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LEVELLING UP PROGRAMME

Back to Basics

How neighbourhood policing can make streets and communities safer
Callum Newton, Adam Hawksbee
February 13, 2024
Back to Basics

“Onward have focused their report on an area of policing that deserves attention – and one that I am absolutely committed to… I welcome the thinking that Onward have provoked and would encourage policing to read it carefully.”

Crime is down by two-thirds since the mid-1990s yet only half the public believe the police are doing a “good” job. Although incidents of criminal damage and robbery have fallen rapidly over the last decade the number of people who feel the Government is handling the issue of crime “well” has halved since 2020.

Statistically the public should feel safer. But they don’t. One of the main reasons is the lack of reassurance and safety stemming from visible and trusted policing in their local community. Despite the Government successfully recruiting 20,000 additional police officers, the number of officers dedicated to neighbourhood policing remains 10% lower than in 2012. Police community support officer numbers have also nearly halved (45%), while the level of special constables has plummeted by two-thirds (66%) over the same period.

The public has noticed the decline in neighbourhood policing. Only 11% of people saw a weekly footpatrol in 2022, compared to 26% in 2011. Two-fifths of people rank more police officers on the beat as their number one request to tackle local crime. Research shows that the areas with the biggest decline in local policing also see the highest level of community crime – antisocial behaviour, theft and burglary, and drug offences – which remain stubbornly high.

Onward’s Back to Basics paper, endorsed by 10 Police and Crime Commissioners (PPCs), urges the Government to launch a new Neighbourhood Policing Uplift Programme to fix local policing. The uplift would hire 19,000 new neighbourhood officers – including 3,000 police officers, 10,000 police community support officers, and 6,000 special constables – to be visibly embedded in communities and tackle local crimes.

Back to Basics also calls for PCCs and police chiefs to create new “pop up” police stations in disused high street premises to improve visibility and accessibility, roll out facial recognition technology to catch shoplifters and other criminals, and recruit neighbourhood wardens in town centres to prevent low-level crime. 

Recommendations

  1. Police and Crime Commissioners should sign up to a Neighbourhood Policing Pledge: every neighbourhood should know who their officers are, where they can meet them, and their top priorities
  2. The Government should introduce a “Neighbourhood Policing Uplift Programme” – recruiting 19,000 Police Officers, PCSOs, and Special Constables – funded by removing the PCC precept cap and introducing a ringfenced Home Office grant
  3. The Government should support the increase in PCSOs through a new recruitment incentive, modelled on the Ministry of Defence’s Early Commitment Bonus
  4. The Government should expedite the review of the Police Allocation Formula to ensure Police and Crime Commissioners have access to the right resources
  5. Chief Constables should introduce guidance to protect Neighbourhood Policing Teams from abstractions unless absolutely necessary
  6. The Government should launch a new initiative to recruit, train, and deploy neighbourhood wardens in all local communities
  7. The Government should support the conversion of disused high street and town centre premises into police stations that provide live desks and hubs for remote working by officers
  8. Chief Constables should employ facial recognition technology and create joint teams with retail businesses to tackle theft and drug offences  in town centres
  9. The Government should work with the College of Policing to establish a dedicated Neighbourhood Policing specialism taught in the training curriculum for all new officers
  10. The Government should expand the baseline powers available to PCSOs

Endorsements

Katy Bourne (Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “Crime is falling, but more work needs to be done to make communities feel safe. That means tackling crimes like antisocial behaviour and shoplifting through visible, neighbourhood policing.

“This report sets out a welcome approach to rebuilding neighbourhood police forces, and builds on successful projects I’ve pioneered in Sussex. Onward’s recommendations should be the blueprint for the next phase of police reform.”

Matthew Scott (Kent Police and Crime Commissioner) said: This report highlights the approach that we need to build trust and confidence, solve more crimes, gain intelligence and make our neighbourhoods safer.

“Whilst crime and antisocial behaviour are down, neighbourhood policing is absolutely vital, which is why I am boosting it here in Kent and making sure it delivers what residents and businesses need.

“And the emphasis placed on making the Special Constabulary a key part of this programme is really welcome.

 “Police and Crime Commissioners, Chief Constables and Ministers should therefore adopt the approach being set out by Onward.”

