Public ignorance of crime reduction initiatives in Hastings and Rother doesn’t help us help the police

From: Cllr. Sally-Ann Hart, Perryfield House, Udimore

In my role as a local district councillor, I was disconcerted to recently come across an example of modern slavery; if such iniquitous criminality can happen on our doorsteps, goodness knows what goes on in other cities, towns and villages across the country.

Crime prevention and the maintenance of law and order are generally seen by the voting public to be the responsibilities of the police. But they are equally the responsibilities of local communities, using a “working together” approach.

To combat modern slavery, an initiative championed by our MP, Amber Rudd (as former Home Secretary), Hastings and Rother’s Project Discovery brings together a number of local agencies and groups, including representatives from the police, fire services, Hastings and Rother Councils, Kings Church, Stop the Traffik, immigration and local charities, all with the aim of ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice, preventing modern slavery and seeing victims of modern slavery rescued and supported.

It is a great example of partnership working and as Amber said last year: “We are all connected to modern slavery; and we all bear the solemn responsibility of seeing it wiped out.”

Listening to concerns that the police ‘do nothing’ at local parish council meetings in my Ward, I probed some local councillors and members of the public as to whether they knew about Project Discovery and the Sussex Police Modern Slavery (telephone) Helpline.

As suspected, the response was overwhelmingly that they did not – only one person I spoke to knew about this project.

The public’s lack of awareness, let alone that of elected local representatives, may not only inhibit effective partnership working but also the success of an ingenious initiative – all vital in preventing and reducing crime to ensure that our communities are safe, secure and strong.

Modern slavery is not the only criminal behaviour present in Hastings and Rother; we have an increase in violent and sexual crime; ongoing drug abuse and drug related crime; an increase in a sordid practice known as ‘cuckooing’ (where criminal gangs use vulnerable people’s homes to sell drugs, making the drug dealers less easy to identify); cybercrime; domestic and child abuse.

Much of this criminal behaviour is committed behind closed doors and the police cannot solve these problems alone; individuals, communities, public bodies, GPs, social workers, hospitals, schools, businesses and so on can all play our part.

But to do so, it needs to be known what are the issues, what can be done and what a targeted working together approach will achieve.

To prevent crime, early intervention by the police working with partner agencies is key.

Rother District Council is a member of the Safer Rother Partnership (and of the wider East Sussex Safer Communities Partnership), which includes East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, East Sussex Fire & Rescue, and Hastings & Rother Primary Care Trust.

The role of these partnerships is to work with other statutory and voluntary agencies within the Rother district to develop and implement a crime and disorder prevention strategy.

These partnerships also depend on engagement by individuals and communities reporting crime and anti-social behaviour.

Whilst Sussex Police and RDC’s websites, for example, contain detailed information and signposting to relevant services and helplines, it is clear that most people remain unaware of the local crime reduction initiatives.

Active engagement with local communities and efficient, effective communication is key – and it needs to be improved. In the same way that crime prevention and the maintenance of law and order is not the sole responsibility of the police, the responsibility for open, efficient and effective communication and community engagement can be shared.

We all need do our bit and local authorities, through their councillors, are in an excellent position to do so, but they also need to be well informed.

Over the years, the nature of policing may have changed, but Sir Robert Peel’s principle that “the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of the community welfare” has not changed.

We just need to know how and be encouraged to help.