Getting the balance right

The General Election started off as the Brexit election. It ended, in part, as the security election as a result of two terrorist attacks in Manchester and London within a couple of weeks of one another. Suddenly there was a focus on policing, keeping people safe and how much we spend on security and the police.

One consequence of the terrorist outrages was the raising of the threat level to critical and the appearance on our streets of large numbers of uniformed officers, many in high visibility jackets and some carrying firearms.

It’s always a careful judgement that Chief Constables have to make about deploying armed officers. Will they reassure people? Or will they cause fear and alarm?

As far as I could judge, the majority view was that it was re-assuring. Far from being frightened, many took advantage of seeing so many police. They went up to them and thanked them for what they do. A lot of photographs were taken!

But we will all need to think more carefully about how the terrorist threat can be overcome and what the right policing response to it must be. Two things seem clear.

We have to get even better at gathering intelligence before crimes are committed if we are going to prevent them. In part that has to involve restoring and strengthening neighbourhood policing teams which have suffered during the years of austerity. People will give information to those they know and trust, and that means having officers and Police Community Support Officers who become familiar figures in their communities.

But second, we also have to understand that the police service needs staff who know how modern technology works. People who plan terror attacks use computers and mobile phones that need interrogating. Much of this is the unseen work of men and women in offices rather than on the streets. In the past, some of these types of job have been vulnerable because unlike police officers, who cannot be made redundant, civilian staff can.

So it’s not just about more bobbies on the beat – though we would all like to see that. It’s also about getting the right mix of skills in the workforce.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out of the election from a policing perspective was that none of the political parties thought it was a good idea to cut police numbers any more.