Without a degree of national agreement neighbourhood policing could fail to reach its full potential, as Mark Rowley explains.
Having been involved from the early days in the roll out of neighbourhood policing and its pre-cursor research programme the National Reassurance Project, it is interesting to reflect on how the arrival of thousands of PCSOs and other major workforce changes have been critical to the success of neighbourhood policing and also to ask how the future requirements for neighbourhood policing and citizen focus need more changes.
Neighbourhood policing has been an enormous success in starting to turn round the long-term trends of the fear of crime rising (while crime falls) and reducing confidence in the police.
The national best practice on neighbourhood policing includes a wide range of tasks, from hard-nosed enforcement through to problem solving and restorative solutions, and from public engagement to gain intelligence and agree priorities through to encouraging the public to work more closely with the local teams. The change in tactics and the national model, with dedicated teams, increasingly known to local communities, is well documented but perhaps we have reflected less on the changes to our workforce that have underpinned and facilitated this success.
•Increased capacity: The ability to deploy a PCSO onto the streets within about seven weeks of recruiting and the different costs associated has meant that we have been able to deploy extra capacity to neighbourhoods far more quickly and far more efficiently than we would otherwise have been able to do. We are more productive as a result.
•A new workforce mix: We have demonstrated that not all police work requires the increasingly high level of training and skills necessary for constables – quite right given the extreme coercive power at their disposal and the sophisticated problem solving and complex decision making that is now expected of them.
•Skills and expertise: Neighbourhood policing has become a new specialism in policing. The special requirements for engagement with diverse communities, problem analysis and problem solving, specialist use of powers such as anti-social behaviour orders, partnership working and communications have generated specialist training requirements which forces across the country are wrestling with.
•Diversity: The deployment of PCSOs as part of the operational capability of the service has very rapidly changed the diversity of police employees engaging with the public, with the proportions of women and BME being much more reflective of society. However, diversity is far broader than this and PCSOs have brought an age, experience and life profiles to the Service very different from those traditionally brought by many constables.Progress
I am convinced we would have made nowhere near the progress we have without the inclusion of PCSOs as part of the solution. There is clearly still much to do to improve the impact of neighbourhood policing and build on the early success of its national roll out.
The future begs some real questions of our current structure for our workforce and many of these issues will need to be tackled if we are to maximise the impact of neighbourhood policing. PCSOs were an idea that worked and illustrated potential new methods of working but their introduction is not in itself a long-term vision.
Having broken the mould we need to be very clear in asking ourselves what the requirements of neighbourhood policing over future years implies for our future workforce.
•How do we recruit the future workforce? The make-up of our future workforce, and therefore recruiting, is critical to success. The citizen focus requirements of the future arguably require slightly different skill sets – more collaborative and more able to problem solve. Is our recruiting process thoughtful enough to identify the specialist skills we require of neighbourhood officers (or any other specialist) in future years?
•Accrediting neighbourhood constables – Perhaps the biggest symbol of steps required to fully embed neighbourhood policing is the absence of accredited specialist training comparable with other policing domains. In many other areas, such as detective training and firearms, there are recognised, accredited national standards that officers have to attain to prove their competence and professionalism. The service must develop this same regime so that an aspiring neighbourhood constable has a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills that he/she must acquire to be fit for that role. Whilst it is perhaps easy to understand why accreditation for certain policing specialisms is more developed than others, it must be an urgent requirement that this gap is filled if we are serious about neighbourhood policing. It is not hard to see the need for such training. Specialist enforcement powers designed to tackle local crime and anti-social behaviour issues (most of which have come into legislation in the last decade), engaging and communicating with local communities to ensure that their priorities are our priorities, problem solving and the complexities of partnership working are four examples of specialist areas that an accredited neighbourhood constable must master.
•Neighbourhood constables: specialism v generalism – There is ongoing work to improve the specialist training of our neighbourhood constables but this needs to be balanced against the need for core, generalist skills that the police service requires to maintain resilience and flexibility. This is the question to be asked in this context as well as others where officers are becoming increasingly more specialised.
•Reducing churn: how do we reduce churn in key posts? – Communities rightly complain when people in key posts from senior leaders through to neighbourhood constables and PCSOs all too frequently change. Most forces try to keep officers in post for two or more years but many struggle as the best people are in high demand and seek promotion, reward and development. How can we incentivise and reward an excellent neighbourhood constable to stay in post for several years? I suggest that communities would see golden handcuffs on our best neighbourhood officers as a very good investment
•Career pathways – A significant number of PCSOs move on to become police officers. We need managed career pathways where we seek to ensure the PCSO is working in a community for more than a few months before moving on to be a constable and this step is managed as a natural progression, building on accredited existing skills rather than starting from scratch as if the officer has never been near a police force before. In Surrey we believe we can remove many weeks of classroom time from the training of a new constable who was a PCSO simply by recognising and accrediting his/her pre-existing knowledge and skills. We have put an 18-month tenure agreement that they cannot become officers in Surrey within this period to try to ensure continuity.
•Public confidence – If this is the ultimate ambition for the service then the success of neighbourhood policing cannot be only about those dedicated to neighbourhoods. We will need to make training of core neighbourhood policing skills as central to the skills of all new recruits as we have already made technical legal and enforcement ones. The Superintendents’ Association has been critical of rudeness and a lack of a service culture and addressing this is essential to the success of neighbourhood policing.
•Combating risk through neighbourhoods – Neighbourhood teams must support other specialist colleagues in tackling risks such as gang and knife culture, sex offenders and domestic violence. The counter-terrorism ‘Prevent’ work is a particular example of this li