Ridealong Reflections: “Seeing Things Differently”

Miriam Tedeschi (@SynPhilosophein) is an academic and public policy analyst who accompanied me on patrol. Miriam’s post is one of a series contributed by those who have joined me on patrol. I’m a great believer in the value of ridealongs and walkabouts. I hope these blogs help communicate the benefits.

“A philosophy and not a specific tactic, community policing is a proactive, decentralized approach, designed to reduce crime, disorder, and by extension, fear of crime, by intensely involving the same officer in the same community on a long-term basis, so that residents will develop trust to cooperate with police by providing information and assistance to achieve those three crucial goals. Community policing employs a variety of tactics, ranging from park and walk to foot patrol, to immerse the officer in the community, to encourage a two-way information flow so that the residents become the officer’s eyes and ears on the streets helping to set departmental priorities and policies”

The Philosophy and Role of Community Policing (1988)
Robert C. Trojanowicz and David Carter

The value of foot patrol has a long and successful history in criminology – value that comprises, among others, profound identification of police officers with spaces, however small, they are patrolling as well as the actual relationship they build up with the local community.

Until recently, I knew these concepts only through criminology literature: I could have never grasped their proper and actual meaning without the precious help of some of Lambeth’s Safer Neighbourhoods teams. With an introduction from Inspector Jack Rowlands (@EarlyYearsCop) I was able to accompany PC Rory Geoghegan, of the Abbeville Road and Clapham Common Ward, on patrol.

Walking along with him and observing with my own eyes how local dedicated officers deal with the violence of spaces has been the real turning point of my field work as well as the theoretical framework I am applying as researcher. An otherwise anonymous space does completely change face/shape when understood and – to a certain extent – lived through police officers’ daily experience.

It becomes suddenly alive – and for the first time I have really understood how little you can proceed through generalisations when dealing with crime, but that even smaller, apparently unimportant (spatial) details do matter, might save lives and determine the actual course of an investigation.

In fact, before starting the field work I only had some general and pretty much theoretical ideas of how crime and space might intertwine, how the latter can influence the former and vice versa.

What I have realised so far, after the walkabouts/ridealongs with police officers, is how infinite and fractal, as it were, the space they deal with actually is. As way of example, let us take a big social housing estate. It is not only a ‘big social housing estate’, with such and such characteristics (high density, architecture from the 60’s, rather unsafe because of many blind spots that might be easily exploited by criminals, etc.), as I would have thought from a mere theoretical point of view.

It is in fact a very complex and dynamic assembling of green areas, stairwells, hallways, roofs, fences, doors, boxes, utility rooms, etc. – every one of them with its own peculiar and unique history, its being potentially – and actually – dangerous if/when exploited by offenders.

Let us take the Notre Dame Estate in Clapham, an example of a post-war social housing development. I visited it with PC Rory Geoghegan – he showed me how easily offenders – here we are mostly talking about gang crime and drug dealing – can move and try to remain hidden inside the building, which is literally like a maze: entrances are not protected by secure doors and stairwells and hallways are all connected with each other.

Offenders can gain access to the roofs as well, which makes it even more difficult for police officers to find and stop them. Illegal activities are being carried out with some criminals being on watch – on the higher floors it is easy to control the area and rapidly spot if there is a police officer entering the estate or building. Moreover, it is amazing to realise how many small places can be used by offenders to hide their stash or knives.

I am talking about utility rooms as well as voids and empty spaces on landings’ walls or ceilings. These apparently innocent hollows – which to the inexperienced or disinterested eye are missed – help offenders to temporarily conceal drugs or weapons if they see a police officer – in this way they will come out clean, producing a “negative” stop and search and be free to easily retrieve their “goods” later on.

What struck me is that it is only through thousands of hours of these foot patrols that police officers acquire experience and the proper knowledge of every one of these small, uncountable spaces – knowledge that eventually enables them to see things differently and to prevent/tackle crime and help local communities. And in my own small way, since accompanying Rory on patrol, I too have started seeing things differently.

About Miriam Tedeschi

Miriam Tedeschi is currently Ph.D. fellow in Spatial Planning and Public Policy at the Department of Design and Planning in Complex Environments, IUAV University (Venice, Italy), and visiting researcher at the Law and Theory Centre, University of Westminster, London. Her current research aims to develop a ‘crime and space’ theoretical framework, building upon fieldwork she is carrying out with the Met Police’s Safer Neighbourhood teams in Lambeth.

If you are a local resident with an interest in policing you can get in touch with us to enquire about our ridealong/walkabout scheme. We can’t always guarantee availability due to operational requirements but we do our best to accommodate genuine requests subject to risk assessment and security checks. Remember you can also follow us on Twitter @MPSClaphamCom.

About the Author

PC Rory Geoghegan
I was the Dedicated Ward Officer for Clapham Common Ward in the London Borough of Lambeth until May 2016. I’m a former strategy consultant and criminal justice researcher. As a Dedicated Ward Officer I was something of a foot and cycle patrol fanatic! All views expressed are/were personal opinions and the usual disclaimers apply.

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