Thursday, November 30, 2006

Car vs Foot

This is probably one of the aspects of policing that everyone will have an opinion on, yet I am surprised to look around the blog list to the left (which is ever increasing!) to see no other posts on it.
It is the simple issue of whether it is better for police to be out on foot or in cars.

From a response point of view, having officers in cars is much more advantageous. There is the simple fact you can between two points a lot quicker. We are an emergency service, and if a 999 call goes out in a village 4 miles away from local urban centre, the pair on foot patrol in said urban centre are going to be completely useless. Often, (but not always, and thats a different story) there is a need for the blue lights and sirens. Was monitoring the radio last few days and heard one of the calls that always gets adrenaline through the roof- "Callers ex is outside the location making threats- caller states male attacking door, can police come quickly- caller states male is inside location- line has gone dead". For that reason, we always have to have cars to get places quickly. The issue of policing driving is quite different, something I feel quite strongly about, more on that another time.

But I am aware, as I am as guilty as anyone, that once inside your nice little metal box you are insulated from the rest of the world and you don't get out and talk to people, and people find it harder to approach you. An example from two of my folks who were out in a touristy part of town the other day- at one point, they actually had a queue of people who wanted to speak to them. Wouldn't get that in a car.

But to peruse the media, the clamour is for officers walking the beat. From my point of view as a response team supervisor (or at least, when I was), my priority will be to crew the cars first, as that is what provides a better emergency service. If I have sufficient officers, then I will post people walking. However, as we are so short of numbers, I can't actually recall a time when I had sufficient numbers to fill all the cars (and we only have 7 for our area, and at least one is invariably broken).

It is because of this that the government introduced firstly PCSO's and then neighbourhood policing teams. PCSO's are always out walking (unless the Health & Safety merchants get you) and are supposed to be out and about meeting people, building relationships etc. The principle behind this I am fully behind. However, it should be a police officers job. The government in its wisdom created a situation where response teams are thin on the ground and constantly dealing with things that take hours to deal with, so any time they are out and about they are going to jobs or enquiries relating to other jobs, and not "free" time to build relationships with the locals. Instead of tackling this situation, the government introduces PCSO's, who can't report or investigate crime. However, realising that the public aren't quite fooled by this the government introduces NPT's (aka SNT's, Safer Neighbourhood Teams) where police officers (taken from response team) are ordered that they too are now not to investigate or report crime so they can spend time out and about meeting people.

Meanwhile, response teams have had bugger all investment and a third of the team has been abstracted to populate NPT's.

It is my belief that the police are primarily an emergency service, but the government in its drive for vote winning initiatives have sacrificed this. If all the investment that has gone into PCSO's and NPT's went into response team, the vast increase in numbers and resources would mean 1) I'd have enough people to be able post walkers out and about and 2) the workload can be shared out meaning the officers have more "free" time to get out and meet people, to build back the relationships.

So the original question: car vs foot. The answer is both. I dream of a time when I have enough officers to post them in a car for a month, and then on foot for a month. The "emergency" side of policing should not be incompatible with the "community" side.

But at the moment, we have the situation where a division between the two is actively encouraged. And the blame for that lies squarely with the House of Commons.