Days of routine patrols by bobbies on the beat are over, says PCC
An outspoken police and crime commissioner has come out fighting after his force was left bruised by comments made by Zoe Billingham from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), saying he "does not like the phrase" neighbourhood policing.
Ms Billingham, who led a review into the effectiveness of all forces in England and Wales, said earlier this week: “In Essex what was happening was there was an issue outside of neighbourhood policing relating to being able to protect vulnerable children effectively.
“It [the force] was looking to kind of move resources from one area to another, and it did so at the expense of neighbourhood policing.”
Ms Billingham said tackling anti-social behaviour and protecting children should not be "a matter of either or", and she issued criticism of the force, saying: "They cut their neighbourhood officers in Essex and they are continuing to cut."
HMIC later confirmed that this had directly led to Essex Police becoming less effective at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.
But a day after the release of Ms Billingham’s report, the county's PCC, Tory Nick Alston, said his force was “on the whole are doing sensible things for sensible reasons,” adding that the chief constable, Stephen Kavanagh, had to make “tough decisions” because of finite resources.
Though he said he welcomed HMIC’s findings and agreed with many of them, Mr Alston was adamant that any attachment to “bobbies on the beat” purely for the sake of it, or because it was reputedly popular with the public, was misguided.
And he called for a "mature debate" on the subject.“
HMIC still seems to be saying that they want bobbies on the beat,” he told his police and crime panel. “I genuinely believe that…this notion that we can use pretty scarce resources on routine patrolling - those days have gone.”
He added that neighbourhood policing was “the phrase HMIC like, and I’m not sure I do.”
Mr Alston later told BBC Radio 4’s Eddie Mair: “The days of bobbies on the beat walking around their patch I think properly have gone. And I think rightly so… Because the police are dealing with those priority areas - in Essex every day the rape of a child is reported, every day 85 people make emergency calls for help to domestic violence."
Mr Alston said new types of threat meant forces had to do things “in a different way. “He added: “Police must focus on where the harm is.”
A similar point has been made by Leicestershire’s chief constable blog post that he tweeted on the day HMIC’s report was published: "Perhaps perversely, in some instances the clarion call for more visibility may actually make communities less safe, because the threat to them is not best dealt with by presence alone.
Essex Police has revealed that it suspended all neighbourhood policing in the relatively affluent northern part of the county in the summer of 2015 while it tried to get on top of serious unallocated and outstanding incidents relating to child abuse, child sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
“As the patrol walks down your street, your child may be being groomed online."
In contrast, examples of the type of anti-social behaviour that neighbourhood officers might deal with include comparatively low level incidents like littering, people shouting abuse and graffiti.
HMIC suggested there was a spike in anti-social behaviour as a result of the suspension of neighbourhood policing in Essex - but the force's figures appear to tell a different story, showing that, in 2015 as a whole, the number of such incidents fell - as they have done virtually year on year for the best part of a decade.