Policing in Lichfield

Despite the importance of this topic, a poorly attended meeting on 20th May at St Mary's Centre, had the benefit of an interesting insight into the policing strategy for Lichfield from Sgt Steve Dowle from the Police Community Action Team based here in the City, which is part of the Trent Valley Division of the Staffordshire Police Authority. This also includes Burton, Uttoxeter, Tamworth and Burntwood, Steve emphasised to us the character of the area, from heavily urbanised through to truly rural, bringing a variety of policing problems. Their workload is further compounded by our proximity to the West Midlands Conurbation, from where criminals can easily access Staffordshire's communities.

As for many professions, policing has changed radically since the passing of the Crime and Disorder Act. Gone are the days when the police had the capacity to react to every call for assistance or advice in an un-prioritised way, not discriminating between urgent and non urgent situations. Now the police forces are expected to operate strategically, identifying in liaison with their local authorities, the general public and interest groups, those issues which need proactive measures. They are also guided by Central Government advice which requires police forces to address issues which are perceived as causing national and local concern. These include antisocial behaviour, criminal damage, violence, burglary and theft of vehicles. Local Strategies have to be prepared showing how local units will tackle these problems and, inevitably, achievement targets have to be set ... and met.

How have the police organise themselves to meet these requirements? Steve explained that the uniformed branch, of which he is a part are now split into three related teams, The Community Action Team is required to tackle the longer term deep seated problems, working in partnership with the local authority, and other organisations such as the Probation Service, sometimes over an extended period of time. They aim to be proactive unlike the traditional "copper on the beat", who merely reacted to "one off" incidents. This does not mean that we have lost this type of policing because there will always be a need for police to cover major incidents 24 hours a day. So Incident Management Units have be created to deal with traffic accidents, thefts and other urgent incidents. Finally, the Pro Active Unit operates in plain clothes in liaison with the CID. They target (and even shadow) known criminals and are particularly active in dealing with drugs-related issues.

Steve wound up by sharing the audience's frustrations over the operation of the Human Rights Act, admitting that its extreme interpretation by some lawyers made the police's task of securing a conviction doubly difficult. Still, we can all sleep easier in our beds. Steve told us that for a City of its size, the crime rate in Lichfield was relatively low.

Roger Hockney
May 2004