police on foot


I read a news article today that as a former Police Officer of 30 years deeply saddened me. I felt compelled to write.

Sara Thornton chairman (sic) of the National Police Chiefs’ Council stated today in The Daily Telegraph “ The era of bobbies on the beat is coming to an end because they do not make the public feel safer.” She went on to state on BBC’s News-night programme that “In Fact the evidence would say that random police patrol doesn’t prevent crime, doesn’t solve crime, it doesn’t in fact make people feel safer.

It is interesting that a former Chief Constable and now the Chair of all Police Chiefs in England and Wales should make such a statement.

Consider this comment from a  published research article – The Value of Foot Patrol: A Review of Research by Alison Wakefield Department of Sociology City University – expectations of foot patrol (2006);

“The public’s expectations of foot patrol, as discerned from this literature, suggest that it is commonly associated with a range of expected outcomes (most frequently, crime prevention and reassurance), and a set of specific policing interventions or activities that the police “should do more of” (such as gathering local intelligence, dealing with disturbances, providing advice on crime prevention or more proactive targeting of criminals). The evidence indicates that different social groups have different expectations of foot patrol, which suggests a need to implement different approaches to foot patrol that reflect varying community needs.

In short, the survey evidence suggests that the public are not simply asking for more foot patrol, but for a style of policing associated with a certain popular image of policing: many are asking for PC George Dixon, the archetypal community bobby, whose approach is friendly, familiar and trustworthy. There is broad public support for a philosophy of policing that reflects some of the principles and practices of community policing, and the objectives underlying the current Home Office strategies of “reassurance” and “citizen-focused” policing. Perhaps most importantly, these philosophies espouse the centrality of community engagement and active consultation.”

So, how can this be reconciled when Mike Penning, minister for policing says “Over the last five years, frontline services have been protected, public confidence in the police has gone up and crime has fallen to its lowest ever level.

Lord Blair of Boughton, a former Met Commissioner, has accused the Home Office of having no police strategy and stressed that crime was actually rising due to the proliferation of cyber crime.

Craig Mackey, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the country’s biggest force could lose 8,000 jobs.

Police forces up and down the UK are having to cope with budget cuts up to 40 per cent which is following on from a 20 per cent cut over the last five years. We are now hearing Chief Constables’ stating that they will not be able to maintain Policing in their forces if these cuts continue. How can this be possible? It is a frightening concept.

Analysis of research has defined how visible foot patrol is effective:

The analysis revealed marked differences between the foot patrol initiatives in nature, complexity and scope, leading to the identification of six distinct models, as follows:

  • Community engagement model, which emphasises community responsiveness both during and prior to the intervention.
  • Citizen contact model, whereby walking the beat is supplemented by recorded visits to residences and businesses.
  • Deterrent model, based simply on showing a presence and enforcing the law.
  • Familiarity model, involving foot patrol and other duties by patrol officers dedicated permanently to the beat area.
  • Strategic model, in which patrol interventions are closely integrated with broader policing arrangements and the work of external agencies.
  • Client-directed model, whereby the patrollers’ functions and tasks are primarily dictated by those who contract their services.

The visibility of the Police is essential to maintaining the fabric of our society. It is a rare sight today to see police on foot patrol whether that be random preventative patrols or intelligence led targeted patrolling.

Over time our sense of what we should and shouldn’t do lessens the more that we do not see the Police and feel that we are being protected and law’s visibly enforced. How many times now do you see almost as the norm drivers accelerating through traffic lights to beat the lights turning red, crossing over lanes into too small gaps between cars that have been left for safe braking causing others to brake to let them in. Drivers who shout swear and exchange “sign language” between each other as road rage takes hold. You might say that the police should be targeting “serious” crime, but I would refer you back to research and what that reflects.

Also consider the tragic instances that occur where lives are changed forever because of others unlawful actions.

At the end of my career whilst carrying out a training exercise in a shopping centre with a group of student Police Officers, I responded to a call from two of my students who were asking for assistance to respond to a call for help from someone who had spotted a person who was allegedly wanted by the Police. As I arrived “on the scene” a bit out of breath having run across the shopping centre to get to them, I saw three people emerge from around a shop corner fighting with each other. Less that 30 feet away we immediately rushed to intervene. As we got there one of the three fell to the ground with a cry and as we grappled with his assailant realised that he had a knife in his hand and had fatally stabbed the other. We did as we are trained to do and I vividly remember with immense pride the professionalism and bravery of those young student officers who took my lead and dealt with the collective arrest and preserving of vital evidence.

It was my last arrest and subsequent crown court appearance giving evidence.

What would have happened if we weren’t there?  Would the outcome have been different? Would the assailant have been arrested and convicted (as he was) to life imprisonment for murder?

Policing strategies should recognise that public expectations of policing can and should be addressed in a number of different ways. Foot patrol is not the only means of meeting the four criteria of “reassurance”, “enhancement”, “responsiveness” and “sustainability”.

However, I do lament the fact that you do not see or even expect to see our Police on regular visible patrol.

If budgets are being cut year on year, if in real terms the numbers of police are falling per population, if Chief Officers believe and state their belief that visible patrol work does not reduce crime or make people feel safe, then how are we being policed?

How are the police now reducing crime, how are they detecting crime, and bringing offenders to justice? Of course I have the utmost respect and admiration for our police, those men and women who put their uniforms on every day kiss their loved one and say “see you tonight, tomorrow or later on”.

These are my thoughts. How do you feel about this? What is your view?