A chief constable has questioned the sustainability of neighbourhood policing teams in England and Wales – claiming that “the vast majority of the public don’t need a visible police presence”.
CC Jon Murphy (pictured), of Merseyside Police, told the Superintendents’ Association annual conference in Warwickshire that he was passionate about neighbourhood policing. But he believed that the service had to re-examine itself in a time of austerity – and there was a tendency for a “political and public obsession” with police visibility “irrespective of actual neighbourhood demand in many cases”.
CC Murphy asked: “How long can we sustain this style of policing?
“Which is more important – deploying resources in big hats or high visibility jackets to make the public feel safe or focusing on what is less visible to the public but actually does protect them from serious harms such as child sex abuse, cyber crime or serious organised crime?”
The chief constable, who also leads the national crime portfolio, acknowledged his view was “controversial” but he added: “Perhaps we should be more realistic about what we can ensure when responding to calls for help”.
He said: “I don’t see firefighters, paramedics or nurses walking the streets in case somebody becomes ill.
“Neighbourhood policing is not the preserve of neighbourhood teams – it is about our relationship with the public.”
CC Murphy’s comments follow warnings from Association President Irene Curtis, who said neighbourhood policing could lose out to specialist areas, including protective services.
She added: “If we look at the priorities and the difficult decisions that chief officers have to make, we’ve really not opened that box yet.
“We have got child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, roads policing, emergency response and serious organised crime. Something has got to give somewhere and my fear is that neighbourhood policing will become a “nice to have” model rather than a core function and the bedrock of how we police across England and Wales.
“I’m not scaremongering by saying this, I am just trying to portray the reality out there. This is a genuine concern that has been raised by our members at the last round of district meetings.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper believed there were cases where response teams were being merged with neighbourhood teams to save money.
She said: “Teams are being merged with 999 response units, or stretched with extra responsibilities and administration because other areas have been cut.
“The result is pressure for neighbourhood officers to return to the car or the office rather than staying in the community.”
But Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Damian Green said forces were being innovative to staff their neighbourhood teams.
Mr Green added: “It is about the ingenuity and innovation of forces in changing the way they work to deliver better outcomes.”