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PACT in ?

PACT in ?Several years ago, following the Government's relaxation of alcohol licensing times, the Vogue Nightclub opened in Back St Annes Road West.

Shortly after that, the former Commissar's desire to create a totally unnecessary 'Night Time Economy' was launched on an unwilling St Annes community, and there were many instances of trouble. (See Nightclubs Should Pay and License for Anything)

There were packed and angry public meetings. We recall seeing a video shown at one of these meetings where there was as much noisy pedestrian traffic outside late night takeaways in St David's Road South at 2am as you would see on a busy Saturday morning (and there were also many more police cars and vans than you see in the daytime).

The usual problems attended the alcohol fuelled revellers - mindless criminal damage, aggression, lack of bladder control, reactive vomiting, and litter.

As the former Commissar had hoped, it was all a great success. Loads of people were 'enjoying' his late night economy and noisily staggering home from town (and distributing the contents of pizza boxes, bladders and stomachs in people's gardens) throughout  the late night / early morning hours.

Those problems were taken in hand by a chap called Peter Vodden who, at that time ran the Tudor House Guest House in St David's Road South. With little or no help from Fylde Council, he built a small team of enthusiastic local people who worked with the Police to take control of his street again.

At about the same time, the former (Blair) Government had embarked on changes in policing. Their buzzword was 'Neighbourhood Policing' and the two initiatives came together in St Annes in St David's Road South when, as a natural extension of their co-operation together, it resulted first in the St David's Road Community Group working closely with the police and, subsequently, the creation of the Central Ward Police and Community Together meeting. (PACT)

This became a structured meeting with agenda, minutes and so on. It had two main purposes: for the police, it introduced them to people active in the community and thus provided a rich source of information about what was going on locally. It also brought them closer to the community in which they worked.

For residents, it brought closer understanding of the issues affecting policing; it introduced them to 'the uniforms' and, most especially, each monthly meeting set three priority issues which were of the greatest concern to local people. The police would accept these as their priorities for the ensuing month, and report to the following meeting what progress had been made to resolving them.

None of this was earth-shattering in its concept, it was plain simple honest-to-goodness common sense, but it came close to the tried and trusted former concept of having police officers living in the community they served in terms of knowing what was going on. People had their concerns dealt with and could see they had made a difference to their lives. That encouraged more to take part and it became a self-feeding success.

The Central PACT was, at the end of the day, run by the Police. But they cleverly appeared to hand control of the meetings to civilians, the best of whom worked closely with the Police and nurtured local people to attend the meetings as a way of helping to resolve their problems.

The success of Central PACT quickly led to other PACT meetings being established in most areas throughout Fylde.

Supported by a very enthusiastic and able Police Inspector who clearly believed in Community Policing, a series of training seminars to help civilian PACT officials was subsequently instituted.

The seminars provided advice and support on chairing meetings, the functions of a PACT secretary and so on. Over 12 months these meetings covered all aspects of a PACT's work and led to a handbook of good practice being produced.

They also let those chairing PACT meetings, and those acting as a secretary, meet together regularly to discuss how they had solved problems and they thus shared best practice. All of this was done using volunteer trainers and facilitators, and volunteer PACT officials working with the Police for the good of the community.

Impressive.

At the end of that twelve months, Fylde was being hailed as the model for the rest of Western Division neighbourhood policing and there was talk of the PACT system and the training programme being rolled out into Blackpool and beyond.

But then there were substantial changes in the policing structure. Officers - both senior and junior personnel moved to different jobs (and in some cases moved outside Fylde), and some of the momentum was lost.

At least some of those involved as volunteers felt that there was now less emphasis being placed on PACT by the more senior officers who had assumed control. The constables and Police Community Support Officers who attending each PACT changed frequently (and sometimes seemed ill prepared to report). Continuity was damaged and enthusiasm was lost. The spiral of decline began, and those members of the community attending PACT meetings became frustrated by the changes, and by their inability to 'make a difference' to their daily lives.

We then saw PACT meetings starting to merge 'because of declining attendance.' Others have become peripatetic, ceasing their regular monthly meeting and having police van attend at markets to talk to local people. This is now being done on a trial basis for a few months to see how it works, but our readers will draw their own conclusions as to whether the monthly meetings will be restored again where they have been abandoned to this 'trial'.

Now, it might sound as though we're laying the blame for the decline of PACT at the door of the police, and to some small extent that *is* the case. (It must be because the issue is about the priority given to neighbourhood policing). The change in personnel seemed to result in less enthusiasm for neighbourhood policing.

But then a document that came our way recently which suggests the main cause really lies elsewhere.

It was published in PoliceOracle, which offers a daily briefing for the policing sector and it warns that tens of thousands more officers could be lost over the next four years unless there is a major change in the country’s economic fortunes.

It predicts that in a worse case scenario, 60,000 personnel could disappear from the ranks as ministers continue to battle the deficit in the public purse, but it also notes that others have suggested that the impact on the policing service will depend on the willingness of forces to change – and embrace new and smarter ways of working.

(We seem to have heard that sort of thing before - and we've usually found it to be just an excuse for reducing the scale and scope of public services)

The report said figures from the Home Office show that officer numbers are now at the lowest level they have been for a decade, with more than 14,000 posts having already been lost in England and Wales over the past three years, and around 5,000 dispensed with in 2012 alone.

The figures were released amid speculation that a government proposal to introduce compulsory severance for officers will be returned to the Police Arbitration Tribunal.

It said Tim Brain , a former Gloucestershire chief constable and a leading academic authority on law enforcement, predicted that the downward trend in officer numbers was far from over – and the current losses were just the tip of the iceberg.

It quoted Dr Brain as saying: “We are going to lose 30,000 by the end of the current Parliament (in 2015). “This is going to take us back around 10 years – which is the point at which the Labour government hit the accelerator pedal for neighbourhood policing.

We thought that was a very telling comment.

The Neighbourhood Policing initiative that we believe was a very important direction for the Police to take will, in effect, have lost the resources that allowed it to happen.

We suspect this will once again make the Police seem more remote from the public they serve.

And that distance from the community will be very damaging to the crucially important information exchange that provides the police with the local intelligence they need to work effectively.

It's very likely that the result of that will be a reversal in the crime statistics - which PACT's were happy to receive as they were going down, and as local problems were being solved.

So if our crime stats go up again, and policing suffers, and becomes more remote, readers might have an idea where to lay the blame.

After all, it's a matter of where the priorities lie.

Dated:   17 August 2013


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