PCC public consultation – Response to the consultation by Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association

PCC public consultation

‘Use Your Voice – Make Wiltshire Safer’

Response to the consultation by Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association

Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association (WNHWA) response to the public consultation acknowledges the PCC’s encouragement for Wiltshire residents to ‘Use Your Voice’ in ‘helping shape the future of policing in Wiltshire and help make it a safer place.’

Applying the principle advocated by the PCC ‘If it matters to you, it matters to me’ our Association’s submission will focus on what it believes to be strategic areas for development/improvement, each of which embrace the spirit of the Partnership Agreement ‘signed-off’ by Wiltshire Police, the OPCC and Wiltshire NHW Association in July 2018.

The philosophy and purpose of WNHWA embrace principles that support building strong communities, preventing crime and working to support community resilience and community spirit. The Partnership Agreement aims at initiating, as well as sustaining a tangible sense of collaboration between Wiltshire Police and WNHWA as well as local NHW schemes and their respective neighbourhood police teams. An example of each stakeholder’s commitment to support such collaboration is made clear in the following statements specific to each organisation:

Wiltshire NHW – Work in partnership with the Police and other local agencies across the locality (Point 5)

Wiltshire Police – Ensure that Neighbourhood Policing Teams forge and maintain links with Neighbourhood Watch Scheme Co-ordinators (Point 4)

OPCC – To encourage partnership working between NHW, other community safety partners and their police force (Point 5)

Relevant at this time is our Association’s acknowledgement of both the complexity of policing in meeting growing demands, as well as the impact the Covid pandemic has had on operational policing in Wiltshire.

During the early part of 2020, Chief Constable Keir Pritchard commissioned an improvement programme to the Community Policing model which was introduced in 2016. The improvement programme was encapsulated in ‘A Policing Model Fit for the Future’ published in March 2020. One of four listed changes was ‘The re-introduction of dedicated teams to focus on neighbourhood policing.’  At that time the serving PCC, Angus Macpherson said, ‘The first principle of policing is to prevent crime, and you can only do that by knowing your community.’

Evident in the rationale for the improvement programme was the urgent need to revitalise neighbourhood policing which our Association strongly supports. During the intervening 4 years since the CPT model was introduced in 2016, there has been growing dissatisfaction amongst NHW members concerning both visibility and communication issues as it relates to the quality of interaction with local police officers and PCSO’s which had been more evident pre-2016. 

For the reasons outlined above, Wiltshire NHW Association strongly supports Wiltshire Police in its endeavour to REVITALISE neighbourhood policing and would wish to indicate its willingness to support Wiltshire Police.

In terms of delivering neighbourhood policing, the College of Police have published what could be described as ‘keep it simple’ criteria.  Some essential elements include:

  • Regular formal and informal contact with communities
  • Making available information about local crime and policing issues to communities
  • Using engagement to identify local priorities and inform problem-solving

In relation to regular contact with communities this could extend to organising meetings with NHW scheme co-ordinators. To support principles that could be described as ‘micro-communication’ the near 300 Parish/Town Councils that operate in Wiltshire and Swindon should not be underestimated in their ability to respond to information as well as communicate information to residents, not least given that most of the Parish Councils serve small communities. Any notion of revitalising neighbourhood policing should prioritise developing a communication network that engages Parish/Town Councils, Neighbourhood Watch scheme co-ordinators and neighbourhood police officers and PCSO’s.

As for making available information about crime, the crime map published a month or two in arrears on the Wiltshire Police website aggregates the type of crimes committed within each CPT. Whilst it might be considered helpful to use the crime map to identify the street or area where the crime was committed any direct follow-up with residents frequently results in blank expressions and anecdotally, the ‘mystery’ of a reported crime that no-one is aware of! Whilst case sensitivity and confidentiality must be maintained, making available information pertaining to local crime is one way of preventing crime as well as encouraging people to come forward with information. NHW scheme co-ordinators could play a strategic role in the dissemination of information specific to their local area.

