Are we ready?

First hospitals, now the Police and there are plans to give to locals direct powers over schools, libraries, leisure centres… In the 1st of a series, HF Police Superintendent discusses the importance of citizen's involvement and their lack of interest.

In the end, Libya's leader, Muammar Qaddafi, is not that wrong. He called for the abolition of the public sector on the grounds that nobody in his country knows how to run it. There are similar concerns here in the UK, but the approach is obviously different. Guess who is going to help the 2.1 million civil servants employed by Councils and the 21,000 politicians across the country to solve the public sector puzzle? Local residents.

Labour is planning to go far with the idea of empowering communities (the name used this time is "public realm"). The controversial principle of foundation hospitals would be applied to key parts of the public sector. Mutual organisations elected and controlled by the local community would run schools, libraries, parks, social services, leisure facilities and so on. The proposals are part of the new Pamphlet produced by the Fabian Society, Labour-affiliated think-tank, and are set to be at the heart of Labour third term.

A reform alike is already starting within the Police: more power to be devolved to local basic command units, devolved budgets and even directly elected police authorities is been discussed.

It was announced last week what the Home Office called "a vision of a society that enables and supports individuals to take greater control of their lives and the decision-making that shapes their communities". Mr Blunkett said: "In practice this means spreading assets across society, reforming the state and our public services so that they facilitate community involvement."

But is the community in Hammersmith ready for it? Is Hammersmith willing to have more power and, therefore, more responsibility? Do people want more elections and, therefore, more politics? In the first of series of articles and interviews, HF Partnership and Crime Reduction Superintendent, Simon Corkill, says that "the police can only succeed if local people are engaged", but there is lack of interest. Elections are not necessarily on the menu to increase locals involvement: "There must be a separation of the executive and the politics". What is needed, according to him, is a debate about a citizen's responsibility.

What are the importance and benefits of engaging the local community in the police work and decisions?
Simon Corkill - This is hugely important. The police can only succeed if local people are engaged with us. It is only through people playing their part in the criminal justice system that criminal activity can be stopped. In taking decisions about what and how we should police an understanding of local opinion is crucial.

Could more involvement help combating crime?
Simon Corkill - Definitely. I generally don't agree with the "don't get involved and leave it to the professionals". In the past we have given that impression. This area will only get safer when criminals are stopped either by the justice system or diverted from crime. Local people must get involved: talk to us, call us, give a statement and if needed attend court and give evidence.

In the case of Hammersmith, is there enough involvement of the local community or there is a need for more participation? Why?
Simon Corkill - More participation is needed because we can't make Hammersmith safer alone. How many of you have taken steps to protect your mobile phone by taking the IMIE number and property marking it. We have arrested people with what must be a stolen phone. We can't charge them if we can't find the owner. And tell your family and friends to do the same thing.

Which sectors of the community are "excluded" and why? What are the difficulties for engaging those sectors?
Simon Corkill -
There are a number of groups of which from a policing perspective. I would say young people and probably for all those reasons that parents can struggle.

Which are the mechanisms currently used to engage the local community and how, by your experience, could it be improved?
Simon Corkill - There are numerous mechanisms we use such as:
Public attitude survey
Service satisfaction survey
Attending public meetings
Answering letters
Every ward having a local beat officer…
All this could be improved.

If there is lack of interest, why do you think this happens?
Corkill -
I think there is a lack of interest. This is not unusual; you just have to look at the decline in voting. We get great community involvement when they have a crime problem and need a solution. I personally think we need a debate about a citizen's responsibility.

What is necessary for the empowerment of local police? Mr Blunkett talks about "more power to be devolved to local basic command units"? What are the "powers" needed by the Police in Hammersmith?
Simon Corkill - There is a tension between national policing priorities driven by reported crime, the media etc and local concerns and needs often around anti-social behaviour. It is the national that tends to win. The local police need to be able to respond more to local need.

And what about devolved budgets to basic command units?
Simon Corkill - We do have a level of devolved budget, which is good. By far the biggest part of the budget that is not devolved is pay. This is planned and will give us far more flexibility in how we use our resources to police.

Do you think it would be effective the idea of having police authorities elements directly elected by the local community?
Simon Corkill -
When the Mayor for London, GLA and the police authority were introduced London got a powerful voice. The police authority does have elected members on appointment from the GLA. It has made a big difference to the Met's accountability.

Wouldn't it result in more bureaucracy and therefore decline in performance?
Simon Corkill -
There certainly is more need for papers as the authority MPA is looking at the Met's effectiveness in far wider terms. I think they have a powerful voice to ask the police difficult questions, despite the bureaucracy it is a good thing.

Elections necessarily pass through politics (even more). Would it be positive for the police?
Simon Corkill -
I would be concerned about elections for police posts. There must be a separation of the executive and the politics.

Wouldn't the elections be restrict to those already active in the community (last local elections had a turn out of just a bit over of 1/4 of voters), representing the interest of a parcel of the local population?
Simon Corkill - The Home Secretary's recent Civil Renewal lecture was about this problem. It is worth a read and can be found on www.homeoffice.gov.uk (what's new).

 

Fabian Society Web site


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