Published on July 20, 2009

Every thing changes – everything remains the same

By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is the Director of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

Most museums tend to focus on the physical artefacts of the times and societies that they are portraying. It will be interesting to see if the Met Collection, a new museum which has just opened up in west London, gets beyond the way uniforms have changed and truncheons have altered in shape and size. To what extent will it explore the changing relationship between the police and the communities they serve?

At a recent seminar hosted by Involve, James Brokenshire MP (Shadow Minister for Home Affairs) highlighted the Nine Principles of policing developed by the founder of the Metropolitan Police. Two of these strike a chord for us at Involve:

Point 3 says: “Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”

And Point 7 says: 7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

The structures and methods used by the policy have changed radically – witness for example the ever expanding range of acronyms to describe the ways in which police forces work in partnership with other organisations to engage with communities; see for example CRDPs (Crime Reduction and Disorder Partnerships), CSPs (Community Safety Partnerships), LSPs (Local Strategic Partnerships) and LAAs (Local Area Agreements). However, the principle that the community has a role to play in fighting crime has remained a constant.

In these harsh financial times, it will be interesting to see whether police forces are able to demonstrate how community engagement contributes to community safety and falling crime rates; or will engagement be one of the first things to go as budgets get cut? Our research tells us that when it is done well, community participation in decision-making and problem solving makes for more effective decisions. We would argue therefore that a smarter look at the way authorities engage with communities is needed.

The current financial crisis offers the opportunity to focus on those engagement activities which are most efficient while cutting those that are merely box ticking to meet a central government target. Hopefully this opportunity will be grasped, because Peel’s principles remain as relevant as ever.

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