Hopefully many of you have heard the announcement the Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson and I made regarding the introduction of a new policing model across Wiltshire and Swindon, called Community Policing.
I wanted to use this column as a way to speak directly to you all about this change, in particular, what it will mean for you and the villages, towns and cities which you live in.
Community Policing is a new model which has been drawn up following an extensive two-year review into the way we as a police force work. It keeps our neighbourhoods at the heart of what we do, while at the same time looking at the service we provide to the public including what changes we can make to ensure we are giving you the most effective, streamlined approach to reducing crime and antisocial behaviour.
It is clear that the landscape for British Policing is changing. Criminality is more sinister and global, criminals are more resourceful and the threat of terrorism is very real.
The police responsibility for responding to the needs of our communities is more complex than ever before, exacerbated by the apparent decline of social care creating an extra burden on our service. For example, the number of people who are suffering mental health issues, who very often are the most vulnerable in society, are being dealt with in ever increasing numbers. In addition, the number of missing children and adults is spiralling with little recognition that police intervention is usually too late. More often than not, these people are already in the social care system.
These are just some of the operational aspects which create the need for change. And it’s important to note all of this in the context of Wiltshire Police saving in excess of £17 million over the past five years with more savings to come. That is why we need to be more sophisticated in our approach, change our operating model and improve our service in a way which does not undermine our relationship with the public.
The PCC believes that neighbourhood policing should remain at the heart of what we do and he will be making this clear in his new Police and Crime Plan. I too fundamentally believe this is the main foundation block that we need to build upon, so I am responding by redesigning and transforming police structure to keep pace with the changing demands.
I cannot emphasise enough how detailed the Community Policing project has been and how much focus we have put on the public. We have listened to what people want from their police force and have come up with, what we believe to be, an exciting new policing model which puts members of the public back at the heart of everything we do.
Essentially Community Policing simplifies our policing model. It breaks down the barriers between the different job roles and departments in the Force, and gives victims of crime and others a more personalised service. It encourages our staff and officers to become multi-skilled, so they can do more – from patrolling your communities as neighbourhood officers, to responding to 999 calls in emergencies.
Our current model doesn’t do that. Too often, staff and officers stick to very prescriptive job roles and can work too much in isolation or silos. They are very focused on their particular job, but don’t communicate enough with others involved in an investigation.
This can mean investigations are lengthy and complex, with work being passed between numerous departments for them to carry out their small part of the job. And this, in turn, means victims can get confused about who is dealing with their crime, and what the latest updates are.
Community Policing simplifies the process and means staff and officers can go back to an old-fashioned approach of being able to do more. The right person deals with an investigation from the beginning – whether that is a trained call-handler, an officer, a PCSO, or a civilian local crime investigator – and can then follow it through from start to finish.
The PCC has also invested significantly in new technology which has enabled me to make sure our staff and officers are no longer “chained to their desks”. They have smart phones and 4G laptops, meaning they can work out in their communities improving visibility and accessibility, rather than being hidden away in a police station all the time.
Community Policing will benefit the public. It has been successfully piloted in the Trowbridge and Warminster areas since October last year, and we have been impressed by how it has been received both inside the Force, and externally with the public. Mr Macpherson endorses this approach and it fits with his direction for policing.
But this announcement is just the start of the process. We want to continue engaging with the public, explaining to you, the people of Wiltshire and Swindon, what this is all about and encouraging you to feed back to us about how it is working.
The roll-out of Community Policing is due to start in the autumn, but in the meantime you can find out more by reading here and watching a video here. In the coming weeks and months I will continue the debate and conversation about the changing context of policing so that I can inspire a more informed discussion about how we can work together with you, volunteers and our partners to provide a continuously improving service. Mr Macpherson will also be carrying out consultation with local communities regarding feedback about how this new approach to policing our local communities is working.