The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime’s draft Police and Crime Plan for 2013-2017 is currently out for consultation and last week we gave evidence to the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee to inform their response. Among other issues, their questions probed the proposals to reshape neighbourhood policing in London.
Briefly, the draft plan proposes that each ward in London will have a named sergeant (who will not necessarily be dedicated solely to that ward), one constable and one PCSO, whereas at the moment each ward has a dedicated sergeant, two constables and three PCSOs. However the total number of neighbourhood officers will rise, from around 2,000 to around 4,600. The neighbourhood officers who are not tied to specific wards will be available to work across their Local Police Area according to demand.
As you would expect, there is no detail in the plan about how the officers who are not allocated to a specific ward will be deployed. This is, after all, a high level strategy. Yet this issue is central to understanding the proposed approach. Will they be allocated for significant periods of time to high-crime neighbourhoods to form larger neighbourhood teams that will use a problem-solving approach to prevent crime? Or will they be deployed on a day-by-day basis to carry out specific operations and respond to incidents?
If it is the former, then there could be benefits. Evidence suggests that crime and antisocial behaviour is concentrated in small geographical areas, rather than distributed evenly. Some areas of London have much higher levels of crime than others, and levels of confidence in the police also vary significantly. If more officers could be deployed consistently to areas with high levels of crime, it would improve their chances of having an impact.
If it’s the latter, however, and the pool of officers available to each Local Police Area is deployed on a short-term basis to address immediate crises, it could mark the beginning of the end of neighbourhood policing in London. A proper problem-solving approach would be impossible and relationships with communities would suffer, affecting both public confidence and the gathering of community intelligence. It would also be extremely difficult to integrate fixed’ and floating’ officers properly, limiting the capacity for effective teamwork.
Together with the planned reduction in the number of PCSOs from a peak of around 4,600 in 2010 to around 2,380 by 2016, these reforms risk allowing response policing to replace neighbourhood policing by the back door. This would be a mistake. Effective neighbourhood policing can both reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and improve public confidence, two of the key aims of MOPAC’s draft policing plan. Yet with more than a fifth of London’s wards having a population of more than 15,000, it is difficult to see how two police officers (one of whom may only be focussing on the ward part-time) and a PCSO could provide an effective neighbourhood team.
MOPAC have had more time to consider their proposals than other PCCs, and significant thought has clearly gone into their plan. But on this particular issue, they may need to think again.