The Neighbourhood Policing Programme (NPP), which ended eight years ago, provided English and Welsh police forces with a broadly consistent jigsaw of neighbourhood policing teams, tasked to deliver visible reassurance, engage with local people and work with others to solve the problems that mattered most to communities.
Looking eight years into the future, the Policing Vision 2025, agreed last year by all forces and their PCCs, includes a joint commitment to build proactive and preventative local policing services that understand local need, tackle recurrent problems, support communities, share data, utilise analysis and are aligned, or even integrated, with other local services.
At the half-way mark between these rallying points, it is increasingly clear that the routes forces are taking between them have diverged and are affording mixed progress.
Last month HMIC reported that the work of neighbourhood teams across the service is becoming more irregular, unstructured and is supported ineffectively by other force resources’ (p.23), and hence, in some places, the capacity of the police to prevent crime is being eroded’ (p.8). Their call for national guidelines to pull wayward forces back on track, suggests they doubt that some, perhaps most, are well placed to arrive at the intended destination.
The Police Foundation believes that the second half of the journey would be well-served by assembling a coherent narrative of what has happened to neighbourhood policing since the end of the NPP, from the 43 force-level threads.
This is the first task of our 2017 research project on The future of neighbourhood policing, and we reach out to those who can provide local insights to help (there are more details on how to do so below).
The changing shape and size of neighbourhood policing
As a starting point, and to provide some structure to the task, our new research paper explores what can be learned about the changing picture of neighbourhood policing in England and Wales from the available Home Office and HMIC workforce data.
Its first finding, in line with the narrative offered above, is that neighbourhood policing functions have become increasingly varied across the country, and in some places look noticeably thin.
Compare the two charts below, which illustrate the size (in terms of proportion of workforce) and shape (in terms of the balance between officers and PCSOs/police staff) of every police force’s neighbourhood policing provision in 2008 and 2016. They show diversification from relatively consistent origins, reflected in the way many of the data points scatter between 2008 and 2016.
The size and shape of neighbourhood policing in police forces in England and Wales – 2008
The size and shape of neighbourhood policing in police forces in England and Wales – 2016
A typology of approaches to neighbourhood policing
The second key finding is that, within the data for individual forces (which we have summarised at force-level in a pack of supplementary charts), there are indicators of a range of often contrasting strategies being taken over the last eight years.
Some forces, such as Avon and Somerset, Durham and Thames Valley, have clearly sought to preserve a neighbourhood policing model that (at least in relative size and composition, if not in activity profile) resembles that of the NPP era; while others, such as Bedfordshire, Gwent and West Yorkshire appear to have opted for radical redesigns sometimes on more than one occasion.
At the same time, some forces, including Cambridgeshire, Kent and South Yorkshire appear to have opted for an integrated’ approach to local policing (a workforce with lots of neighbourhood officers and very few response officers suggests the former have a broad remit, including reactive as well as proactive work), while other structures appear to offer more scope for functional specialism.–@rickmuir
At the same time, some forces, including Cambridgeshire, Kent and South Yorkshire appear to have opted for an integrated’ approach to local policing (a workforce with lots of neighbourhood officers and very few response officers suggests the former have a broad remit, including reactive as well as proactive work), while other structures appear to offer more scope for functional specialism. In addition, some forces including Norfolk, North Wales and Lincolnshire have opted for greater civilianisation within their neighbourhood policing functions, while others such as the Metropolitan Police and Surrey have de-civilianised reducing PCSOs and increasing (or preserving) police officers, presumably to protect overall officer numbers.
All of which gives rise to a working typology’, illustrated below and described in detail in the full paper. This identifies six groups of forces based on patterns of change (or consistency) in their neighbourhood workforce data since 2008.
A working typology’ of neighbourhood policing in England and Wales
Of course, a typology such as this only provides the most high-level overview of neighbourhood policing across England and Wales, and it can only hint at the activities being delivered by neighbourhood officers and staff on the ground’ in different forces. We hope to fill in some of this detail as our project progresses (see below).
Neither can it tell us much about effectiveness. No one approach is inherently better than others, although there is some intriguing clustering of HMIC PEEL ratings within the plot (also described in the full paper). It’s not as simple as asking what [type] works [best]?‘, because each force will have designed their neighbourhood policing offer to suit local context (among other factors), and if localism has any place in policing, surely it is with neighbourhood policing that there is greatest scope for local adaptation. One size does not and should not fit all.
However, that does not mean that there are not legitimate questions to ask about the design principles forces have followed and the quality of the tailoring being demonstrated. It’s not currently clear how policing should start to address these questions; in the second part of our project we intend to do some groundwork.
Research next steps: adding depth and context
Alongside the typology paper, we are publishing detailed analysis of the trajectory of the neighbourhood policing workforce in all 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales in the form of a slide pack.
Our ambition is to obtain narrative accounts for each force, which will succinctly explain what has changed and why, and in particular, what activity sits under the heading of neighbourhood policing (or its functional equivalent) in each force. We intend to do this in three ways.
1. We will carry out a fact-finding survey of all forces, via an information request to local policing assistant chief constables.
2. We will also reach out to the wider police service readership(of whatever rank or role) to share their local insights, experiences and opinions by completinga short,anonymous survey on our website. We will treat all responses in confidence and ensure that no contributor can be identified in our reporting (unless they explicitly agree to this). Alternatively, we can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. We will be conducting a number of force visits – probably using the typology to identify an appropriate range of forces – to discuss in depth their approaches to neighbourhood policing.
We intend to publish a final report in the autumn of 2017. For more information, and to follow our progress, please visit http://www.police-foundation.org.uk/the-future-of-neighbourhood-policing.