Dr Matthew Callender discusses the importance of a meaningful and consistent relationship between communities and the police

By Dr Matthew Callender

We’re currently in the process of carrying out a consultation on the perception of crime and anti-social behaviour to feedback to the police about the public’s views on issues such as confidence and trust.

The relationship between communities and the police is paramount to public safety, andwith that in mind, I’d like to give an insight into what we’ve learned so far.

Working with ethnic minority groups

We’ve engaged with people from ethnic minority groups and given them the opportunity to participate in our research. Our team has worked with members of the black, Bangladeshi, Eastern European, Sikh and Muslim communities as well as representatives from organisations including the police, Northampton Inter Faith Forum (NIFF) and Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC).

Our research has revealed differences between ethnic minority groups when it comes to agreeing that the police:

  • treat them with respect when contacted;
  • treat them fairly, regardless of who they are; and
  • can be relied upon to deal with minor crimes.

We’ve also found that people from ethnic minority groups are less likely to be satisfied with the support provided by the police if they’re a victim of crime. Despite this, our research suggests that people from ethnic minority groups are more likely to indicate that they’re worried about crime and anti-social behaviour in their area.

Our findings have also highlighted the importance of having a meaningful and consistent relationship between communities and the police. Unfortunately, achieving this in a climate of policing cuts is extremely difficult, with many forces undergoing internal restructuring to cope with what feels like an increasing demand on services.

Community leader frustration and the importance of consistency

At present, there’s palpable frustration among community leaders who believe the policing consultations they’ve been involved in have been nothing more than box-ticking exercises. They complain of poor feedback on the impact of the consultations which makes them reluctant to participate again and further devalues the people who want to support the police and their community.

We’ve learned that consistency is key; community leaders have told us they struggle to build relations with officers because they often move on so quickly from their posts.
To avoid sacrificing any of the trust and rapport that has been developed by the outgoing officer, there clearly needs to be a good transfer of knowledge about the different challenges within these community groups to new officers. And, while you can learn a great deal from training sessions, there’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in communities to get a feel for the challenges they face and their opinion of policing.

The effects of ongoing organisational change on community relations is clear, with the public feeling increasingly distanced from the police, despite their desire to see an increased police presence in the community.This is evidenced by the fact people often choose not to ring the police because they’re unsure whether it’s an appropriate thing to do or feel that their concerns won’t be taken seriously.

The challenges of defining crime

Our research suggests that defining crime is an issue for communities, with hate crimes and hate incidents being a prime example. Many incidents are unfortunately not reported to the police because people are unsure whether their experience meets the definition of a hate crime (the Citizens Advice website is a great resource for definitions of crime).

People might experience events that they believe fall into specific categories, but sometimes don’t feel connected enough with the police to report, which is concerning, because that report could provide the evidence needed to secure a conviction in court.

The presence of police in the community as well as positive engagement with ethnic minority groups will establish an important layer of trust with the public. And, while this is already happening, it could be more consistent.

For instance, we were told of a hate incident in which a few of the community group members had been involved, and because they’d had a community engagement officer at their meetings regularly, although they’d reported the crime, it was the officer who drove it forward and supported them through the process. Whilst this is clearly great progress, more consistency is needed so that episodes of this kind become the norm.

We think this calls for the police to spend more time working with community groups and investing in their relationships with different communities. The key lies in an ongoing, consistent and two-way relationship between the public and the police. In turn, this should build that all-important layer of trust and give people the confidence to report crime and assist the police in dealing with it.

The findings of the consultation will be presented to Northamptonshire Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner and Northamptonshire Police in April as part of a larger report on resident’s perceptions of crime, anti-social behaviour and policing in Northamptonshire.

What are your views on crime, anti-social behaviour and policing in Northamptonshire? Have your say at www.northantscrimeconcerns.co.uk