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Lib Dem Crime and Policing Policy – United Against Crime – a blueprint for rebuilding the Police Service

October 4, 2019 3:00 PM

United Against Crime - the Liberal Democrats Crime and Policing Policy

A Partnership Approach to building Communities that are Safe and Feel Safe

By GARY KITCHING - October 4th 2019 Gary Kitching (East Suffolk Lib Dems)

After 9 years of Conservative Government our public services are failing. Effective public services are critical for communities to grow and prosper. They are essential part of the community partnership that will support an environment where people are well educated, properly supported and are safe and feel safe. Within this partnership a key player is Police Service whose primary missions are the promotion of community safety and protecting the vulnerable.

The Police Service, along with all other public services, has suffered severe financial cuts and as result, like all the other public services, the quality of service that it has been able to deliver has diminished. It has withdrawn from the communities that it serves and become reactive to events. The critical building block of an effective service, community policing, has been abandoned with the result that demand has increased and the police now spend more time responding to events rather than preventing crime and protecting the vulnerable. This reactive spiral has been exacerbated by the diminishing services delivered by key public sector partners such as youth, social and mental health services, resulting in the police workload increasing to address the problems created by this gap in community care and provision. Finally, this whole situation has been made worse by a Government that has been hostile to the public services and the philosophy that underpins them.

The result of the Government's approach to policing is increased crime, increased vulnerability and an increasing fear of crime. There has been a parallel impact on the police family with officers and staff feeling undervalued, frustrated that they cannot deliver an effective service and feeling vulnerable themselves.

The recently agreed Lib Dem Crime and Policing Policy - United Against Crime - is a blueprint for rebuilding the Police Service so that it can deliver its part in the mission to promote communities that are safe and feel safe.

Key to the policy is rebuilding the service from the ground upwards. The foundations of an effective service are based in community policing. Officers in the community are best placed to identify emerging problems and deal with them early. Often this work is done in partnership with other local agencies. The physical presence of police officers provides a point of accessibility to the service and reassurance. By developing community networks, they are also a valuable source of intelligence for both the police and their partners. When seeking solutions to emerging issues of crime and disorder it is very important that we recognise what works - numerous studies have identified that having police officers embedded in communities promotes safety and feelings of safety - it works!

Not just community police officers but the whole policing family must be sensitive to diverse nature of our communities. The police serve all our communities. It follows that police policies, training and practice must be sensitive to the needs of all these communities. Building relationships, engaging in genuine dialogue and ensuring that tactics such as stop and search are not disproportionate or oppressive are critical elements in ensuring effective community safety. This approach underpins our Crime and Policing Policy.

The policy also recognises the need to have an effective response to national and international organised crime. It recognises the need to better address web-based crime from bullying to high end fraud. Part of the response includes the formation of a national agency to fight these crimes. Underpinning this work will be maximising the use of emerging technology but this has to be balanced with protecting civil liberties.

In parallel with community policing the policy calls for the rebuilding of key community services. Youth provision in its widest sense is a critical element in this. County Lines and the youth violence experienced in many communities are symptoms of a failure of wider social provision and will not be addressed by the police alone. It is absolutely critical that all young people are provided with good education, appropriate social support and opportunity. Combine poverty, lack of opportunity and school exclusions and you have a toxic mix that is biting into many of our communities. The litmus test of government failure is an environment where role models are rich drugs dealers and the fear of violence fills young people's waking hours. This has to be turned around and the Lib Dem policy explicitly recognises the need to treat youth violence as a public health issue which requires significant investment.

Protecting vulnerable people is at the heart of police work. A huge amount of time is spent ensuring the well being of people suffering from mental illness. It is recognised that police officers will often be the first on the scene when vulnerable people come to notice. However, the police are not the best qualified people to care for people suffering from mental illness and there must be provision for a swift handover to qualified health professionals. The Lib Dem Crime and Policing calls for qualified mental health nurses in the police control rooms to provide expert advice to officers attending incidents and the swift handover vulnerable people suffering from mental health problems to qualified practitioners.

Increasing the funding for the service is only one element of rebuilding policing. Senior officers and their teams must be held accountable for delivering effective policing. However, the Government must show its support for the Police Service through its language and actions. Ensuring that the recruitment and support that serving offices receive reflects the challenges facing the police is very important. Police officers, as with all those in the emergency services, are faced with dynamic challenges every day that can have a significant impact on their mental well-being. This must be recognised and the appropriate support put in place. Police leadership needs to be progressive, open to change and sensitive to the diverse nature of our society. However, it must be borne in mind that the Government will set the tenor of that leadership style in its own relationship with the Police Service.

To sum up, the Lib Dem Crime and Policing Policy recognises that building communities where people are safe and feel safe cannot be achieved by the police alone. It acknowledges both the need to rebuild our Police Service and ensure that its key public sector partners are properly resourced.

Gary Kitching is a member of the East Suffolk Party, was a senior police officer and member of the Lib Dem Crime and Policing Working Group.

The policy was agreed at the September Autumn Conference in Bournemouth and the consultation papers can be found by going to Libdems.org.uk and going to policy papers archive.

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