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Neighbourhood policing "needs to have an edge" for it to succeed

HM Chief Inspector Andy Cooke says that he would like to see neighbourhood policing work, but as capacity remains stretched, the wrong priorities are being chosen

Andy Cooke has called for officers to be much more visible in their communities and focus on “putting doors in to catch people” as a way of winning back public trust.

He has called for forces to re-evaluate their priorities, amid concerns that too much time was being spent on mental health issues and truanting children. He also said that officers should be attending every house burglary and called for a return to having officers based in schools.

Earlier this month he said that officers should use “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute desperate shoplifters during the cost of living crisis in a move which caused backlash from Policing Minister Kit Malthouse and PCCs.

Mr Cooke, 57, told the PA news agency: “Prioritisation is really important.

“But at the moment, the focus, in my own personal view, isn’t necessarily on some of the right things.

“Neighbourhood policing isn’t about walking down streets kissing babies on the head and waving to shopkeepers, you’ve got to have an edge.

“The neighbourhood officers have got to be seen to be taking action against problems that are there, whether that’s through problem-solving, whether that’s through putting doors in to catch people.

“It’s not just about a PR job […] But it’s the building block for everything else.”

Police Oracle spoke with Andy Berry, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, who also underlined the importance of prioritisation. Neighbourhood policing, however, he said was potentially an area to be considered not a priority in a bid to tackle serious crime.

“A force has got to do two things; respond to calls and investigate crime,” he said.

“Our service has been woefully underfunded by this government for over a decade.

“There’s not enough cops to deal with the day to day churn.

“If the model of policing the public wants is visible policing, what don’t the public want us to do.”

Andy Berry explained that while he supported Andy Cooke’s comments and was not necessarily calling for an end to neighbourhood policing, the problem is there is not enough capacity - meaning Chiefs and PCCs needed to think about where they were going to pool resources.

He told Police Oracle that the force remained hopeful they would meet Uplift targets by next year, with 281 additional officers being recruited so far. Even when the last officer walked through the door, however, they would still need two to three years’ training.

In addition, since the pension changes, he said the force has seen a significant number of officers retiring in March.  

It was not just officer numbers, but external pressures which were having an impact on capacity. He referenced the changes in AG guidance which “placed an extra burden on officers”, the fact that there remains “an awful lot of form filling” and that police are still “not ahead of the game enough in IT”.

“Our leaders should be banging on the doors of government and other organisations saying enough is enough.

“The policing I want to see delivered is visible and community based policing but also policing that has the capacity to investigate and [do all other policing tasks].”

In line with Mr Berry’s comments, Andy Cooke additionally said officers should not be spending vast amounts of time dealing with the aftermath of mental health issues in the community where there are better-trained medical professionals who could take over from the initial police response.

He told the PA news agency: “When I was a young officer, the complexity was nothing like this.

“Most criminals lived within an arm’s length of where you were working.

“There weren’t all the different forms to fill in, the bureaucracy that goes with it, the challenge of new technology and social media and spending every minute of your shift being photographed or videoed by someone.

“It’s a very difficult job and I think they do an exceptional job in doing it, 99% of those who work in policing.”

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