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'Too much' response work jeopardising neighbourhood policing

Officers expected to perform tasks beyond their remit
Published - 31/05/2018 By - Sophie Garrod - Police Oracle

Neighbourhood policing is collapsing with officers spending the majority of their shift on response duties and undertaking unprecedented casework.

The Police Foundation carried out extensive research, including speaking with officers on the job, who revealed concerns over being dragged away from their core neighbourhood policing roles into responsive work.

Withdrawal from their primary functions created a negative impact on community engagement, with reports of some officers spending between 60 and 90 per cent of their duties on response work.

One officer explained this had a “massive knock on effect” as they were unable to plan their shifts with the anticipation of disruption. This led to cancelled appointments, thus letting down the public. Another described it as a “parallel world” with conflict between the community, councillors and the force in terms of what is expected of them.

One officer commented on the lack of time available to carry out even the most basic public interactions. They said: “I used to call into my schools once a week…I had one kid who used to run every time I walked in the door, after about six weeks I got there and he was dressed as a police officer. That’s the difference now, we haven’t got time to go and spend that half an hour just saying, ‘hello, how are you?’”

However, the issue is just the tip of the iceberg, with Surrey Deputy Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, also the NPCC Lead for Neighbourhood Policing, highlighting his biggest concern...

He said: “I think an issue which is more important to me is the quality of the problem solving that they’re doing. There’s another national programme to develop problem solving across the forces which is led by South Yorkshire and Police Transformation Funded, which is aimed at improving the quality of problem solving.”

Andy Higgins, research director at The Police Foundation, concurred with DCC Stephens' view, adding: “The drift towards case work is really problematic – not that it isn’t a good thing – but it’s not neighbourhood policing and there’s an opportunity cost to doing it, which is about engaging with communities and looking at problems rather than individuals.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham, speaking as Police Foundation panel member, said HMICFRS had been warning of the downfall of neighbourhood policing since 2013/2014.

“We all know response policing that happens to be in a neighbourhood is not neighbourhood policing - it’s not preventative," she said.

“We think neighbourhood policing is really important and our definition of it would be preventative policing in communities and with communities to stop crime from happening in the first place, it’s just as simple as that.

“There came a time in 2013 when everybody working in a neighbouring patch became neighbourhood policing or a neighbourhood police officer – although clearly they weren’t doing what was said on the tin.”

When asked how performance is measured for neighbourhood policing, Ms Billingham said: “We’ve got a very simple measure of assessing neighbourhood policing at the moment and it’s -  has the force got it? Is it actually doing prevention activity?

“As sarcastic as it may seem, we see so many places where there isn’t that proper problem solving, preventative, stopping crime happening in the first place presence in many forces, but we’re very understanding because of the stress and pressure that policing is under. But having and ring-fencing it is incredibly important.”

PCSOs pushed to the limits of their training by performing elements of incident response and safeguarding/risk assessment work has also been raised as a worry, along with a reported ever-present tension within control rooms – with a need for supervisors to decline certain requests to deal with demand.

In response to the findings, the College of Policing will be releasing new guidelines next month, setting out the neighbourhood policing role clearly and conveying what they should be doing on shifts.

CC Stephens said: “We’ve included what we think is a very clear definition in the guidelines – I hope colleagues find that useful with the supporting material that goes with it.”

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