Tuesday, 3 June 2014

No more chasing targets Police tell PACT meeting

It’s a little before seven o’clock on a Monday evening and I’m sitting in a lecture theatre at the Medical Institute in Hartshill waiting for this month’s PACT meeting to start. The surroundings are a little cramped with walls painted in a suitably clinical shade of white, for a wet night the crowd is surprisingly good.

PACT meetings bring together residents associations, the police, the council and other groups to discuss issues relating to a specific area. The meeting I attended covered the Penkhull, Hartshill and Basford areas.

The speakers included Inspector Ian Hancock of Staffordshire Police and Simon Anderson Chief Officer of the Staffordshire Police Special Constabulary. Also speaking were Christine Wilshaw and Cheryl Harding of Staffordshire Victim Support giving an overview of the service the charity delivers locally and promoting its open day taking place at Winton House in Shelton on 16th June.

Speaking about the performance of Staffordshire Police over the past year Inspector Hancock said the force had ‘moved away’ from chasing targets and instead adopted three clear objectives, preventing crime, providing outstanding service and dealing with what matters to communities.

This more straightforward regime had led to reductions in burglaries and vehicle crime and a rise in reporting of violent and sexual crimes, with a rise in the latter area in the reporting of historic crimes due to media coverage of the issue.

The force was, he said, implementing a ‘robust’ reporting and follow up system and working hard to identify crime hotspots, they were also mounting ‘high visibility’ patrols to reassure the public in areas identified. They were also refining their systems for deploying officers and working with the council, the NHS and other services to reduce crime.

As a result, said Inspector Hancock, people in Staffordshire are amongst the most satisfied with the service they receive from the police in the country.

In his open necked shirt and designer glasses Inspector Hancock was the very figure of the modern senior police officer, peppering his speech with management speak and projecting an image of approachable competence. The policies he was describing though seemed to be rooted in a desire to make the police more responsive to public concerns.

Chief Officer Anderson cut a different and more traditional figure, all epaulettes and a starched white shirt worn with a tie and a peaked cap placed neatly on the lectern as he spoke. If the previous speaker had, probably subconsciously, been projecting an image not dissimilar to that of the CEO of an internet start-up, this one resembled nothing so much as a house master at a minor public school.

He gave, using a suitably traditional power-point presentation, a brief overview of the role of the special constabulary in Staffordshire. This challenged the inaccurate public perception of the specials as at best ‘hobby Bobbies’ and at worst an anachronism, highlighting the extent to which they are fully integrated into every part of the policing role.

He also stressed the important role specials play in engaging with the public, after all as volunteers they often live in the communities they police. This would seem to be an ideal solution to providing the high visibility local policing the public desire without incurring extra costs at a time when budgets are tight.

PACT meetings are a rare example of how the police, the council and other agencies can engage with the public effectively, mostly because they are controlled by the community and respond to the priorities they have identified. The high quality of speakers attending this and other such meetings suggest that slowly, very slowly in many cases, the message that connecting with the community matters is getting through.

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