What are the Police for? Episode 2 – Review

Mark Easton’s second instalment focused on the relationship between the police and the public. Popular approaches to policing range from that in the Sweeney and that in Dixon of Dock Green. Easton’s question is: what police do citizens want, policing based on enforcement or consent?

Helping people be responsible

As crime rose in the post-war years, police forces found themselves responding to events rather than preventing them. The 1990s saw a fall in crime but no fall in the perception of crime. To combat this, 2002 saw a return to the values of Dixon of Dock Green. Thames Valley received a new chief constable concerned about the obsession with crime rates.

Now, Inspector Coleen Lavery tells Easton that they don’t bring people in to the criminal justice system unless they have to. They see their role as helping some people to have the responsibility that others are able to. This seems in contrast to Theresa May’s comments on the matter.

Residents demand focus on ASB

PCSOs were introduced that year, and Easton sees how important their attention to low-level anti-social behaviour, parking, dog control and mess, and litter is to local residents in Stony Stratford. These priorities might seem strange. But it is what residents demand as most important to their standard of living.

Officers are also encouraged to mingle with the community. The turn up to all our meetings, says one resident. The public understand the value of the presence of police on their streets, even if some commentators don’t, notes Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary Sir Dennis O’Connor. Easton hails this all as a return to the values of Robert Peel.

Can we sustain this while cuts have to be made? Thames Valley Chief Constable Sarah Thornton makes it clear that they will not being cutting any on-the-street presence. It won’t be the same in every constabulary.

Reality and perception of crime at odds

But there’s a paradox now. People are likely to think that crime is high and rising (it’s not). At the same time, confidence and trust in the police is up on what it was before the new focus. One thing Easton doesn’t take up is the reason for the discrepancy between reality of crime and perception.

What role does the media and rolling news in particular, play in the public’s perception crime as high and rising even as it is low and falling?

A major question that this programme threw up is about elected police commissioners. Thames Valley constabulary is a diverse area of 2.3m people. Can all of these possibly be served by one “political” commissioner?

GordonWasserman, a Conservative life peer and a government adviser on policing and criminal justice, claims that ignoring any of them would be exposed causing the commissioner to be removed. But this relies on an active community and righteous media. I’m not as convinced as Baron Wasserman is.

@onthebeat101 will be live tweeting and reviewing the third and final episode on 13/02/12.