PermaLink Building confidence through relationships03/27/2009 10:31 AM
Over the past few weeks I have continued my journey around the various parts of Greater Manchester visiting my staff, going out on patrol and meeting local people. I recognise that my honeymoon period is coming to an end and quite rightly people and staff ask will ask: “Well, he seems a nice bloke but what’s he going to do?”

There have been two major changes over recent months that affect our future direction. One is the change in Government policy which has now put the level of public confidence as the key priority for policing. The second is clearly the economic crisis which is increasingly affecting local people. This means we have to ensure all the efforts of the Force are directed towards improving local policing and the protection of local people, and on those other issues which affect public confidence.

So I have been concentrating my attention on those measures that will reduce bureaucracy, get officers out on the street and improve customer service. This isn’t just about police officers however. For example, in burglary investigation Crime Scene Investigators play a vital part and so we have looked at changing the way they work to get to more burglaries soon after they have been reported so that victims can clear up and we get the best chance of securing evidence.

We realise that public expectations of customer service are ever more demanding. People want some clear idea of when officers will turn up and want regular follow-ups on what is happening with their case.

We have now created facilities for the public to contact their local neighbourhood team by telephone or email so again we need to make sure we have the staff there to deal with those calls and messages. In my experience the public don’t like talking to answering machines too much.

This is quite a challenge given that we have always encouraged the public to contact us 24 hours a day any day of the week. What we do know is that everyone that has a bad experience tells all his or her friends.

Continuing to improve the level of service to those who contact us by phone or email or at one of our enquiry offices is probably the best thing we can do to improve public confidence.

We have been trying out different ways of involving people in policing and getting them information. One new way is called participatory budgeting which basically is about given a local community a sum of money and allowing them to make the decisions on how it should be spent.

I visited the Oxford Park estate in Ashton last Saturday to see this process at work. Lots of local people had been invited to the community centre and there was £35,000 on offer to be given out to local groups.

Those wanting the money for such things as a new greenhouse for the allotments, a new practice wicket for the cricket club or new equipment for the youth club came forward to make presentations on their project and the audience then voted on who got what.

The people there seemed to enjoy the process and it was a good way of bringing police and other agencies together with local people and for local people to feel they are having a bit more of a say in what is happening in their area.

Of course, the fact is that this already is local people’s money because they have paid through their taxes. It is also true that we elect local and national politicians to decide how public money should be spent. That said we also know that some of the existing political processes can seem distant to folk and this is one way of bringing it nearer.

All this you may say seems a long way away from policing and from locking up bad people. I take a long-term view that people’s feelings of safety often come from how they feel about their local area.

We know that in neighbourhoods where there are lots of community activities and voluntary work that people feel safer and work together to improve that neighbourhood.

They are more likely to stand up to the lawless element and give information to the police and make witness statements. Therefore it is legitimate for officers to get involved in initiatives which strengthen community life such as this one.

Preventing crime and making people feel safer has always been a key part of police work, but at the same time we are there to enforce the law and there will always be a hard edge to our neighbourhood policing.

One story, which was around last week, was comments by a member of the Magistrates’ Association that the workload in the courts has gone down due to increasing use of fixed penalty notices being issued by the police.

Examination showed that, in fact, the use of such notices has declined. There has been a reduction of work in the magistrates’ courts but an increase of work in the crown court.

This shows that GMP is concentrating on more serious offences and keeping the judges busy.

Officers use cautions and fixed penalty notices in appropriate cases but see little point in putting minor cases into the magistrates court, which then only attract conditional discharges.

It is important we con concentrate on the more serious offenders and the most persistent offenders and get them into the court for the most appropriate sentences.

That does not mean that the most minor offences are not important – it just means that the court system is not always the best way of dealing with them.

Peter Fahy
Chief Constable

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