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Policing: Inspiration and Despair – knife crime is not our only problem



I’ve been talking all things policing over the last couple of weeks with a broad variety of interested parties – whether it’s at the launch of the new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, the findings from the Home Affairs Committee, or the Police Foundation Conference exploring innovation in policing. The dialogue I have observed and participated in has led to moments of inspiration and despair.  Despair may be a strong word to use but I do have those moments every few years when I think what on earth we are doing to and with our public services?  These moments usually pass and my inspiration to make a difference continues.  As I write this and consider the work we have just started with Bedfordshire and Gwent Police, I am inspired that by working in partnership with good people we really can change the way the public are heard in our service direction and delivery.


Outside of the great team that I am part of, I have drawn inspiration from @WMPIntervention who still remains the best serving cop I have worked with.   She understands that policing is a service not a force.  I like that.   It keeps the community at the heart of all she does, and she doesn’t lose interest when she moves to a new role: her integrity is to be admired.

More inspiration came from @RowanEConway when I was at @the_police-fdn conference – by far the best speaker there, closely followed by @geoffmulgan.  I look forward to reading more of their work.

Unsurprisingly, inspiration came from the community: excellent outputs and soon to be excellent outcomes in Lancashire from those we have trained and supported to put on their own World Café on drugs.

In another part of Lancashire, we are coaching some recovery workers to support and coach their ‘clients’ in the recovery process to make a positive difference within their communities.

In Durham we are working with great cops and partners on drugs, but as part of a programme looking at serious and organised crime in a no-demand area; the sergeant said this was the best bit of community policing he had done in years – it’s all about what communities can do together.

So they are my glimmers of hope in what is an increasingly frustrating and often depressing public sector landscape.


The hyperbole I hear about so called innovation irritates me – those of you ‘breaking new ground’ with innovation ‘champions’ think again – they were a feature of the noughties and are not the must have accessory for cultural change in policing now: save your time and use a tool that works.

And then there are those that are getting excited because an app has been developed!  We are quite rightly trying to understand the ‘digital’ age and the role of ‘AI’, but we do so without the recognition that the public sector still has staff who don’t know how to save a file to a folder on a computer (honestly – this is not hyperbole!) and still has teams of people who point blank refuse to engage with social media!

The rhetoric of ‘demand reduction’ can irritate at times: my twitter timeline is full of frontline staff and senior leaders who think all they need is more cops to respond to demand, or to stop responding to calls for service in specific call types. We have cops who think the world of serious violence is down to government cuts, and are not acknowledging the complexity beyond the government or the Chief Constable’s decision to cut or shift resources.  I understand this is often used as a political discourse necessary to nudge, push and shove the government to provide more funding, but I do wonder sometimes if perhaps it is that ongoing lack of dialogue with the public that leads to a misplaced position of confidence that all that is required is more cops and better parenting to stop violence?

And then I felt despair at the decision by our government to impose a large pension bill on our police organisations with little or no consultation on the impact.  Our senior officers are working tirelessly to balance books, balance resources, balance emotions, and keep their increasingly unsteady ship floating; some consultation would have revealed the serious implications of this decision.

In amongst those feelings and thinking I have had to experience policing on a personal level twice in a couple of weeks: harassment and serious violence – two separate incidents that were resourced brilliantly and led to excellent outcomes.  Well done to both @MPSBarkDag and @MPSVictoria.

BUT…the public observing the serious violence incident were not friendly about policing.  I heard people moaning that it didn’t need so many cops to stop what was a potentially fatal incident: there were grumblings about the police and a dislike of them even though they had just made an unsafe station safe again for them to get home.  This reinforced the negative narrative I hear about policing in communities – their legitimacy is at risk and that has a huge impact on society.  A lack of commitment to fairness and even handedness by the wider police service will continue to undermine the professional excellence of individual officers.  This is why change is needed across the UK and across all ranks and functionality.

So what?

I wholeheartedly agree with those on my social media who are advocating for more cops – we need more cops! Many more needed and soon please Theresa and Sajid! (correct at the time of writing! 🙂

When cops have genuine passion and desire to make a difference, they are without doubt some of the best public servants we will meet, and for those wonderful people I am eternally grateful.

I do however believe that more cops will not offer transformation or public focused policing. Policing has changed significantly. I don’t think they talk well enough to each other and often fail to see potential to join dots and make connections that could free up capacity in the long run. Even within the resources they have.

We know that preventative policing must be central to tackling some of the most complex social issues with the community, but good preventative policing requires help from government, from peers, the College of Policing, HMICFRS, their leaders, and most of all from the public. We need to rethink the way we democratise policing. If we imagine a world with no police what would happen? That’s an important political ideological position and should inform our social, economic and political response. What type of policing would we create today if we could go beyond enforcement and genuinely adopt prevention and early intervention?

Despite so many people believing the answers are simple, they are most definitely not!  We are all human beings sharing a social space, with very limited knowledge of everyone else’s skills, knowledge and experiences.  We have few opportunities to learn about the strengths of those we might seemingly oppose, few opportunities to share our contrasting opinions without fear of hatred emerging.  Where can we participate in safe, shared deliberation about the things that matter to us with people who seemingly oppose our views?

There is a kaleidoscope of opinion, experience, and constraints out there with the potential to mobilise positively. There is much goodwill that goes untapped in public services, political parties and in communities, and it’s far too complex to reduce to binary positions or so-called ‘simple solutions’.

My inspiration and despair over the last few weeks reminds me that the social purpose of MutualGain remains, and although we are a small organisation wanting to achieve big change we must continue to stay true to our core values of democratic dialogue, deliberation and strengths based approaches to engagement.  I love working in policing to make that happen.


Written by Susan Ritchie – Director of MutualGain


For more on strengths based approaches to engagement, please see our website www.mutualgain.orgor contact us on info@mutualgain.orgor 0203 887 2859