Helping protect the public: Improving the delivery of community safety and the policing of anti-social behaviour

Academics: Professor A. Crawford  and S. Lister, Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Studies conducted by the University of Leeds have led to improvements in the organisation and delivery of policing and community safety, resulting in more secure communities.

The last decade has witnessed far-reaching changes to the organisation and delivery of community safety, raising fundamental policy and practice questions. There has been an increase in the assortment of public, private and municipal policing actors, including the introduction of police community support officers (PCSOs). Police powers have rapidly expanded and civil sanctions to tackle low-level anti-social behaviour introduced, specifically the dispersal order giving police powers to disperse groups in designated areas.

Studies by Leeds researchers exploring the impact, effectiveness and best use of the new personnel and powers identify the need to harness and regulate the efforts of the different agencies through partnerships. The findings demonstrate the benefits of ‘problem-solving’ approaches that mobilise local communities and partner agencies to tackle neighbourhood disorder.

Changing professional policing and community safety practices

A recommendation to set up force-wide strategic units has been implemented with the establishment of Plural Policing units to enhance community safety, responsible for co-ordinating the efforts of the different agencies and for the emergence of partnerships between police and non-police providers of neighbourhood security.

Findings demonstrating the positive contribution of PCSOs have enabled police managers to protect PCSOs from budget cuts and maintain the role’s focus on public reassurance, crime prevention and community safety.

Leeds research evidence supporting the use of dispersal orders as a trigger for wider, longer-term preventative and diversionary strategic planning through multi-agency partnerships has directly informed national guidance. This has resulted in changes to the policies and operational practices of police forces and community safety partnerships, as well as problem-solving initiatives being triggered in some areas alongside the introduction of dispersal powers.

This work has been immensely useful in informing the development of community safety…and in particular supporting local work to integrate partners into an extended policing family... [it] has helped some forces to secure the continuation of PCSOs and has shaped a number of localised partnerships...resulting in improved quality of life for communities.

Chair, National Community Safety Network

Influencing national policy and public debate
The need for greater awareness and standardisation around PCSOs to address public confusion, advocated by Leeds researchers, generated extensive media coverage and political concern. Consequently, a national review has led to the government standardising PCSO powers and work is being undertaken to standardise supervision, training and uniforms.

The studies informed the government’s 2012 White Paper on anti-social behaviour, with Leeds’ recommendation to clarify the scope of the dispersal powers by applying the powers to the behaviour of groups rather than merely their presence accepted in the White Paper and reflected in the  Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

"For me the most important factor when faced with academic findings/research is whether it changes or influences one's own views/beliefs; in relation to Leeds’ work the answer is yes."

Metropolitan Police Anti-Social Behaviour Coordinator and Government Adviser
Funders: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Nuffield Foundation and West Yorkshire Police Authority