Sadly, any analysis of anecdote or fact reveals a sense of dissatisfaction in the minds of many residents borne of a failure on the part of Wiltshire Police to respond and follow-up on reported incidents despite, at times, there being hard evidence available such as CCTV. Our Association is certainly aware of a public perception that the police simply do not understand how to get people ‘on-side’ to ensure the public perceive their contact with the police to be a positive experience which may also serve to encourage the public to pass on information to the police. The potential for such positive interaction also extends to neighbourhood police teams raising awareness in people’s minds about how to report crime and recognise suspicious behaviour and what to do in terms of providing helpful information to the police.    

At ‘street level’ there is growing concern regarding the increase in Anti-Social Behaviour with 45% of people indicating it is a problem where they live and 56% of those who had either been a victim of or a witness to ASB not reporting it to anyone. Effective neighbourhood policing should prioritise ASB which, if undertaken, is quite likely to have a positive impact on the prevalence of ASB at the same time reassuring the local community who, in many instances are left with no option but to ‘put up and shut up.’  Any notion of addressing ASB relies upon a police presence and inevitably an efficient 101 system.

The issues raised above are all pertinent to the recent post on Community Messaging by the PCC entitled ‘PCC Says Crime Stats Only Paint Half the Picture’ which certainly questions the assertion frequently heard that Wiltshire is a safe county. Put into context, this means that on average the monthly total of crimes reported in the Swindon CPT could rise to almost three thousand or one hundred per day! One may speculate on the reasons why the PCC believes ‘there are many more offences being committed in the county that police aren’t aware of.’  However, the PCC clearly perceives that there is a ‘widening gap between us (Wiltshire Police) and the public’ which he clearly believes needs to be closed. Echoing our Association’s support for the REVITALISATION of neighbourhood policing, the PCC clearly articulates principles intrinsic to the Partnership Agreement referred to earlier, when he states:

‘By working together, we can increase public confidence so we have a true understanding of the picture in Wiltshire and can work together to make the county safer. My Police and Crime Plan will help to bridge this gap between the statistics and the reality of crime for victims in Wiltshire setting a clear direction and bringing together key partners to ensure that people feel safe in addition to actually being safe.’

The principle of key partners working together is fundamental to any future perception concerning the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing across Wiltshire and Swindon. In this respect, Wiltshire NHW Association can clearly articulate a definition of ’public engagement’ in support of neighbourhood policing. More significantly can Wiltshire Police articulate what it means by ‘public engagement’ to underpin its service delivery? And if so, how is it recognised? 

Relevant to the above is the need to review membership representation of the Wiltshire Police and Crime Panel which currently comprises Wiltshire County and Swindon Borough Councillors with two independent representatives. WNHWA would like to see community organisations such as Neighbourhood Watch and others represented at the WPCP to support improved scrutiny and accountability.         

History clearly has an implication for the maxim ‘we are where we are’…in Wiltshire. Unfortunately, the introduction of Community Messaging was seen as a replacement for NHW as opposed to how the two could serve to enhance the role of each.  The strategic decision taken by Wiltshire Police around 2010 to pass over a co-ordinating responsibility for NHW to the respective ‘community safety’ arms of Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire County Council proved to be short-lived because of swingeing cuts to local authority funding which saw this oversight cease. At the same time, the transfer of historic data to Neighbourhood Alert has also proved unhelpful in terms of any accurate assessment of just how many NHW schemes and members still exist today, notwithstanding robust evidence that clearly recognises active NHW interest in many locations across Wiltshire and Swindon.  Although some investment has returned to NHW under the guise of Citizens in Policing, it merely represents as a ‘starting point’ if Wiltshire Police are serious in its intentions to revitalise neighbourhood policing. For this reason, Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association respectfully requests the PCC investigate how other Police Forces support their local NHW Associations. The role of ‘Field Officers’ in Gloucestershire is perceived as strategic in sustaining the relationship between police and community. Similarly, Hertfordshire have maintained a strategy framework of support for NHW acknowledging the important role played by NHW members across the county.

Finally, our Association is very concerned about the frequency in which change to personnel has a detrimental impact upon the cohesion of neighbourhood policing in general. Such change in neighbourhood police personnel is rarely communicated which merely adds to confusion and clearly undermines principles of partnership.

Summary Statement

WNHWA supports the Chief Constable’s strategic decision to improve neighbourhood policing. In doing so, our Association requests the important issues highlighted above are addressed.


Paul Sunners

Chair Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association

18th November 2021