservice. And that’s before even questioning some of the reasons these people have for performing the role. To a certain extent the service is also undermining, devaluing and to an extent, leaving open to ridicule, the Crown office of Constable. One of the reasons why understanding about and respect for the role is in decline perhaps? Lets look at a local example of the situation to try to illustrate what I’m talking about…

Like many towns today, even my own that some would call a ‘quaint and quiet’ area, also suffers from a good deal of anti-social behaviour during the evenings and weekends. To my mind much of this is simply due to; a lack of police visibility and action. The feral youth of the area are left unchecked to do what they will in the town. As the lighter nights increase, so do the problems and, once alcohol is added to the mix, they can become almost intolerable for residents. The fact that the local force constantly fills the media with good time stories, actually does very little to placate the fears and concerns of those living there.

Because the sight of a yellow jacket walking the streets is something of a rarity today, you can imaging how gob smacked I was to see; two separate examples of the phenomenon walk past my front room window in as many hours last night. I suspect the ‘reassurance patrols’ and any of the weekend’s increased policing activity was a reactive response to the problems of last weekend. Like many others I suspect, my initial thoughts were “about bloody time” but unlike others, I knew this increased activity was actually destined to be short-lived.

Later the same evening I headed out with the dog for a last stroll of the day. I walked past the group of youths on the corner swigging beer from cans and shouting abuse at their ‘friend’ riding by on a pushbike, on the pavement without lights. I continued on towards the town centre where the sounds of breaking glass and effing and blinding could be clearly heard from the pub beer garden on the corner from more than 100m away. As I turned into the High Street by the pub I was confronted by a group of 5-6 members of the ‘extended police family’ stood on the corner. I have to say the actual individual make up of the group wasn’t easily discernable, but that’s usually the whole idea. Help the public to believe they are being ‘policed’, even if they aren’t. I think there was actually a mixture of PCSOs, Specials and possibly a Constable.

One mistook my greeting of “good evening” as a request for service and sneeringly retorted “you alright mate?” Another stood with a vacant look under a hat several sizes too big, one was doing his best to replicate the vision of a busted sofa and the smallest one in the group also with a helmet far too large for his head, actually appeared to be buckling under the weight of his utility belt. The poor young man appeared to be carrying sufficient equipment to satisfy the combined requirements of Batman, Robin and Joe 90. Despite this motley crew all being dressed in uniform items, all be they a mixture of official and non official issue, it was impossible to describe the group actually as ‘uniform’ in any shape or form. Scruffy would have been something of a compliment!

I quickly scanned the immediate area, probably 50m or less from our motley crew; there was an apparently teenage drunken girl falling out of the pub front door, there was a small group of ‘hoodies’ sitting on the bonnet of someones car, there was a group of skip rats blocking the pavement where an elderly man was obliged to step in the road to pass and finally, a youth who had consumed his pizza from the nearby takeaway, discarded the empty box in the gutter not 20ft away. Not a hint of action or interest from any of the group in yellow bits! Continuing on towards the supermarket I could see the almost constant stream of tracksuited hoody wearing young people heading for the parks and public places with their boxes of booze.

Passing by groups of youths whilst walking my dog, I heard several comments of ridicule and observations on policing performance. Groups discussed meeting points that had “already been visited by the cops” so were unlikely to be again. Routes to avoid CCTV coverage was discussed and ‘deals’ were arranged by mobile phone. One snotty youth, who appeared to hold some sort of ‘leadership’ position was on his mobile; “na mate its ok, they’ll all ‘ave fucked off soon, its coz of knobhead on t’ roof last week”.

If this is what high visibility public reassurance patrols actually deliver, I’m not sure I’m that bothered about policing visibility anymore? And, even if there was greater police visibility and action, would it actually make any real difference today?

Insp Gadget | All a smokescreen: …Even if the front line was a million strong, with the piss-poor sentencing we currently have, it would make no difference… (Read more)

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About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 02-04-2011, in Police and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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