Headlines: May 12th, 2004

A cultural change resulting in significant community engagement is one of the vital changes needed to modernize and reform the police service. A recent public opinion survey showed that 79% of respondents thought that the police in their area should find better ways of finding out what local people think, and 67% said they should have more say in how their local police served them. Home Secretary David Blunkett has called on chief police officers and chairs of police authorities to do their bit by encouraging leadership across the service at all levels, driving through cultural change.People closest to the problems in their own neighbourhoods and areas have the best ideas about how they can be addressed. They should have a genuine opportunity to help shape and to be a part of the solutions. The Home Office is consulting on how this might best be achieved and the ideas will be incorporated in the second phase of the police reform plan to be published later in the year.

The aim is to empowering local people to use information and networks to engage with their local police. Much information is already available, but it is not readily accessible. The public should be able to use performance information, crime and other data to better engage with and hold to account those responsible for community safety in their areas. People would then be able to challenge those who might claim that improvements in tackling crime in their areas could not be done. This might be through local people, having reliable data, questioning their local police leaders in community meetings about performance. Alternatively, it might be through the local media accurately informing people about the picture of crime in the area. Better information will also help councils give effect to their overview and scrutiny role in relation to the range of functions that affect the lives of local people.

Another important element of community engagement is that people should know who their local police are – who their beat officer is and who is in charge locally, what is being done to tackle crime in neighbourhoods and how well the force is doing it. And they should know who is ultimately in charge – who their chief constable is and who chairs their police authority. The public should also be clearer about who else locally is responsible for helping reduce crime and improving the quality of life in communities – and how they are performing.