How bricks and mortar can help the police connect with the public
Whenever I go out to talk to the public, as I have been doing since being elected as Police and Crime Commissioner, one thing always jumps out at me.
They want to see more police officers on the ground, and they want to find it easier to contact them.
My Police and Crime Plan, being unveiled next month, includes a key priority of making police more visible and connected. This is about making sure officers fulfil a role in preventing crime, while also ensuring residents know their local police, see them around and can contact them when necessary.
Since taking up the post I’ve been working with the Chief Constable to get a better understanding of how we can improve the connections between the Force and the public it serves. We’ve made a good start on this, and I will make sure this is close to the top of our agendas over the next few years.
There’s a few elements to this area of work. Firstly, it’s about making sure the new officers we’re recruiting as part of the Government’s uplift programme are put in the right place – in our Neighbourhood Policing Teams. We now have an agreement in principle for this to happen, ensuring they go straight where they’re needed.
It’s also about looking again at the Neighbourhood Engagement Commitment initiative, which sets out how communities can communicate as effectively as possible with their local officers, in order to ensure those teams keep their promises to provide localised services that work for our residents.
But it’s about another thing – bricks and mortar.
Like many forces, Dorset Police has an aging estate of buildings, some of which have seen better days.
I’m keen to make sure we address this issue to make sure we get the most effective use possible out of these buildings. We need to make sure they’re used to provide the best possible benefit, both operationally and to the community, as well as ensuring they are as sustainable, environmentally friendly and economical as they can be, and it’s likely to mean that investment is needed.
Service is changing
Our police service is changing, the community it serves is constantly changing, and it’s important the estate changes in order to best accommodate this.
For example, as the uplift programme means more officers are being recruited, there is the need to store more equipment and vehicles securely. As our officers are equipped with new and better equipment such as smart devices, we need to ensure there are secure digital connections and charging points in place. And, as population and crime trends shift over the decades, it may be that some of our buildings just aren’t in the most efficient location anymore.
Everything has the ultimate aim of improving the service to the public and we need to do this, not just by investing in our people, but by improving the estate and infrastructure.
Of course, it’s important that as we do this, we get as much ‘bang for our buck’ as possible – I’m very keen to ensure none of this work contradicts another of my priorities, that of making every penny count. So, as much as anything, this is about how we use these buildings.
Getting the best of premises
I have called for a review of the estate, looking into how police presence can be increased in our buildings and behind front desks, as well as how we can think more flexibly about making sure officers are out and about, able to see and be seen by the public. That review is now in place and I look forward to being able to come back to you with more information in the future.
Work is taking place across the county to examine how we can get the best of our premises.
This includes looking into which buildings need repairing or upgrading, so they can serve their purpose properly. This might mean reinvesting in some parts of the estate, or modernising our training facilities, so officers and staff can do their jobs better or more efficiently, making the best use of new technology. In some cases, it may even mean looking into how we can save money by sharing buildings with those other public sector organisations we already work closely with.
We can also change how we use some of our buildings to ensure more operational activity, rather than administration, is carried out there.
And we can develop new options in some of our more rural locations, where I know residents get frustrated about how they can make face-to-face contact with police officers.
Discussion with residents
But I’m also keen to have a discussion with local residents about what changes they want to see and how they want to feel more connected to their Force – and that includes how police buildings are used in the future.
I’ll be talking more about this over the next few months, but I hope this sets out what I am hoping to achieve.
Ultimately, it’s very simple. I want Dorset Police to be more visible and better connected with the public – making sure we’re using our buildings in the best way will help them to achieve this.