At the end of last year, the Metropolitan Police and the RSA conducted a major internal consultation. What became clear very quickly was that the Met was determined to find new ways to meet public expectations in what is a challenging external environment which poses both new threats and new opportunities. It became equally clear that the policing of an energetic, global city such as London requires new ways of working both within the organisation and between the organisation and others: this includes other public bodies, key stakeholders in the voluntary sector and, of course, London's communities- the general public.
Last night, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, announced that the RSA and the Metropolitan Police are to work together over the coming months. The Met was keen to work with a body independent of policing with the aim of providing fresh thinking and challenging traditional thinking. Sometimes it’s good for all organisations to have some external challenge.
On the Met’s behalf, the RSA will be engaging with a defined set of stakeholders – public bodies, commercial organisations, voluntary organisations, including victim support groups, and the range of public authorities with which it is partnered– to discuss how London’s public services and others can all work together to maintain London's status as an exciting global powerhouse as we approach 2020 and beyond. This will require a safe and low-crime city as a key aspect of London's public and commercial infrastructure.
At this stage, the RSA is looking for organisational responses from those mentioned above or similar- we are concentrating on organisational stakeholders at this stage.
It is obvious that the shape and nature of crime is changing. New types of crime threat are emerging such as new forms of terrorism, cybercrime or international human trafficking. Some of the oldest and most pernicious crimes are coming to the fore after high profile public scandals. This includes child exploitation, rape, and, furthermore, domestic violence. Technology changes the landscape significantly. It will change the way the police are able to interface with the public, gather evidence and intelligence, and will create new demands on the police service. People will still demand contact and reassurance but there might be new ways of working with the public that can meet the trust and legitimacy demands that have always been placed on the police and continue to be so- rightly and probably more importantly so than ever.
Taken together these shifting contexts might require different ways of working. For example, the police will need access to very specialist skills. The question is how and on what terms? Equally, the more general skills that we expect police officers to hold might need to be enhanced and further professionalised. All of this must be a public conversation where the public, the police, and all those involved in ensuring that London is a safe city find new ways of working in partnership to achieve shared goals.
As in previous periods of rapid growth in London, the impacts of growth create turbulence. This is felt acutely by those with few resources. Challenges of growth range from protecting new and vulnerable Londoners from abuse, to understanding and contending with the global risks that are manifested at a local level, to more time spent on crowd control and public safety as our streets and public spaces increasingly serve as an outdoor living room for crowded homes and busy lives. Protecting London’s identity through changing demands is extremely important.
It would be remiss not to mention austerity. This is the backdrop to all the decisions that will be taken over the next few years. However, the focus on greater efficiency that we have seen over the last few years may prove to be insufficient to the task at hand. This is not unique to policing. It is experienced universally across public services.
As the RSA embarks on this consultation, we have a hunch that greater efficiency and better outcomes can both be achieved by the Met if new forms of collective endeavour are created. This means the public, private, and voluntary sector working collectively to better meet London's needs.
This is not about ducking responsibility – the police will always be responsible for fighting crime and maintaining order. It is instead an open question as to how agencies can work better together to meet shared objectives. Nor is it about responsibility shifting – all public bodies share a common challenge when it comes to austerity. A beggar-thy-neighbour approach only works in the short-term and not even convincingly then. The last few years have seen intense intra-organisational focus across the public sector as greater efficiency has been sought. The next few years require dialogue, negotiation and collaboration across public services and agencies in addition if the public's needs and expectations are to be met.
Where criminal activity is taking place and crimes are being committed, where public order is threatened, and community safety is undermined, the police will always and should always be there. When it comes to ensuring safe and secure neighbourhoods, minimising the risk to anyone of becoming a victim of domestic violence, ensuring that those with mental health conditions are safely and securely responded to when in stress or danger, protecting us all and our families from the risk of cyber-crime, fraud, and other risks, then new approaches may well be required.
Partnership is not sufficient. Information exchange is essential but that may not be enough. If this is accepted, then what new means are there of ensuring that, as a community, we work effectively and efficiently together? London is at its safest when the police and the public are as one, the very bedrock of the Peelian principles.
I am biased of course, but to me it seems admirable that the Metropolitan Police are reaching out in this way. We very much hope that organisations engage openly, constructively, and creatively. This really is a tremendous opportunity. If your organisation, public body, or voluntary group wishes to take part, please do get in contact. This is a conversation in which we all have a stake. If we get this right - in policing and across public services- over the coming months and years then London will be both a commercial success and also a success story of institutional collaboration and change.
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