York Press Column – Policing in York
September 7, 2018
Over the summer recess I spent a day with York’s neighbourhood policing team. Whilst supporting their ‘Give a Day to Policing’ initiative, it was greatly rewarding to spend the day with our police and I am pleased to report back on a well-organised and hugely passionate team of officers working hard to keep our communities around York safe.
When MPs discuss complex matters like policing in stuffy rooms in Westminster, the focus can often become over-technical and far removed from the reality on the ground. I believe it is incredibly important for politicians to remain in regular contact with those on the front-line in order to better understand the challenges they face. Regular meetings with local police leaders, to discuss priorities and raise specific pieces of casework, have provided me with the clearest insight into the work our police do.
Policing is an ever evolving discipline and police work is becoming more complex; with organised, rural and cyber related crime part of day-to-day operations. At the same time, more traditional police work such as responding to robberies and anti-social behaviour remains a core task and I was able to travel with officers who responded to several incidents during the day.
From conversations with constituents I have noticed a generational divide on how we expect our police force to be deployed. Many of the older generation wish to see a visible police presence in our communities whereas younger people express a stronger preference for the police to be able to respond to incidents quickly. We have to get the balance right between these two aspirations.
First hand, I saw an officer responding to a call whilst we were on patrol, reflecting the importance of the old adage that police need to be out in our communities as much as possible rather than too occupied with the administrative side of policing. This remains a correct observation and it is important that red tape is streamlined as much as possible to keep police ‘on the beat’.
Speaking with officers also reinforced the importance of increased cross-force collaboration to assist police forces as they respond to rural and organised crime. For example, drug trafficking into North Yorkshire is a significant challenge for our police force and effective collaboration between forces is vital in order to combat this issue. I am encouraged that Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constable now have a statutory duty to consider and review collaboration agreements between forces, so this untapped potential can be realised.
Rural crime continues to be a particular concern in our county. The recently published Rural Crime Survey found a worrying lack of faith in the police service to properly address crime in rural communities, which results in many crimes going unreported. This reflects the impression I have gained from speaking with residents and whilst the establishment of a Rural Taskforce in 2015 is welcome, there needs to be a step change in attitude towards how rural crime is addressed to help rebuild the confidence of our rural communities. This relates not only to funding but to the perceived lack of national priority.
Another important insight I gained during my day on patrol was the increase in police time spent dealing with the impact of mental health crises. The police regularly respond to calls from people suffering with mental health problems and whilst this is inevitable, police should not have to make up for any gaps in the provision of mental health care. This places increased pressure on the police service, so I am pleased an independent review of the Mental Health Act is currently looking at this precise point.
Improving mental health service provision is a key priority in Government, where funding increases will see the annual budget reach £11.86 billion for 2017/18. Increased funding is welcome, but a more sophisticated understanding of how to better care for those suffering with mental health problems who are caught in the policing system will see tangible improvements in our communities.
We are fortunate to have a fantastic and hardworking police force, so my day with our local police highlighted several issues which I will be better equipped to raise in Westminster as Parliament reconvenes.