News article

RHE Global

Can Technology Save Community Safety?

We hear from Journalist, Will Hatchett and Jim Nixon on this thought-provoking piece.

RHE Global logo
RHE Global logo
RHE Global logo

RHE Global

13 Dec 2023

Robot and human hand
Robot and human hand
Robot and human hand

Jim Nixon, RHE Global’s Director of Community Safety, draws some positive messages from 2023 – a year in which the Met Police lurched deeper into an identity crisis and councils faced the prospect of even smaller budgets.

Few people can say that they genuinely love their job. But Jim Nixon is one of them. Since 2022, he has been at the forefront of helping to deliver RHE Global’s enforcement solutions in community safety. Nixon has a wider role in the topic, through his popular podcasts, training and media work, bringing together 25 years’ worth of practical experience and legal expertise and his passion for a topic that affects all of us.

This policy area, well-known to EHOs, covers graffiti and fly-tipping, street drinking, neighbour disputes for example over noise, safeguarding issues, domestic abuse, knife crime and many other behaviours that form the background of everyday enforcement and define our street scenes. In many cases, they are not ‘owned’ by a particular service but covered by many. 

Today, virtually all public services are thinly stretched – most officers have retreated to their core professional roles, for example in food safety, housing management or environmental protection. The number of police community support officers (PCSOs) and other street-level enforcement teams and resources has fallen sharply over the last two decades. Micro-managed by vote-seeking politicians, police services are suffering from a deepening identity crisis – what are they actually for? 

The police are covering far too many bases, including dealing with mental health issues, while their charge and prosecution rates are actually falling.

In the last two years, the police’s professional reputation, which had failed to recover following the damning verdict of ‘institutional racism’ delivered by the Macpherson Report in 1999, has been pushed down even further. Fallout following the murder by Minnesota police of George Floyd in 2020 led to a UK version of Black Lives Matter. 

Since then, we have experienced the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Officer Wayne Couzens, the police’s mishandling of the subsequent Clapham Common vigil, the forced departure from office of Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, and her successor, Sir Mark Rowley, being forced to vigorously defend a London police service that is widely perceived by the left as being ‘racist’ and, by the right, as excessively ‘woke’.

Knowledge from the street

Nixon began his career as a police officer on the beat in the West Midlands, in 1995, before switching to managerial ASB roles for a housing association and a council, then training and consultancy. His two-and-a-half-decade career has seen a plethora of tough-talking home secretaries and a deluge of criminal justice and public order legislation, while frontline resourcing has fallen. Police numbers, already low, were ‘hollowed out‘ by Prime Minister Theresa May from 2010, and council budgets are a shadow of pre-Coalition levels. Last month, two councils – Nottingham and Birmingham – went broke.

No one would say that crime and policing, or local government, are now in a ‘good place’. All of this adds up to an environment in which community safety, or anti-social behaviour, which is often perpetrated by the victims of multiple service failures, is increasingly falling between the cracks. 

It’s all the more important then, Nixon argues, for the multiple agencies that operate alongside the police to work more efficiently and to reduce their overheads. This is where technology can play a vital role, complementing the skills and judgement of trained professionals.

Looking back at 2023, on the threshold of a possible change of government and a new ‘mood music’ for crime and policing, it can be seen as a year of fine-tuning in community safety rather than era-defining legislation. The ASB action plan launched in March gave a focus on victims and some buzzwords such as ‘hotspot policing’, ‘immediate justice’ and, an old favourite, ‘zero tolerance’. The ‘community trigger’, a power available under the 2014 Crime and Policy Act, favoured by Nixon as a mechanism for bringing together professionals, has been relabelled as a ‘community case review’.

During the year, Nixon re-launched his monthly podcast series. His high-profile guests have included sportswoman Fatima Whitbread, football player Paul Stewart, ex-US police chiefs from Seattle and Boston and Iain Donnelly, a former UK senior police officer in intelligence, counter-terrorism and serious crime roles, whose controversial 2021 book on policing, Tango Juliet Foxtrot (TGF), translates, unprintably, as ‘the job is xxxxed’. 

Last month, Nixon launched, for RHE, an online community safety roundtable, which is set to be a monthly event with guest speakers, a Q&A and an opinion poll. And next year, he says, RHE Global’s community safety provision is set to be expanded.

The Noise App Version 2

In July, RHE Global announced version two of its popular smartphone-based noise app, which now has more than 400 subscribers in the UK, Australia and Ireland. The market-leading app allows the tenants of subscribing landlords who are experiencing problems to log and submit noise reports, which can be used as supporting evidence if a case goes to court. On the new version, up to five pieces of supporting media can be attached, and video recordings are automatically edited to provide GPS-tagged and time and date-stamped extracts.

He explains: “It has a lot more features now and is easier to use, both for app users and subscribers, who could be a council or a housing association. Because of budget cuts, we’re seeing a lot of landlords using the app to replace diary sheets, as part of their out-of-hours noise service.”

This year, in the field of noise, a report from the Housing Ombudsman highlighted the systematic failures of a well-known housing association, to deal with multiple noise issues raised by a vulnerable tenant which had contributed to his suicide. The app not only saves councils money, says Nixon, it also makes noise investigation more nuanced. He says: “Landlords may try to push a noise issue down the ASB route when, actually, it has nothing to do with ASB. It may be caused by hard flooring, or poor sound insulation. Landlords should work harder to find out what’s going on, before they start labelling people as ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’.”

The use of apps for noise reporting is a boon in a time of budget cuts, saving officer time and costs for enforcement services by up to 80%. It also, argues Nixon, helps to highlight systemic or structural issues, so that noise problems can be prevented rather than merely reacted to – for example, by better neighbour management policies or, for new properties and refurbs, more stringent building regulations.

There are now plans to market RHE Global’s noise app to landlords across Europe, and the same ‘prevention is better than cure’ philosophy could be applied to many other areas of enforcement, helped by the rich, real-time data that can be captured by smartphones.

Nixon is a believer in the ground rules that were laid down for the Metropolitan Police by Sir Robert Peel, in 1829. They hold that it’s best to work within a framework of community consent and that the test of enforcement efficiency is ‘the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of action’. 

Suella Braverman, our last home secretary, did not follow the precepts of the founder of modern policing. She was probably unaware of them. But she is home secretary no longer. That’s the thing with this area of policy: every new office holder brings a new crime and policing paradigm, muddying waters that have not been allowed to settle since the last one. Unfortunately, health, housing and education follow the same pattern.

Will Hatchett has been a journalist since 1986. He was editor of Environmental Health News from 1998 until 2018. The views expressed here are purely his own.

 



Don’t miss a thing

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates

smarter
public

protection

© 2023 RH Environmental Limited trading as RHE Global. All rights reserved.

Don’t miss a thing

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates

smarter
public

protection

© 2023 RH Environmental Limited trading as RHE Global. All rights reserved.

Don’t miss a thing

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates

smarter
public

protection

© 2023 RH Environmental Limited trading as RHE Global. All rights reserved.