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Community Policing

Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

Reconnecting the police with the communities they serve is at the heart of our police reforms. Regular beat meetings and new local crime maps are already enabling communities to hold their local police to account. We will build on this through the introduction of police and crime commissioners, providing an even more visible and accountable link between the police and the public.

Sir Robert Peel, who founded the police force and represented Tamworth, said that the police needed to ensure that they had public support to perform their duties. That is as true today as it was in the 1830s. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Staffordshire police on doing just that? By cutting their back office and reorganising their organisation, they have been able to ensure that front-line services are not cut.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Staffordshire police is a very good example of a force that has taken the decision to make savings while protecting neighbourhood policing. In so doing, it is ensuring the continuation of that visible presence that the public value.

Under the current system, only 7% of the public understand that they can approach a police authority if they are dissatisfied with the standard of service provided. Will my hon. Friend outline what he is doing to improve this democratic deficit in police governance and end Labour’s woeful legacy on police complaints?

I agree: we are strengthening the police complaints system, while also proposing to strengthen police accountability through a democratic reform. Police authorities are invisible to the public. That will change when directly elected police and crime commissioners are elected by the people who will be able to hold their force to account; at the same time, the operational independence of chief constables will be protected.

The Minister will be aware that Avon and Somerset police have had a difficult job recently in having to police disturbances in the city of Bristol. What help can the Department give that force as it tries to rebuild relationships with the community? More particularly, the cost of the policing operation over the bank holiday period was astronomical, so will any help be available for the force to cope with it?

We of course support the action the police took to uphold the rule of law. I particularly want to pay tribute to officers who were injured: violence against anybody is unacceptable, but it is totally unacceptable when it is used against police officers, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to support the police in their action. There are established procedures whereby forces can apply if they have incurred exceptional costs, and I am sure this force will know how to do so.

My borough has been privileged to have an outstanding team of safer neighbourhood sergeants, who provide consistent contact with local communities, yet we are told that it is those sergeants who are most likely to be cut as the number of London police is reduced. Will the Minister assure me that safer neighbourhood sergeants, who take the lead in local communities in bringing the police and the public together, will be protected?

The hon. Lady knows that these decisions are taken by the commissioner of the Met, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Mayor, and the Mayor has said that he wishes to begin recruiting again to maintain officer numbers and to protect safer neighbourhood teams. The force proposes to share sergeants between some of the smaller boroughs; that is a matter for them as they seek to ensure value for money and to keep officers on the streets, where the public want to see them.