I do not fundamentally disagree with Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Carmen Napier, when she spoke of the need for services for families and individuals in crisis to be available when they need them, i.e., on weekends and in evenings. There is plenty of anecdotal and statistical evidence to suggest domestic abuse, child neglect, etc. can increase in severity and instance beyond the ‘nine to five’.
Chief Constable Napier’s main thrust is that since the Police are obliged to respond to incidents around the clock why should other specialist services not be expected to?
However, upon hearing her speak on the matter on the radio I was reminded of working as a Community Development Worker in the Gwent valleys, south Wales. A local neighbourhood police officer would frequently bemoan how she would return from time off to be confronted with a list of enquiries, reports and complaints that had been unattended to until she returned to the rota because the specific community was ‘her patch and not their’s. In essence that all instances of crime and disorder in the village were hers to deal with personally. Her predecessors and successors* in the role echoed these sentiments.
On a simple customer service basis this is poor practice, but it hinted at a more systemic problem. Namely that the role of neighbourhood policing was seen as a lesser policing role, one that had a caseload of coffee mornings, checking on old folk and hanging out with community groups. The cut n thrust of tackling crime it ain’t. Indeed, I learned that there was an extra increment of pay attached to the role as an incentive for officers to apply for it because so few officers wanted to do the role.
In my experience, and from a community development perspective, there remains as much for the Police to do as other public services in reshaping its service to be more focused for those in need.
*Of which there were several. I recall over a three year period working with a total of twelve different neighbourhood police officers in three communities. A ridiculous level of turnover and lack of continuity and completely ineffective in developing relationships with communities and community leaders.