Donna Jones (Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “Over the last decade two notable things have occurred: neighbourhood policing teams have become smaller, and trust in policing has slowly declined as people have felt less connected to their police service. Policing is largely a numbers game – the more police officers you have, the more crime you can detect & prevent.

“This report makes clear the value of local policing. It’s key not only to sustaining safer streets, but to making people feel safer too. A return of strong, visible, local policing teams across the country will see an increase in the publics feelings of safety while crime continues to fall.”

Chris Nelson (Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“I fully endorse Onward’s analysis that we need to restore public confidence in the police by focusing on growing our neighbourhood police teams and tackling Community Crime. Onward’s comprehensive and authoritative research is impressive, compelling and fully fits with my own understanding of what is needed to make our communities safer.”

Matthew Barber (Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “In Thames Valley I have been prioritising neighbourhood policing through my Crimefighters strategy and we are seeing successes from doubling the number of neighbourhood police officers and investing in prevention. This report sets out important recommendations to help support this work locally and ensure that across the country residents can feel the benefits of strong local policing to tackle neighbourhood crime such as burglary, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour.”

Festus Akinbusoye (Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“Everything we do as PCCs should be about making the public feel safer. Balancing the need to tackle visible crimes against the growing threats of invisible crimes is something police leaders have to deal with. Whether a central government directive on local operational deployment is the solution remains unclear, but this report makes some good recommendations which should be studied carefully.”

Caroline Henry (Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This report is absolutely right about the central importance of neighbourhood policing. Crimes like antisocial behaviour and shoplifting need to be tackled through the rollout of new technology, more local officers, and better engagement with the community. Onward’s recommendations should be carefully studied.”

Jonathan Evison (Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“Neighbourhood policing matters. Only through visible, trusted local forces can we build public confidence and increase a sense of safety. This report sets out a credible and welcome path to renewing neighbourhood teams, and reflects work already underway in my area.”

David Lloyd (Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This is an important and insightful report which provides both theory and practice on how to reduce crime, and how to improve the public’s perception of safety. It will inform many police and crime plans.”

Alison Hernandez (Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This report is absolutely right to expose where forces could do better in policing to bolster public confidence.

“I have spent years sorting the finances to reopen closed police station enquiry offices and boost police officer numbers – but we have, at times, lost our ability to focus on the wider policing family.

“Ultimately, it is for local leaders held to account by voters to make the necessary reforms. So giving greater flexibility to Police and Crime Commissioners, including through the removal of the precept cap, could be a game changer.”

Recommendations

  1. Police and Crime Commissioners should sign up to a Neighbourhood Policing Pledge: every neighbourhood should know who their officers are, where they can meet them, and their top priorities
  2. The Government should introduce a “Neighbourhood Policing Uplift Programme” – recruiting 19,000 Police Officers, PCSOs, and Special Constables – funded by removing the PCC precept cap and introducing a ringfenced Home Office grant
  3. The Government should support the increase in PCSOs through a new recruitment incentive, modelled on the Ministry of Defence’s Early Commitment Bonus
  4. The Government should expedite the review of the Police Allocation Formula to ensure Police and Crime Commissioners have access to the right resources
  5. Chief Constables should introduce guidance to protect Neighbourhood Policing Teams from abstractions unless absolutely necessary
  6. The Government should launch a new initiative to recruit, train, and deploy neighbourhood wardens in all local communities
  7. The Government should support the conversion of disused high street and town centre premises into police stations that provide live desks and hubs for remote working by officers
  8. Chief Constables should employ facial recognition technology and create joint teams with retail businesses to tackle theft and drug offences  in town centres
  9. The Government should work with the College of Policing to establish a dedicated Neighbourhood Policing specialism taught in the training curriculum for all new officers
  10. The Government should expand the baseline powers available to PCSOs

Endorsements

Katy Bourne (Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “Crime is falling, but more work needs to be done to make communities feel safe. That means tackling crimes like antisocial behaviour and shoplifting through visible, neighbourhood policing.

“This report sets out a welcome approach to rebuilding neighbourhood police forces, and builds on successful projects I’ve pioneered in Sussex. Onward’s recommendations should be the blueprint for the next phase of police reform.”

