The real but unpopular truth about policing

Policing in Northern Ireland has been a ‘difficult’ subject for a long time, but there are few hard and fast answers about this subject not just here but globally. Studies tend to defy the scientific method, and what might work in one area may not work half a mile up the road for a variety of reasons. In the past couple of days, we have seen here the emotive side of crime on our streets with a spate of burglaries on older people. There is of course the ‘Nolan Approach’ which is not only a cop on every street but at least 2 cops on guard at all times if you are over 70. Such hysterical approaches may work well with the crowds, but there is overwhelming evidence that this clamour for visible policing simply is not effective and doesn’t work. Sir Hugh Orde, late of this parish, made a brave stab at the reality of policing solutions yesterday, but his comments seem to have made little impact. When we think about crime, we seem to think of it on a local or personal level and imagine the kind of crime that has a direct impact on our lives. In many ways, it’s why the hysteria is easy to feed into and off of. We can easily be made to fear that which we may be the next victim of or be convinced that we may b a potential victim of. What is less easy to sell to people is that crime is taking on a new face and the kind of activity we need to start fearing is that which threatens our borders in the widest sense. The growth in crime is happening on the internet and across our physical borders. Human trafficking, drug trafficking and the movement of information has the potential to undermine our sructures, but perhaps because it doesn’t appear to directly threaten our security it’s hard to raise interest.

Orde seems to be one of the first public figures to attempt to bring this issue into the public forum and has called for a merger of existing police forces: Despite calls for more police on the street, the answer to improving the service lies in merging the 44 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland into regional hubs, he said As I said above, the concept of the bobby on the beat is largely discredited, but you can’t avoid the public view that it works. Orde added ‘ We really have to focus on what is important – what keeps people safe, what works and what does not.” .

There is still this idea that ‘community policing’ is nothing more than more police being more visible. Once again, I wonder if this construct has been allowed to develop because few want to truly explain that it really involves the community taking measures collectively to prevent crime from an organic perspective, as opposed to a service that will be provided. Although we were a bit slower in Northern Ireland with Community Safety Partnerships, they are starting to make an impact now and there is little doubt that this will only gather pace as time proceeds. The bottom line for crime prevention is that it there is a personal responsibilty to make sure that each individual is making it as hard as possible for a crime to happen. We are too used to society curing all of out ills and we have begun to forget the concept of taking charge of our own issues, assuming the state will provide. I suspect that Sir Hugh’s statement is but the fist that we will start to hear about this.