North Wales are running a ‘Balance Your Bobbies’ website for well-over a year, so I’m disappointed I only found out about it last week, because it looks like a really interesting site.
It’s similar to the ‘You Choose’ budget simulator that several councils are using to involve residents in budget decisions, but instead asks people to balance police resources between various neighbourhood priorities.
It does lack some of the finesse of the You Choose model, it doesn’t, for example, attempt to suggest any of the consequences of decisions: for example dedicating a team to ASB might help remove much of it and give highly visible results, but dedicating a team to burglary wouldn’t, most people aren’t aware of burglaries even nearby and only when someone is caught in the act do we know that a specific burglary has been prevented.
However, it does start to introduce residents to the concept of prioritisation for the police – every day the police have to make operational decisions on what they are doing. If you look at trends locally, you can detect the impact some operations have, which aren’t always positive: if you focus on reducing one crime it may mean that other crimes start to creep up. At the neighbourhood level, when you ask your police team to tackle one problem, it means there are lots and lots of things they aren’t tackling.
In London, there is a particular issue since the model of neighbourhood policing is going to change. Instead of the model of each ward having about the same size of team (one sergeant, two constables, three PCSOs) they are being rebalanced according to need. In effect, areas with relatively few problems will lose officers to those areas with more problems. Frankly, the standard size model, a consequence of the rapid introduction of Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) in London, was never sustainable.
I have been criticised in the past for saying it – but stick by my belief – that it’s impossible to justify dedicating the same level of policing to an area with the top priority of cycling on pavements as to an area concerned with anti-social behaviour problems associated with drink and drugs.
We’re going through the end of our strategic assessment process, and one of the strongest criticisms of it has not been the priorities we’ve suggested, but that we didn’t involve residents at an earlier stage. And we didn’t. That’s something we need to improve.
Even if it’s not perfect, Balance Your Bobbies starts a process of getting people thinking about the issues they face and how to tackle them. Taken a little further, it could start educating both those involved in policing about what the public wants, but also educating the public about the broader strategic priorities and how their decisions – with their SNTs – can feed into them.
It would be fascinating to see how something similar would work in Wandsworth. What would you want your SNT concentrating on? But, perhaps more importantly, what wouldn’t you mind them ignoring?