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New contract will build solid bridges between police and community

Whenever I go out to talk to members of the public about policing there is always one theme that crops up in people’s comments.

“You never see your local police officer on the beat any more...”

“We used to know our local bobby and chat to him all the time…”

“I don’t even know who my local officer is now…”

I was a serving police officer for three decades before going on to become Police & Crime Commissioner, and the world of policing has changed beyond all recognition since I was first sworn in.

The demands on police officers are completely different, the nature of crime has changed, and of course, the cuts that have hit police forces over the last nine years mean resources are stretched, with far fewer officers dealing with rising levels of demand.

The job itself is also radically different, with far more work now going on behind the scenes than many people realise, so just because you can’t see an officer it doesn’t mean they’re not out there fighting crime.

However, one thing hasn’t changed and probably never will – the police still need to have close links with the people they serve.

Members of the public deserve to have the kind of confidence in their police force they will only get by having a genuine connection with local officers. At the same time, police need to be closely connected with their communities so they can keep people informed about what they are doing and advise them about how to keep themselves safe.

My Police and Crime Plan is a four-year strategy for all the activity carried out by both my office and Dorset Police, based on thousands of interactions I’ve had with residents, and I’ve set Working With Our Communities as a key priority at the heart of this plan.

Making sure that strong links are developed between the police and their communities is not something that can be left to chance, and we need to make sure there is consistency across the Force, which is why I’m proud to be welcoming the new Neighbourhood Engagement Contract.

The contract is a vital piece of work, setting the agenda for how the Force will improve its relationships with our communities and build up stronger connections, while also reflecting on some of the good work that’s already being done and seeing how that could be replicated across the county.

It’s not some dry, dusty document that will sit on a shelf and be forgotten about. Instead, it will constantly be used it to assess how well Dorset’s Neighbourhood Policing Teams – small groups of officers responsible for individual areas – are doing at engaging with their communities.

The Chief Constable has set 10 minimum standards which are necessary for these teams to be properly connected with their neighbourhoods – including carrying out face-to-face engagement with local people, building and maintaining positive relationships with key community leaders and increasing their use of social media.

All officers and staff will be expected to understand the importance of good engagement, and both the Force and my own office will be closely monitoring how well the teams meet these criteria.

The truth is, in some parts of the county the police are already doing this – and in several cases they’re doing an excellent job.

The problem is that the picture is varied across Dorset. The contract will create a consistent approach and clearly set out what is expected by the Chief Constable, while crucially making engaging with the community part of the day-to-day job of policing rather than being seen as an add-on.

It’s impossible to underestimate the value that both the police and the community will get from strengthening the connections they have with each other. It’s also vitally important that we identify what tactics work best in helping the police engage with the public, focus on what delivers the most benefit, and make sure the public are absolutely clear about what their local officers are doing.

The Neighbourhood Engagement Contract provides a strong platform for the future and at a time of austerity this is quite simply something we need to do.

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