A changing beat: policing in an age of shifting demand

6 March 2012

Reform roundtable seminar introduced by Sir Norman Bettison QPM, Chief Constable, West Yorkshire Police, on Tuesday 6 March.

Since the Royal Commission in 1962, and the subsequent 1964 Police Act, the structures, ethos and governance of policing in England and Wales has not fundamentally changed. Yet in 2012, the nature and demands of policing are radically different to half a century ago – communication networks are no longer regional but global; public expectations of, and demands on, the police have increased exponentially; and the policing mission now encompasses increasingly numerous and complex threats, from fraud to terrorism to family breakdown.

A Reform roundtable seminar, led by Sir Norman Bettison QPM, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, set out to discuss policing in an age of shifting demand, and how forces can best equip themselves to meet current and future challenges. The event was held under the Chatham House Rule.

At the heart of the discussion was the question of what exactly the police are for. What was clear was that however the landscape of policing changes, local and neighbourhood priorities will remain at the heart of what the police do. The public’s concerns overwhelmingly focus on what happens 100 yards from their front door. This means adhering to the Peelian principle that “the police are the public, and the public are the police” and developing solutions with, not just for, communities.

If police forces are to meet the challenges of tomorrow without the budgets of today, salami-slicing will not be enough – the way in which policing is done will have to change dramatically. Here we can invoke another Peelian principle: “the basic mission of the police is to prevent crime and disorder”. The work of troubled families teams, delivering effective multi-agency working, and the increasingly preventative focus of Fire and Rescue Services, both offer important lessons.. If police forces are to meet the ever-increasing and shifting burden of demand, they must look to not just react to it, but to reduce it through earlier intervention, better partnership working and upstream investment.

All of this calls for innovation. Green shoots are emerging. Already a number of Chief Constables are merging functions across force boundaries. Others, such as Hampshire and West Yorkshire, are working with other public agencies both within and outside the criminal justice system to deliver shared solutions. Others still, including Surrey, West Midlands and Lincolnshire, are partnering with the private sector to enable them to focus on core policing priorities. The challenge will be to spread good practice across this emerging patchwork quilt and realise systemic, not just local, gains.




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