This year, Gloucestershire Constabulary is offering a new approach to neighbourhood policing, working with communities to deliver the needs they identify and provide a more consistent service across the county.
Changes introduced by the Force will make local policing accessible again by providing a dedicated, named PCSO in every neighbourhood so that everyone knows who their local officer is and how to contact them.
The 55 dedicated PCSOs will be the first point of contact for local concerns, but they will also be working as part of a bigger team protecting the local and wider communities.
I have felt for some time that neighbourhood policing has been allowed to slide down the list of police priorities, a view borne out by what people have told me. And whilst there may be perfectly understandable reasons for that – austerity and concentration on threat, risk and harm among them - in holding the Constabulary to account, I have always stressed the need for strong links with our communities. It was an important strand of my re-election campaign and is fundamental to my Police and Crime Plan.
Changes since the last re-organisation mean that as well as dedicated PCSOs, each neighbourhood team will include police constables and sergeants. They will work, sometimes behind the scenes, on a wide range of issues such as Dangerous Drugs Networks, tracking down paedophiles and the organised crime groups which are targeting our rural communities. They in turn will be supported by other specialist teams including those looking after vulnerable children, investigating major crimes and firearms officers.
As the media has picked-up on neighbourhood policing as an issue, I have been asked how we can do this at a time when many forces are compelled to make cuts in this area. It is thanks to the work done in previous years by my office and chief finance officer in particular and the commitment of the chief constable that we are able to invest instead.
Even so, there is no doubt that Central Government cuts of around £30m since 2010 have had a detrimental effect on neighbourhood policing in Gloucestershire. As a result, council tax payers are being asked to contribute more so it can be restored to a level in which they have confidence.
Engaging with the communities they serve is absolutely crucial if the police are to achieve their number one task of protecting the public. The bond between police and public is what makes policing in the UK truly distinctive. And whilst there is no doubt seven years of austerity has undermined that relationship, the Chief Constable and I agree that policing begins and ends in a neighbourhood. It is where we keep people safe and, more importantly, it is where the public expect us to be.
But those 55 PCSOs will not be patrolling without a purpose. They will be expected to know their neighbourhood. That means being at the school gate to talk to parents; going into care homes and sheltered houses to talk to residents about the issues that are concerning them; attending the events that matter; and it means listening to what people are saying.
It also means the Chief Constable can re-shape his neighbourhood policing operation, recruit 16 new officers to work more closely in urban and rural communities and in schools and aim to tackle the expanding workload in child protection and child sexual exploitation. He can provide officers with body worn videos which, with fewer police on the streets, is very important not only for gathering evidence but also to protect officers and help keep them safe in potentially dangerous situations.
One of the aims of my Police and Crime Plan is to make sure that Gloucestershire Constabulary provides the very best service it can every time and work has begun to ensure this relates to the neighbourhood policing offer.
With that in mind, I have again set aside 1% of the Constabulary budget to fund the public’s ideas for reducing crime and anti-social behaviour on their doorstep.
I have always advocated that people who recognise there are problems within their own communities often know best how to deal with them. That is why I have consistently set aside 1% of the police budget to help finance local projects. It is an approach that is unique to Gloucestershire and I am proud that to date the Commissioner’s Fund has supported more than 400 local initiatives.
The media likes to refer to ‘Bobbies on the beat’ but I believe that is an outdated image based on nostalgia. Our ambition is to provide a more resourceful neighbourhood policing service within the limitations of our budget of which the public and those who serve can be proud.