8 Jan 2008

Do we have Safer Neighbourhoods?

Well that's it... Christmas & New Year over with for another 12 months and back to some sort of normality... Maybe, but should we carry on accepting what we now call normality? Is it normal to have kids killing each other with knives and guns? Is it normal for our town centre streets to be controlled by groups of foul mouthed drunken idiots? It's certainly not a level of normality I am proud of... Are you?
Consistently our government, our local authorities and our police force leaders tell us that; the adoption and implementation of a Safer Neighbourhood Strategy will make all the difference but what is Neighbourhood Policing?
According to Reform, an independent, non-party think tank; all neighbourhood policing models have two common features - they involve a return to beat policing which focuses on preventing crime rather than reacting to it, and they involve increases in on-the-street manpower, through recruitment and effective redeployment. The models most often cited are those systems which operate in Chicago, New York and San Diego USA. So why should the American system work here? But where are the similarities between their system of policing and ours?
Much of our government's plan for reforming the police is broadly based on the Chicago strategy started in 1993 where elements combine basic policing with problem-solving that includes tackling antisocial behaviour. However much of the Safer Neighbourhood Strategy thinking (as actually applied in the UK) is little more than media hype. And in many ways is doing the exact opposite to what was initially intended.
In the gun toting USA they have always policed by force not by consent (as in the UK) and here's the rub... The USA never had any form of community policing like ours, the one that was already in place. But as our society got more like the American one, a society which promotes the rights and desires of the individual as opposed to the community, we ran headlong into the cesspit of self is everything and sod anyone else!
There is no doubt in my mind that policing the 21st century has different demands than those placed upon the policing of Sir Robert Peel however, I am also convinced his methodology and principles still apply. This is born out in the strategy and thought process behind much of the 'modern' thinking however, a 'one size fits all' application is nonsensical! Yes, many of our more urban and metropolitan areas may have become similar to areas in the USA but much of our Country is still as it was many years ago. The predominent attitudes of much of our society may have changed but the communities in which that society lives has not.
The current race to embed Safer Neighbourhood policing in every area of the UK is actually doing the opposite to what was originally intended. Many forces were already stretched to capacity dealing with the day to day demand of the modern police service, without hiving off upwards of 45% of resources to build Safer Neighbourhood units. Before any of this methodology can be succesfully applied there is actually a need to change, modernise and update many other aspects of police work and processes. Modernising and reform doesn't just happen by applying a fancy title and selling it to the media!

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