Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
I can’t remember any previous time when police officers have said that quite as often as they have over the last year.
I’m referring, of course, to how they have felt as the public reacted to the enforcement of the restrictions intended to halt the spread of coronavirus.
It has not been made any easier by the continuous changes in those restrictions and the different rules applying in the different nations. My wife said to me the other evening after listening to the six o-clock news – while doing something else – ‘Were those rules for us or for Scotland?’ They were for Wales. But that has been part of the problem all along. The four nations have not marched in step and unless we pay attention, we only half hear, and half-hearing, half-remember.
The police, however, have to get it right.
In two senses.
They have to know the law – what is legally enforceable and what is ‘guidance’ or good advice. But they also have to use judgement around enforcement. For instance, when can people be spoken to so that an incipient gathering can be nipped in the bud and people dispersed; or when does there have to be a swifter and heavier enforcement – because people are knowingly reckless and putting others at risk.
There is no escape from judgements of this kind. But this is where the public will have a view, especially an instant view on social media: someone will find the police either too lenient or too harsh. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
On the whole, I think South Yorkshire Police have handled matters thus far as well as we could reasonably expect. Decisions have been well judged and I thank them for that. But the time when we come out of the lock-downs and restrictions are eased significantly may prove as challenging as anything that came before.
We can expect more damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
As PCC I have learnt a lot of police speak.
Among the latest is ‘problem solving policing’ (PSP). Or, a better term in my view, ‘problem orientated policing’. (POP) You don’t always ‘solve’ a problem, but you may mitigate it or improve on it.
Problem solving policing is something that all South Yorkshire officers are now trained in – and it’s very important. It’s a recognition that if we are to reduce or do away with crime and anti-social behaviour, we are never going to do it by police action alone. PSP teaches police officers to see crime and anti-social behaviour in its wider context and ask questions about causes and so cures. When you do that, you realise that solving or mitigating the problem might involve others and not just the police.
There is nothing new about this approach, of course. Some years ago I brought together a group of local residents to do just this as we thought about our community and how it could be improved. We began by thinking about what was good and what was bad about the place. To help our thinking we did a little exercise, writing down on a flip chart ten good and ten bad things about our neighbourhood. We called this, ‘Ten for sorrow, ten for joy’. The speed with which we came up with the relevant ten spoke volumes about whether we felt this was a relatively good or bad place to live. Then we thought about what we needed to do to strengthen the good and remove the bad and how we could bring this about.
Problem solving policing follows a similar process. It requires officers to take these steps:
- Identify a specific problem – such as anti-social behaviour (ASB) by young people at a local shopping centre, or house burglaries in a particular group of streets
- Analyse the problem – using local intelligence and police data to ask questions: such as, what are we seeing happen and why here?
- Formulate a specific, bespoke response – which may need others to be involved, such as the local authority – how can we prevent or mitigate this?
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the response and learn from it – what worked and what didn’t?
This is the way South Yorkshire Police approach crime and ASB. Yes, they have to respond to incidents as and when they happen. But they are also being more than just reactive. If we are to drive down crime and ASB we also need to think our way to solutions that are more preventive and get to the roots of why things happen in the first place and how we can make changes for the better; and that involves working with other partners and residents. We need problem solving policing.
Making things clear …
From time to time the police send me reports that do lapse into police jargon. But I don’t think they ever reach the standard of obscurity set by the sculptor Antony Gormley – the man who gave us the iron figures on the beach at Crosby and the Angel of the North. He explained a work of art he was loaning to Wells Cathedral like this:
“I have used the orthogonal geometry of our modern habitat to evoke the body as a place rather than as a carrier of narrative illustrated by appearance and attribute.”
I will never complain about police speak again.
I hope you are staying safe and well.
If you want to know more about policing and crime in your neighbourhood you may be interested in signing up for SYP Alerts – a messaging system that keeps you informed of police activity and crime in your local area. You can choose to receive news and appeals, local crime information and/or prevention advice direct to you by email, text or voice mail.
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For more information and to sign up, visit the South Yorkshire Police website.