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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Working with the Police

Last week I attended my local PACT (Police and Communities Together) meeting at which community police officers are able to get feedback from those they serve and set their priorities for the month ahead.

These meetings take place every month and I always make an effort to attend. They are an invaluable opportunity to make contact with officers and to talk through some of the problems my neighbours and I encounter every day.

At the last meeting about a dozen residents struggled through the snow to raise their concerns and to ask the Inspector questions about the number of Police Officers and PCSOs he was deploying in the area as well as raising a whole host of issues to do with anti-social behaviour and parking.

In my view these meetings should be one tool in the Police's armoury, providing useful feedback and interaction with those they are paid to protect. However, I have concerns at the way they seem to dominate the Police's work.

The one thing that these meetings cannot do is to provide strategic direction to the Police force. They feed into their strategy but they cannot replace the proper analysis of trends that allows senior management to deploy their resources effectively.

The meetings are a part of local policing, but we are only allowed to set three priorities and sometimes there are more issues than that. Do the ones that have not been prioritised get overlooked?

What irritates me is that whenever I write to the Chief Superintendent or one of his management team the letter is always postcripted with a request that I should encourage my constituent to engage with the PACT meetings 'so that such issues may be prioritised in context'. I had one such letter today.

Well of course I always encourage my constituents to go to these meetings but if they do not wish to do so then that is their right. They should not be treated as second class because they are unwilling or unable to tramp through the snow on the evening of the first Monday of February to attend a meeting in a draughty hall nor should their problems be any less of a priority for the police than others especially when the issue fits in with the force's strategic goals. And what if they go and their problem is perceived as less important than others? They are then in the same boat, a second class citizen not getting the service they deserve from the Police force.

I very much want these meetings to continue. They provide a useful engagement with the various agencies concerned. But they must be treated for what they are, one input amongst many others.

PACT meetings must not be used to exclude people from having their policing needs met nor should they be the only determinant of the priorities of hard-working and dedicated local officers, assuming that we have enough to deliver a decent service in the first place. Everybody deserves to have their say, whether they can get to meetings or not and the Police should make allowances for that.
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