Matthew Scott (Kent Police and Crime Commissioner) said: This report highlights the approach that we need to build trust and confidence, solve more crimes, gain intelligence and make our neighbourhoods safer.

“Whilst crime and antisocial behaviour are down, neighbourhood policing is absolutely vital, which is why I am boosting it here in Kent and making sure it delivers what residents and businesses need.

“And the emphasis placed on making the Special Constabulary a key part of this programme is really welcome.

 “Police and Crime Commissioners, Chief Constables and Ministers should therefore adopt the approach being set out by Onward.”

Donna Jones (Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “Over the last decade two notable things have occurred: neighbourhood policing teams have become smaller, and trust in policing has slowly declined as people have felt less connected to their police service. Policing is largely a numbers game – the more police officers you have, the more crime you can detect & prevent.

“This report makes clear the value of local policing. It’s key not only to sustaining safer streets, but to making people feel safer too. A return of strong, visible, local policing teams across the country will see an increase in the publics feelings of safety while crime continues to fall.”

Chris Nelson (Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“I fully endorse Onward’s analysis that we need to restore public confidence in the police by focusing on growing our neighbourhood police teams and tackling Community Crime. Onward’s comprehensive and authoritative research is impressive, compelling and fully fits with my own understanding of what is needed to make our communities safer.”

Matthew Barber (Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “In Thames Valley I have been prioritising neighbourhood policing through my Crimefighters strategy and we are seeing successes from doubling the number of neighbourhood police officers and investing in prevention. This report sets out important recommendations to help support this work locally and ensure that across the country residents can feel the benefits of strong local policing to tackle neighbourhood crime such as burglary, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour.”

Festus Akinbusoye (Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“Everything we do as PCCs should be about making the public feel safer. Balancing the need to tackle visible crimes against the growing threats of invisible crimes is something police leaders have to deal with. Whether a central government directive on local operational deployment is the solution remains unclear, but this report makes some good recommendations which should be studied carefully.”

Caroline Henry (Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This report is absolutely right about the central importance of neighbourhood policing. Crimes like antisocial behaviour and shoplifting need to be tackled through the rollout of new technology, more local officers, and better engagement with the community. Onward’s recommendations should be carefully studied.”

Jonathan Evison (Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner) said:
“Neighbourhood policing matters. Only through visible, trusted local forces can we build public confidence and increase a sense of safety. This report sets out a credible and welcome path to renewing neighbourhood teams, and reflects work already underway in my area.”

David Lloyd (Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This is an important and insightful report which provides both theory and practice on how to reduce crime, and how to improve the public’s perception of safety. It will inform many police and crime plans.”

Alison Hernandez (Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner) said: “This report is absolutely right to expose where forces could do better in policing to bolster public confidence.

“I have spent years sorting the finances to reopen closed police station enquiry offices and boost police officer numbers – but we have, at times, lost our ability to focus on the wider policing family.

“Ultimately, it is for local leaders held to account by voters to make the necessary reforms. So giving greater flexibility to Police and Crime Commissioners, including through the removal of the precept cap, could be a game changer.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly commented:

Under this Government violent crime and burglary are down by over a half since 2010, reoffending has fallen and the public are safer. But we need to do more to ensure people feel safer too – it is no consolation to a victim of crime to be told that crime is falling overall. Onward is spot on in recognising that visible, neighbourhood policing is key to this.

“Our Antisocial Behaviour Plan is helping drive down the crimes that blight our communities. We have secured an agreement from police to follow all reasonable lines of enquiry as the public would rightly expect, and I have been clear that officers should be focusing on core policing on the beat and visible in their areas.

“Onward have focused their report on an area of policing that deserves attention – and one that I am absolutely committed to. Whilst we may not support each and every one of their proposals, I welcome the thinking that Onward have provoked and would encourage policing to read it carefully.”


Callum Newton, Onward Senior Researcher, commented:

“Crime is falling to record levels across the country, yet many people still feel unsafe in their communities. The decline of neighbourhood policing has created a vacuum for criminals in some of Britain’s most disadvantaged areas.

“The Government cannot allow this to continue. Government and Chief Constables should work together to introduce a new Neighbourhood Policing Uplift Programme designed to combat crime, build trust and re-establish police presence on Britain’s streets.”

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