Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Community Engagement

Policing by Consent and Community Engagement

In 1829, at the very beginning of professional policing in the UK, the first commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (Sir Richard Mayne) summarised and published a series of policing principles. Running through these principles, which still form the basis of UK policing, is a golden thread of policing by consent of the public.

The challenge for the modern Metropolitan Police Service and for the Mayor of London (see here) are to find effective ways of engaging with the public, to advise them of their work; to seek to understand crime and disorder issues concerning the public; to inform them of their achievements and consult with them on current and future developments.

Scarman, Accountability and Consultation

As a direct result of the report by Lord Scarman on the Brixton riots in 1981, Section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (1) required the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to establish consultative arrangements within the Metropolitan Police Area. This was with the aim of obtaining the views of the local community about local policing and to obtain their co-operation in the reduction of crime.

In consequence Police & Community Consultative Groups (in 2008 renamed CPEGs) were established in each London borough with a primary remit to provide a forum for the consultation between the local police and the local community. The Home Secretary also sanctioned expenditure incurred by consultative groups to be met from the MPS funds. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 brought the Metropolitan Police Service into line with other forces in England and Wales with the formation of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA). In 2000 the legal responsibility for making the arrangements for obtaining the views of the community about policing shifted from the MPS to the MPA. However, the original remit of CPEGs still remains.

The MPS, Community Engagement and Social Media

There is a developing separation between the meeting of MPS operational needs of policing via community engagement and the broader based police and community engagement and consultation. With the MPS concentrating on innovative approached to 'penetrating local communities', for instance via social media, and ad hoc targeted consultations. They appear to be handing over the formal consultation mechanisms - such as Independent Advisory Groups (2) to the MOPC whose aim is to integrate these into borough based Safer Neighbourhood Boards.

A comprehensive review of the disorder in August 2011, published by the Metropolitan Police (3) stated that gangs were using the internet and other digital communication, such as BlackBerry Messenger, to “co-ordinate widespread crime”. But its officers were unable to keep track of the messages, and did not have the staff or technology to capture them for evidence. The Metropolitan Police also admitted it could have done more online to dispel rumours and give out accurate information to worried residents as the riots spread. 

As a direct result of the disorder there was a recognition that action would need to be taken to address the problems. 

"It was found that Independent members of the community who are willing to give up their time and offer advice to the police are vital to the modern MPS. But the current MPS model for community engagement and generating independent advice is inconsistent and sometimes not transparent. In addition it is noteworthy that the complexity and diversity of London’s communities has grown since its establishment. The MPS is fundamentally reviewing the structure and process of its community engagement model. It is looking at its effectiveness in penetrating communities and reaching key groups, including young people. This recognition of the need to use social media is at an early stage. Policies are being developed to enable a dialogue between local police in the UK and the communities for who they work". (4)

“In terms of social media the MPS is clear that its capability for using social media networks as engagement is in its infancy. During August 2011, an opportunity to engage with its communities more effectively was lost by the MPS. It is recognised that the facility to communicate instantly and in a far reaching way could have been used to great effect, specifically to counter incorrect information and to improve public safety and confidence.” (5)

The London police have also introduced plans to invest in technology that can analyse social media as well as setting up dedicated Twitter accounts for all 32 municipal districts of London.

___________________________________________

  1. See here
  2. The role of Independent Advisors is described by the MPS as a “critical friend in time of need” – a group of non police people who can: 1) Provide advice and guidance to the police to help prevent critical incidents escalating (these may be external or internal incidents). 2) Provide a sounding board for the police to understand the potential impact on communities of police practices and operations. Four corporate IAGs - Race, Disability, LGBT and Trident (gangs, guns, knife crime) provide the Metropolitan Police Service with strategic advice on specific communities. Every borough has an IAG made up of citizens from the local communities, advising on local issues.
  3. 4 Days In August. Published by the Metropolitan Police. March 2012
  4. ibid page 6
  5. ibid page 100