Slipping through the net: Why neighbourhood policing matters

I joined Police Now’s programme last year and wanted to share my experience of how community policing can make a difference.

I was in my small neighbourhood station on a sunny autumnal afternoon, finishing off paperwork for the day. I’d been asked to visit a woman in our community who’d been the victim of thefts, and wanted to check on her welfare as a safeguarding measure.

When we got to the woman’s flat, it was unclean to the point of being unsanitary. There was no food in the kitchen. Few of the lights worked. Dirt coated the surfaces. She lived and slept in the same cramped living room. The woman was friendly, and happy to talk about her past. She told us that she had been abused as a child. An accident had made it difficult for her to walk and speak. For several decades she had lived largely in isolation, apart from infrequent encounters with her neighbours and people she met at the shops. Her remaining family lived far away. She received benefits, but probably less than she was entitled to because she ‘didn’t want to ask for help’, as she told us.

She contacted the police when a local drug addict began taking her benefits from her and using her house as a place for himself and others to take drugs. This drug addict (no doubt with problems of his own) had spotted the same thing that now concerned us: this woman’s intense vulnerability. He had exploited her need for friendship, and for her, one poor friendship had seemed better than none. There was paraphernalia for smoking heroin lying around the flat, and the woman’s bank statements lay on the table for anyone passing through her house, to see when she received her benefits and how much she had saved up. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that such things can happen in our modern society.

We arranged for a social worker to come and speak to the woman the following morning. Incredibly, social services did not yet have her on their records; somehow, over the years, she had slipped through the nets of several agencies. The social worker agreed that the woman was vulnerable and began to work out what could be done to help her. Although there isn’t a simple solution that can be offered to someone in this woman’s situation, we wanted to make sure she didn’t become a victim of crime again. Now, at least, the right agencies are aware of her and are trying to help.

Doing this kind of safeguarding work is one of my favourite things about the job and presents a great opportunity for us, as neighbourhood police officers, to make a real difference. Often, what initially seems like an incident involving relatively minor crime, masks significant safeguarding issues. There is no hard boundary between crime and safeguarding, though. Safeguarding is also proactive policing, as the kinds of people we meet are often victims of crime exactly because of their vulnerable position.

On the face of it, this incident involved three low-value thefts; it ended up being one of the more thought-provoking cases I’ve dealt with as a police officer so far.

PC Marshall, Participant on Police Now National Graduate Recruitment Programme

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