Luke Collet-Fenson, Transform Project Manager
I’m currently on secondment to the Transform Alliance from the Civil Service Fast Stream. The Transform Alliance coordinates the actions of five frontline public sector organisations with a shared purpose (Teach First, Unlocked Graduates, Think Ahead, Frontlineand Police Now) where their interests align to create a benefit not possible alone. I’m kindly hosted in the Police Now offices and was lucky enough to attend the Spring Induction. Here I met PC Brough from West Midlands Police, who is nearing the end of his two years on the Police Now programme. He agreed to organise a ride along so I could experience the frontline. Much of what I saw falls into a few themes: local knowledge, small preventative interventions and action with constraints.
Good neighbourhood police officers really know their neighbourhood, which means that many people they deal with have passed through their hands before. On my first day, a crime was reported – money had been stolen from a pub pool table. The neighbourhood police had an idea who it might have been. A day later that same person was found unconscious from drug use, outside the court. On his person were hundreds of 50p pieces.
As part of our patrol we saw a man urinating on the pavement in the afternoon. PC Brough pulled up to remonstrate with him- “You can’t do that, you just can’t do that.” He clearly recognised PC Brough and apologised to him. This man is a severe alcoholic and was stumbling from his house to the takeaway for chips. Weeks before, the police had entered his house to check he was ok after he called them describing bloody vomit – in this way, I saw how important building rapport with locals in their neighbourhood is.
SMALL PREVENTATIVE INTERVENTIONS
Our first task was a joint operation between the neighbourhood police team, a school and the traffic police. We waited outside the school and ticketed parents whose children were not wearing seatbelts. It isn’t what you automatically think of when you think of a police operation, but it is hard to think of a more useful, simple preventative measure than this.
The next day PC Brough’s colleagues were in a different school giving a demonstration on knives, and why not to carry them.
We warned a middle-aged mother about talking on the phone while driving and a man in a van who swerved in front of our patrol car. It’s these little interventions that build up a safer community. It’s the way they are done, a proportionate punishment and a reasonable explanation that build up a more trusting community.
ACTING WITH CONSTRAINTS
The two most frustrating moments of my ride-along were when we’re forced to act without sufficient information and when we were unable to act.
20 people were milling around a pub at 1am. They were drunk, and many were angry. One man was shouting, and two others identified him as the troublemaker. PC Brough calmed him down. PC Ahmed spoke with the publican. Later, CCTV footage and statements showed that eight men had assaulted one man after an argument. However, the majority of the suspects had already disappeared down a dark lane and into vehicles. The PC’s had restrained those they could but didn’t get the key suspects. We spent the next half hour placating the victim’s drunk friends, one of whom warned us that “if you don’t get them I will, that’s all I’m saying”.
Another frustrating moment came when PC Brough saw a wanted man. When approached he was all explanation and charm – he’d already been arrested he explained. He had two young children with him and we were right outside the school with families walking past- “You’re making me look like a crime lord” he said. I stood by awkwardly as PC Brough called in to check.
His story was true, and I felt sorry for him. PC Brough had been reserved when speaking to him, reasonable but not at all apologetic. It turns out he had been wanted for violent domestic abuse, and this was one of a long string of such attacks on the same woman. PC Brough fears it may happen again.
Both are examples of the way it can often go. Neighbourhood police officers must be stoics, accepting that sometimes there is nothing they can do, and using that as fuel for when they can act.
In my two days I had a small taste of the daily frustration neighbourhood police officers sometimes shoulder, acting with limited information or being powerless to act. But I’ve also seen the deep trust they build with locals, and I’ve seen examples of the little things they do daily that foster that trust while still enforcing the law. It’s an impressive job, where what you do and importantly, how you do it, make a difference. My ride along has been a valuable experience that has influenced my work for the Transform Alliance and will influence my future work within the Civil Service.