Safer, stronger communities

A Co-operative agenda for policing

Paul Richards

Neighbourhood policing: the key to preventing crime and disorder

IN MAY THE Co-operative Party is standing hundreds of candidates at every level of governance, including 900 local councillors, and also candidates for the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, Metro Mayors, and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

I am proud to be the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner. But what does it mean to have the ‘& Co-operative’ label on the ballot paper, and what difference would people see if there was a Co-operative PCC rather than a Conservative one?

Britain’s philosophical approach to policing has elements which co-operators can work with. For a start, we see the police as ‘citizens in uniform’ rather than a paramilitary force. They work for us, not the Home Secretary. We believe in policing by consent not coercion, and we are rightly concerned when that consent is frayed by misjudged policing. We hold to the principles enshrined at the time of Robert Peel that the primary purpose of the police is to prevent crime, and the police’s success should be measured by the rate of crime, not the numbers of convictions or numbers incarcerated.

As co-operators we believe in decentralisation from the overbearing state, so the formation of the police based on geographical ‘constabularies’ is better than a national police force run from Marsham Street. As democrats we are concerned about accountability to the people, and might consider better ways to hold our local police to account to the communities they serve.

So far, so philosophical. But how can co-operative values be applied to modern policing? The Police and Crime Commissioners draw up a policing plan for their areas, and this plan is where co-operative values can be made real. When Robert Owen addressed the people of New Lanark in 1816 he was clear that the path to a better society was to transform the material conditions of people in the here-and-now. Owen tackled the issue of crime directly:

‘when men are in poverty, when they commit crimes or actions injurious to themselves and others, and when they are in a state of wretchedness, there must be substantial causes for these lamentable effects; and that instead of punishing or being angry with our fellow-men…we ought to pity and commiserate them and patiently to trace the causes whence the evils proceed and endeavour to discover whether they may not be removed.’

This understanding of the causes of crime forms the basis of any enlightened approach to crime and policing. We must understand the sociological and economic conditions which generate crime, and seek to shape society so that such crimes become less frequent, or disappear altogether.

Now, of course, this comes with a heap of caveats. We do not excuse criminal behaviour or absolve the individual of their own responsibility for their behaviour. We want swift justice for the victims of crime. Nor do we characterise crime as the preserve of only a certain ‘class’, purely linked to poverty and disadvantage. Most people on low incomes do not commit crimes, and people with every advantage engage in all manner of criminal activities. But we do recognise the links between public policy and levels of crime. In Sussex, for example, there are fewer police and more violent crimes, and you do not need a degree in criminology to see the link.

So a co-operative police plan must emphasis the preventative aspects of policing, in the widest possible sense, including the broader investment in services and facilities which create strong communities, nurture respect and responsibility, and invest in young people. I would rather invest in a boxing or football club than extra cells in a custody suite, because the former reduces the need for the latter.

There are other practical things that can be done by co-operators. For example, the police spend many millions of pounds of public money on procuring goods and services. I would want to study how and where this cash is going, and tilt the procurement policies towards co-operative ventures. In some areas of spending, this might be impracticable. But the police spend a lot of money on everything from biros to bogroll and there is no good reason, only red tape, why these cannot be procured from co-operatives. Indeed, a bias towards co-ops might be the incentive to create new ones.

Co-operators are environmentalists, so a co-operative PCC should make the thin blue line turn green. The police need a proper strategy to become net zero, starting with new fleets of electric vehicles. All police vehicles should be electric within 20 years. New-build police stations should be carbon-neutral, and generate their own renewable energy. The acres of land owned by police forces should be planted with pollinators, or turned over to community allotments, or even used to build net zero affordable housing for key workers. There are hundreds of ways a vast public body like the police can lead the way on tackling climate change.

We need to apply co-operative values to our approach to neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood policing means police that are part of the community: visible, recognisable and accountable. It means collaborating on local crime reduction plans, working with voluntary groups, trade unions, faith groups and others like Neighbourhood Watch.

It means developing a sense of trust and mutual respect between all sections of the community and the police. That must depend on the police listening to local people and respecting their concerns, and local communities working with the police to help prevent crime, give witness statements, report antisocial behaviour, and welcome the police into the community. I know for some communities this is difficult because of historically poor relations, but we must change that.

As Labour & Co-operative PCCs across the country are already showing, co-operative values can apply to crime and policing just as surely as other areas of our national life. That’s why the outcome of the elections on 6 May are so vital for the vitality of our communities and the future of our country.

Paul Richards is the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Sussex police and crime commissioner. The election is on 6 May.

Writer. London and Sussex.