Preventing crime by engaging people

10 October 2014

Ian Blackhurst, Executive Director, Solutions

If you know what to expect from a service – let’s take Amazon’s as an example – you are more likely to trust it. You will let it store your personal and bank details, will be comfortable getting in contact and probably give it the benefit of the doubt when it gets things wrong. 

I’m not sure people know enough about policing to know what to expect. Most will never have to call 999 and very few are active neighborhood watchers, so I don’t think people have any idea just how good the service is.

This lack of engagement has ignited controversy around how forces hold and manage personal data. The public might think the police are ‘up to something’ with this type of information when in fact it’s what keeps their communities safe.

But how and when should the public become engaged? If you’re not a criminal, victim or witness, is there supposed to be any engagement? Do the police care about your opinion? Even my Twitter addict friends haven’t realised that the police use social media because it hadn’t occurred to them they should get involved in the conversation.

This disconnect is a problem facing all public services as the agenda shifts towards personalised services and prevention and this was picked up by Reform in their report, ‘The Expert Citizen’.

They highlight the huge cost-saving potential of people becoming experts at protecting their own property and communities – not as vigilantes, thankfully, rather in making decisions that reduce demand and help the police manage scarce resources.

For this to work they suggest a new approach to mapping demand. Not just looking at the usual suspects but also the impact of other agencies’ activity and capability, along with multi-agency pooled budgets and joined up information.

They also recommend providing ‘real-time’ feedback from police and other agencies, so that people can be sure that the information they provide – for whatever reason and whether via phone call or tweet – is acted upon or achieves something, incentivising greater participation.

Acknowledging that it may be by tweet – or whatever means people feel comfortable with – is key to success, as not everyone will feel engaged by the same method.

That’s where it gets hard, particularly without an endless budget. But by continuing to build engagement with the police, we can more easily convince people how good the service is. And sharing a mutual interest in a better outcome is a great foundation for crime prevention.