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Force profile: preventative measures

Merseyside Police has a dedicated team leading prevention work across the force. The chief constable and the team leader talk to Police Oracle.

Some forces have developed very effective strategies for dealing with SOC or “gangs and guns” to give it a policing shorthand.

Prisons in the North West of England hold the highest number of OCG members in the country which is testament to the good work of specialist units and regional capability in this area. Much of that has been achieved through vigorous use of the first ‘P’ in the approved SOC policing menu which is ‘pursue.’

This involves developing capabilities, attacking criminal finances, using all the effective legal powers available and introducing a strong international element when required, with good working relationships with overseas forces.

Thanks to 'pursue' under its previous chief constable (now chief HMIC) Merseyside was rated outstanding for tackling SOC a few years ago. But that rating also came down to its preventative work around serious and organised crime. So if it can work for SOC why not other areas of police demand?   

When Serena Kennedy took over as chief constable two years ago Merseyside was the best performing urban force in the country. “We were outstanding for tackling serious and organised crime and one of the reasons we got that rating was our four Ps approach (pursue, prevent, protect, prepare),” she told Police Oracle. “While we had a really strong emphasis on pursue there was also a really strong emphasis on prevention as well.”

This essentially meant preventing young people going down the route towards serious crime or if they were first time offenders, deploying the many available schemes designed to divert them from going up the grades of criminality.  

The Violence Reduction Unit helped support this preventative approach along with neighbourhood policing teams who knew what was happening at ground level.

But given that, like other forces, 80 per cent of demand in Merseyside is non-crime based CC Kennedy wanted to shift the approach so that everybody within the organisation was thinking about prevention.

“I wanted response officers and everyone in the organisation to recognise that we cannot arrest our way out of the volume of demand we are dealing with,” she says. 

Prevent is in the oath 

She points out that when officers take the oath, the word “prevention” is included in that but the reactive nature of policing means that a culture of prevention has to be worked at and officers and staff need to be reminded of its importance.

“When I go out on the ground and have a conversation with response officers about the work they are doing they are quite often doing preventative work without even realising it,” she adds.

To help reinforce this Merseyside now has a Prevention department headed up by a detective chief superintendent and a team of dedicated officers whose work is attracting interest from other forces around the country.

“We have moved things out of local policing and the crime world and we have streamlined that into a prevention strand led by Det Chief Supt Andy Ryan,” according to the chief.

CC Kennedy is the national policing lead for prevention and has adopted the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention strategy approach. Tertiary prevention covers the area that forces have always covered such as looking at offender locations and crime mapping. All the work that it is done on County Lines (Project Medusa) and the integrated offender management unit feeds into that.

Secondary prevention tackles those at risk from high level offending with the aim of reducing demand and repeat victimisation.

A contentious space 

But having a dedicated Prevention department means that the force is now stepping into the primary prevention space which some would consider a contentious issue.

For example Merseyside has PCSOs who are part of the force’s missing persons unit but are dedicated to specific care homes to address the national issue of the number of children in care who go missing each year.  “Are they pseudo-social workers?,” she says. “The answer is yes they probably are but if we look at some of the cases they have had success with this is a result of working closely with the care homes. They have got them to be more responsible about reporting and how the homes are managed.    

“We have many examples where the looked after children go missing and are either exploited or they end up being criminally active and getting arrested numerous times. Now through the work of our PCSOs we can demonstrate the reductions in demand into contact. Our response cops are not having to go to children’s homes to take missing persons reports and then do the return interviews. And the young people are not being arrested anymore. This reduces demand on custody, the youth offending teams and the courts. Instead they are being diverted into commissioned services working with our partners.”

There is a College of Policing cost benefits calculator to work out how much money that is saving as well as the moral imperative of turning would-be offenders away from crime.

Given the demands on policing and complaints about mission creep there will be eyebrows raised about venturing into social work. How does the chief constable address this? She says: “This is not about policing stepping into the space and doing the jobs of partners because we are not qualified to do that.

“It’s about working with them to identify individuals, families and post codes to reduce demand on policing but also improve the aspirations of our communities.”

The prevention department had an external launch just before Christmas involving all the partner agencies in the five local authorities that make up the force area. This includes education which CC Kennedy says is often “the missing cog” in prevention work.

The Safer Schools team have also now come under the force's  Prevention umbrella and Merseyside has used the Uplift to increase the number of Safer Schools officers to 24. They have also been given training in PHSE (personal, social, health and economic education) “Again this is fairly unique,” says the chief “because we realised we had officers working in schools without the appropriate qualifications.”

Schools officers are a core part of the preventative work and the focus is on interventions not arrests. “We are certainly not there to criminalise children,” she adds.

Clear, Hold, Build 

Another facet of prevention work is the Clear, Hold, Build strategy for dealing with SOC which is being piloted in seven force areas (including Merseyside) with £2m of Home Office funding.  

The ‘Clear, Hold, Build’ initiative sees police pursue gang members to clear an area, hold the location and then build the community into a “more prosperous area”.

The ‘Clear’ phase will see officers target members of OCGs using the necessary criminal, civil and regulatory powers. During the ‘Hold’ phase, they work with local partners such as drugs and treatment services – the idea is to prevent other groups taking control of the area which has been ‘cleared’.

Finally, the ‘Build’ phase focuses on a ‘whole-system’ and longer-term plan aimed at making the area more hospitable and creating opportunities for young and vulnerable people, including for example establishing sports teams or setting up community gardens. It will also see the establishment of better relationships between the police and the community.

CC Kennedy says: “We were one of the pilot areas in the Wirral and now uniquely this is the first time it has been tried in an area that straddles two local authority areas.”

This includes the district in which the high profile murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel took place last year. Olivia was fatally shot by a gunman who chased convicted burglar Joseph Nee into her home in Dovecot on 22 August. Merseyside Police is working closely with partners to lead Clear, Hold, Build in these two struggling areas.

Prevention Hub 

Det Chief Supt Andy Ryan heads up the prevention team. He told Police Oracle: “We have had a very good approach to prevention for a while. But like lots of police forces some people saw prevention as the role of local and neighbourhood policing. That is not being critical I would say that is a realistic assessment of where we were.”

Specialist teams such as the missing persons unit, community engagement unit and the problem solving team all did specialist preventative work as well.

“Elsewhere in the organisation there was a sense that prevention wasn’t their role.” He says what has changed is that the force now does preventative work “at scale” and it is mainstream.

The force now has a Prevention Hub made up of a team including a chief inspector, an inspector, two sergeants and five PCs. This is seen as the brains of the preventative work across the force.

The reasoning behind it was the force could have invested in a bigger and better missing persons unit or community engagement unit but that would signal to people that prevention work was ‘over there’ and it would be difficult to “embed it at scale right across the organisation.”

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