Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
It’s been another terrible week for the Met and its officers. Recent revelations regarding racism, sexism and so-called “banter” are disgusting, unrepresentative of the vast majority of UK police officers and beyond excuse or apology.
Of course, most of us don’t live in an area covered by the Metropolitan Police, but instead within one of the other 42 forces in England and Wales, or Police Scotland.
Away from the headlines, so often dominated by the goings-on in London, what is the reality of policing in Britain? Recently released crime statistics show that solve rates are woefully low and as Surrey’s PCC I have been clear with my own chief constable in both public and private that our residents demand and deserve better.
These day to day issues have always dominated policing and are most likely what you read about in your daily newspaper and on community groups. But what about the wider policing picture? Are there reasons to be cheerful? I believe there are and that they deserve to be shared.
1. Work to tackle county lines drug trafficking – the recruitment and use of vulnerable children and adults to traffic drugs away from cities and into smaller towns and rural areas – is going on around the country with some excellent results.
Rather than just playing the traditional game of Whack-A-Mole with those caught using small amounts of drugs, police are targeting the organised gangs who supply the cannabis or cocaine that end up on our local streets. Often, these gangs are involved in other serious and violent crimes which can result in long sentences and the disruption of the supply line and organisation.
2. Modern policing has embraced social media, and the results benefit us all. Those needing to report a crime or concern in Surrey can do so using the traditional methods of 999 or 101, but also have the option to contact the Force on our Facebook page, website or to direct message us on Twitter.
The messages are read in real time and by those who are skilled at answering the same concerns on the phone. In fact, for those who are not able to use the telephone to make a report – perhaps through hearing problems or because they are in a domestic abuse situation – contacting the police in this way can be much better.
When speaking to residents, I am often told how useful they find our local “beat” Facebook pages – run by officers – and how helpful the local updates are. In my view, the use of Twitter to help spread the word and locate vulnerable missing persons makes up for all the bad it can do.
3. The recruitment of a diverse police force is absolutely essential if we are to able to continue to police our communities by consent, a cornerstone of British policing and democracy.
This means that our force must reflect the communities we serve – and more than ever, this is the case. While there is still much work to be done, particularly in the recruitment and retention of black officers, real progress has been made. We are seeing women join the force in unprecedented numbers and when I look around at my own force I see a talented and diverse workforce.
4. Serious and organised crime is an area we don’t talk about much in day to day policing, but it is a serious concern in communities, both urban and rural. Successes such as Op Venetic, which so far has resulted in 746 arrests, the seizure of 77 firearms, two tonnes of drugs and £54 million in cash is an excellent example of UK policing and law enforcement working together with European partner agencies to take down a bespoke, encrypted global communication service based in France but used by 10,000 criminals in the UK alone.
Kidnappings and executions among rival gangs have been prevented and countless communities saved from the devastating consequences of organised crime.
5. Combating violence against women and girls – in all its forms – has been made a national priority and not before time. Individually, police forces are required to have a plan to tackle VAWG and officers are better equipped and better trained than ever before in dealing with everything from domestic abuse to stalking.
While sexism and misogyny are not something we will ever be able to police our way out of, I am proud that policing in both my own force, and around England and Wales, is leading the way.
For every bad headline there are hundreds of officers in forces like mine who are working around the clock to keep us safe. You probably know some of them – they might be your friend, family member or neighbour. They are much more than a headline, they are our heroes.