Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (@Missenden50) has been a shadow minister in the House of Lords since 2011, covering the Business, Innovation and Skills Department; and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. He is currently participating in the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme, under which members of both Houses of Parliament are given the opportunity to spend time shadowing various parts of the Met. As part of this, Lord Stevenson has spent a few days this past year based in Brixton, where he accompanied me on patrol earlier in the year. Lord Stevenson’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.
I had the privilege of spending a day recently with PC Rory Geoghegan and his colleagues in Clapham Common Ward, one of the Lambeth Safer Neighbourhoods teams. And it was a privilege – not just because I had the rare chance to see inside the day to day workings of the modern police service, but also because I got the chance to experience something I had heard good things about – neighbourhood policing – at a point of change, since it seems highly likely that it will have problems continuing to operate as it is currently configured, given the financial and other pressures facing the Met and its partners in the public and charitable sectors over the next few years.
Someone reared on the mantra of evidence-led policy making ought to be wary of drawing conclusions from a series of anecdotal snapshots – which is of course what I am about to do… But in defence, I would like to argue that, limited though it was in time, the impressions and memories I gained on that day do have some value, and I offer three main points in this blog in the hope that they help raise understanding about the important contribution that this form of community policing can make to reducing crime and creating safer and more resilient communities.
My first point is that walking the streets of a community is a revelation. Cars, even bicycles, reduce the amount of information you can absorb even though you cover the same route, and, perhaps more importantly, cut you off from residents and users of the civic space the police are responsible for. A leisurely stroll allows you to engage with people, get into conversations that might otherwise not happen, and builds levels of trust and confidence which would be difficult to establish in other ways. Shopkeepers, bar and restaurant managers, and night club staff all seemed genuinely interested in stopping for a chat with the team, sharing news and gossip, and hinting about issues of concern. It felt really good.
Secondly, the police presence was seen as a natural part of the street scene, and the team were welcome there not just because of what they represented in terms of dealing with crime or bad behaviour (important though that was), but because they legitimised the good and effective work that others were doing in helping their neighbourhood, street or facility to set high standards of behaviour and to reduce offending. It was obviously a partnership, and it worked because everyone had a piece of the action, and relied on the others to do their bit as well.
And thirdly, the Neighbourhood Policing team and the Met more generally are a gold standard for what people want to happen in their communities. As other agencies are able to do less; as former public services get privatised, the role that the Met can play in setting standards and offering training and support will grow, and will be welcome. This is already evident in some of the work being done in the provision of an integrated door policy in Clapham High Street, dealing with the “night time economy”; and it seemed to me that there were opportunities in areas such as urban planning where a contribution from the police at the initial design stages could make a huge impact so that developers learn from some of the infelicities of the spatial planning of the post-war housing estates which are now being redeveloped.
Telling friends and colleagues about my recent experiences with the Met has sadly revealed a huge amount of ignorance and misunderstanding about the dedicated and committed work being done in community policing. I’m doing my bit to open people’s eyes, as I am now a fan. And in both a literal and a metaphorical way, I see things differently…