Policing Purim: Community Engagement

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PC Alice Perry is the latest member of the 2015 cohort to the Police Now blog. On the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Alice talks about her experiences policing in Hackney during the holiday of Purim in March.

Springfield and Leabridge in Hackney are home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, with Stamford Hill alone being home to 20,000 Orthodox Jews. Within an area less than a square mile in size, there are more than 70 synagogues! The Jewish community have their own ambulance service – Hatzolah – and their own community safety wardens – the Shomrim. Being a very tight knit community, the Safer Neighbourhood Team is constantly working to promote and increase our engagement – a great opportunity for this came along in the form of the festival of Purim.

Purim is a two-day holiday that ran from the 23rd to the 24th of March – it celebrates the saving of the Jewish people from the Haman in the ancient Persian Empire. The celebrations take the form of street parties, fancy dress, elaborate sound systems, party buses, and copious amounts of food and wine. In these two days, the traditionally quiet community suddenly pours out onto the streets dressed in a myriad of costumes for the festivities and Stamford Hill, in my ward, is seen as the “go-to” global destination for celebrating.

In charge of policing this event was my Safer Neighbourhood Team – no small feat for a small team of officers covering an area with a population of around 30,000, most of which were dressed up as rabbits, or traffic cones, or walking goats up and down the pavements and dancing exuberantly, precariously close to bus lanes. My team and I started our shift on the Tuesday at lunch time, finished at around midnight, and we were back in the next day for an early start.

This type of Policing may not be what many have in mind when people, including me, think of being an officer in Hackney, but it is this type of work that is vital to building links with communities. Interacting positively with a community and being able to participate in the celebrations of an otherwise quite isolated portion of the population is a huge opportunity to increase confidence in the police. Members of the community invited us into their homes, children dressed up as police officers and stood on the pavements waiting for us to drive past and wave, and we worked closely with the Shomrim to make sure any potential points of contention were identified and dealt with before any issues had a chance to arise.

Surveys of the Orthodox Jewish community in Hackney show that whilst they have a low rate of committing crime, they have a high rate of feeling vulnerable to crime being committed against them. This is yet another reason why a positive police presence within community events like Purim is vital to ensuring the local community feels confident in their local Policing team. By having the Safer Neighbourhood Team being responsible for the Policing of the event, the community saw familiar faces patrolling the streets and felt comfortable in inviting us into their homes and discussing any issues they were facing within their local ward. I’m looking forward to the celebrations and patrolling next year!