Community Policing in the United Kingdom

By Trapp, Clayton | Law & Order, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Community Policing in the United Kingdom


Trapp, Clayton, Law & Order


No country in the world, certainly none outside North America, shares as much culturally with the United States as the United Kingdom- England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Language, style and politics are similar if not identical. The same can be said of law enforcement issues.

In the United Kingdom, as in the United States, problems vary greatly between cities and rural areas. An officer in London has much more commonality of experience with his counterpart in New York than with the neighborhood officer in rural Cornwall. A constable in Cornwall would probably be more comfortable with issues presented by rural Vermont than London.

There are differences, but some are not as great as they would appear at first glance. England is notorious for its class-consciousness and generous benefits system, but these combine on the ground as housing communities in which most residents live in housing provided by local councils, and live on subsistence grants from the government. It is in these areas of the United Kingdom that officers face the most severe challenges to law and order and peaceful coexistence. How different is this situation from the urban American inner-city cycle of poverty?

Policing policies in the United Kingdom offer an opportunity to consider if those policies, whether adopted whole or integrated, might offer an opportunity to positively affect law enforcement in the states. The trend in U.K. policing is to enforce variations of policies seen to work in the United States, notably zero tolerance concepts, New York's CompStat model and problem solving approaches in general.

Local Solutions for Local Problems

To attain its stated goals of: delivering a more effective service; making the best use of available resources; using partnership effectively to solve problems; tackling the causes of crime, disorder and community safety problems; and ensuring that resources are effectively deployed, the U.K. constabulary has adopted what is essentially a local approach.

The local approach stems from a report made by Judge James Morgan in the wake of widespread riots and unrest in the mid 1980s. Morgan stressed the need for governmental agencies to work together to blunt the causes of crime in general, and inequalities caused by the United Kingdom's entrenched class system in particular. Over the following decade Morgan's recommendations were accepted to widely varying degrees by police leadership throughout the United Kingdom.

The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 (CDA) codified Morgan's recommendations to a large degree, and effectively unified policing approaches throughout the United Kingdom. The act stressed three key messages: (1) the importance of involving the local community at every stage in the process; (2) the importance of avoiding the risk of becoming too preoccupied with structures; and (3) emphasizing partnerships with other agencies as equals.

As set forth in internal training materials, U.K. police found that reactive policing is resource intensive and has little long-term impact on the underlying causes of crime. Early identification of those incidents that actually or potentially result in a disproportionate reactive demand on police resources should be highlighted for a problem solving approach.

Local officers working within certain perimeters largely dictate specific U.K. strategies. For example, the definition of what constitutes a problem is intentionally left undefined, with instructional materials noting that incidents may vary in terms of their seriousness from nuisance to serious crime, and they are all of concern to the community and adversely affect their quality of life and cause a general increase in the fear of crime.

Obviously flexibility is considered a key to effectiveness in the United Kingdom. In a multicultural society with significant variations in education and economic power, this is seen as a more sensible approach than a one size fits all solution. …

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