No12 in the 100blog series on policing
Within 15 minutes of leaving the station, I've already said "Hello", "Good afternoon" or "Have a good day" to more than a dozen members of the public. I've waved to the staff behind the counter of a local fish and chip restaurant, given words of advice to a motorist and been approached by a member of the public who wants to tell me about some drug taking, littering and noise nuisance that regularly occurs on a nearby street.
During my next shift, having fed the information into the criminal intelligence system, I am out on foot again and target my patrols in the area, looking for signs of drug use and providing some visible reassurance. Crossing the road into a nearby estate, where the youths are believed to flee to whenever police are called and attend, sees a number of young children approach, shouting "Policeman!" Like a show-and-tell session at school, they fire off questions: pointing at my handcuffs, "What are they?" and, after looking around, "Where is your car?" I reply that we don't have a car today. There is a sharp intake of breath, before they ask: "Do you have a horse, then?" After some more questions, and lots more smiles, we continue our patrol. As we do, one of the kids shouts after us: "When I'm older, I am going to be a policeman!"
As we leave the estate we spot some youths in grey, nondescript tracksuits and white trainers, looking in car windows and giving us a lot of attention. We make after them, but as they turn a corner, out of sight, they starburst into the back alleys. Our area search of the alleyways and hiding places suggests they've likely fled into a house. Hopefully our presence was enough to prevent some crime and disrupt some would-be criminals.
Just minutes later, my partner and I, proximity patrolling on foot, are approached by visibly upset members of the public saying they have been subjected to homophobic abuse at a nearby bus stop. We make our way to the bus stop, identify the suspect and establish that an offence under section 4A of the Public Order Act has been committed, and the male is arrested. My partner takes him to custody when transport arrives, while I stay behind and take statements from the victims. They inform me they regularly suffer abuse, though not as serious or as upsetting as this – and that, had we not been there, on foot, approachable and accessible, they wouldn't have wanted to call 999 and, in their words, "waste police time". Unknown to the victims, back at custody, another officer identifies the male as a suspect in a recent assault. After booking in the suspect and making a start on the crime report, I call the victims with their crime reference.
All of this in just a matter of hours on foot – and none of it driven by a telephone call to police. Crimes prevented, crimes detected, criminals disrupted, suspects apprehended, information acquired, reassurance provided and a positive impression left on the public.
I became a Special Constable to make a tangible and positive difference to the community in which I live. Foot patrol affords me this opportunity. Inspired by the neighbourhood policing I've seen in cities like Washington DC, under the leadership of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Chief Cathy Lanier, I seek to build on the part-myth and part-reality cultivated by PC Dixon in The Blue Lamp. I've been fortunate to work a variety of duties – on Response (with some great colleagues), on the Borough Taskforce and various ‘Days of Action’. None have yet provided me with the all-round, and well-rounded, satisfaction that comes with an eight-, 10- or 12-hour duty on foot in the community I care about and swore an oath to serve.
Baroness Helen Newlove, the Government's Active and Safer Communities Champion, has said: "It is time to take back the streets." I believe police and community foot patrol provide the vehicle to close the gap between the public and police, and to best tackle the ‘quality of life’ crime that blights lives, puts people in fear and begets a real or perceived downward spiral into more crime and more disorder. There is more to policing than foot patrol but, done well, it provides the most secure foundation on which the police service and communities can build and draw strength: a close and trusted relationship.
By Rory Geoghegan, Crime and Justice Research Fellow, Policy Exchange, and Special Constable, Metropolitan Police.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official position or policy of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).