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  • Chioma Wuche

The importance of involving communities in the future Neighbourhood Policing

Safety is a crucial element of thriving community life. People need to feel like they can get involved in what their area has to offer without risk of harm or crime. Police are an important actor in making our areas safe places to live. However, there has been much discussion lately of differential policing in communities, with not all communities being treated the same. We recently attended the ‘Differential Policing’? Protest, politics and partnerships’ event which spoke about these differences in how community demonstrations and protests are policed. And more notably of course, The Casey Review of the Metropolitan Police in 2023, highlighted a culture of differential treatment with reports of misogyny, racism, homophobia within the Met. 


 

Community policing suggests a potential avenue to help bridge this differential approach, getting to know and understand communities more deeply. However, the Casey Review also noted that London’s voice is missing in policing due to the loss of neighbourhood policing and the “de-prioritisation and de-specialisation’’ of public protection. 


The Met acknowledges the value of community policing as emphasised in the New Met for London plan which has been shaped by the findings of the Casey report. A key priority for the police is putting the community at the heart of reform by putting more resources into local policing through Safest Ever Neighbourhoods initiatives and improved community policing models. 


At Neighbourly Lab, we are passionate about community policing and communities working well with police. Good community policing is vital for better understanding residents priorities and in turn, delivering and responding accordingly to these priorities; helping residents to feel safe and able to participate in their local place. This is why we recently worked with the London Borough of Waltham Forest to explore residents' experiences of crime, safety and policing in the borough. Findings from this research will inform the Citizens' Assembly on The Future of Neighbourhood Policing. The assembly will co-design a meaningful model for how communities want to be policed and engaged, and how they will hold the police to account. 



 

What we did and what we learned

We recruited from a very diverse group of residents who had low trust or a poor experience with the police and victims/survivors of crime. The people we spoke to included members of the LGBT+ community, young people and their parents and grandparents, men and women from various cultural backgrounds, and people with disabilities. Through a series of mini groups and in depth interviews we uncovered interesting insights into crime and safety issues in the borough. 


Some highlights: 


  • Crime is a key concern for people with knife crime being perceived the most salient threat for people due to previous high profile incidents locally 

  • Many people had experienced ASB or a crime locally which was compounded by widespread social media coverage. This in turn plays a role in contributing to people's fears but also normalising the experience of crime.

  • Residents acknowledge that policing is an important role in the community that can be challenging. However, people feel that the police can do more to support victims throughout the reporting process, and do more to understand the different community groups through genuine engagement work. 

  • Residents advocate for more community policing and increased police presence locally. They want to have confidence in the police and feel that their concerns are heard.

  • Stop and Search evokes mixed views: many feel it is important for stopping knife crime but it is believed to be done in a discriminatory way, targeting young black men in particular or young people from diverse backgrounds.


 

However, we found that amidst the challenges, residents expressed a desire for positive changes in policing. Their recommendations can be categorised into three key themes:


  • Be in the community: Be present and seen in communities 

  • Understand the community: Make efforts to get to know and understand local communities. Residents spoke about the rich diversity that exists within Waltham Forest and policing needs to reflect this. 

  • Be for the community: More support for those who have been victims of crime and also taking a community centric approach to tackling crime locally.


What does this mean for the police? 


Communities want opportunities for their voices to be heard and their concerns listened to in how they are policed. This is a hopeful message and presents an opportunity for the police to work differently with communities to build relationships, restore trust and confidence. We propose that community policing is a cornerstone of the success of this kind of change. There is also a shift towards improving neighbourhood policing models to tackle problems better. 


Hazel Blears, Former Policing Minister and Communities Secretary spoke at the ‘Differential Policing’? Protest, politics and partnerships’ talk, highlighting that neighbourhood and community policing are crucial to build relationships, understanding and to create a sense of community. She argued the value of ensuring investment and resource is maintained in community policing to create long-term positive change. 


At Neighbourly Lab, we will continue to advocate for the power of community voice in helping to strengthen community policing and are keen to continue this dialogue and work with interested partners. Reach out to us at hello@neighbourlylab.com to learn more about how we might work together to improve how Police and residents work towards creating safe communities. 


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