The expert citizen

Reform publishes new research on the future of police reform.

The research argues that the police service can successfully cope with further cuts in budgets if it mobilises the active support of “expert citizens” and recommends “an entirely different way of working” for the police which sees the public as assets in the fight against crime. It also recommends that police forces use private sector expertise to rebuild public confidence in policing.

The research identifies expert citizens as people that not only keep themselves and their property safe but also work closely with local officers. Greater use of window locks and car alarms, for example, is a key reason for falls in burglary and vehicle crime. The report warns that relatively few citizens pay full attention to their personal safety or online security. While citizens are now able to understand crime in their neighbourhood through crime maps and contribute to local policing priorities, many still do not do so.

The authors say that neighbourhood policing is failing to reach those most in need of help, with the most affluent households four times more likely to join a Neighbourhood Watch than those in the most deprived areas. Traditional beat meetings in police stations and town halls, while well-intentioned, attracted only 3 per cent of the public in recent years. Instead the police should meet citizens in convenient locations such as mother-and-child meetings and places of worship. Online reporting through apps such as Self Evident can increase public confidence while reducing both cost and demand on the 999 emergency number.

The research warns that this new model of policing cannot be delivered unless public trust and confidence in police is transformed. High profile scandals have damaged public confidence, as the Home Secretary recently argued. Just as important, the report argues, are problems in day-to-day interaction between police and people. Only 65 per cent of citizens consider that the police treat them fairly and only 60 per cent think that policing priorities reflect local concerns.

The authors argue that private sector consumer relations experts can help the police develop a culture of customer service. The police should introduce a version of the NHS friends and family test to enable citizens assisting the police, victims and witnesses to give feedback on performance, which is then published. Collaboration between the police and the private sector can work to “design out” crime before it occurs.

Key figures in the report include:

  • 75 per cent of primary vehicles have car alarms on latest figures, compared to 23 per cent in 1991.
  • The use of window locks increased from 68 per cent of households in 1995 to 88 per cent in 2012-13.
  • Only 45 per cent of people use the most up-to-date online security software.
  • In the 2011-12 Crime Survey, only 3 per cent of citizens reported attending beat meetings.
  • Only 65 per cent of citizens consider that the police treat them fairly and 60 per cent think that policing priorities reflect local concerns.