Why working with voluntary and community organisations must be top of the agenda for new Police and Crime Commissioners

Ruth Breidenbach-Roe was part of the the Public Services and Partnerships team but has now left NCVO. Her blog posts have been archived here for reference.

Now two weeks into post, with a challenging mission ahead of them, the new Police and Crime Commissioners must make sure they engage with voluntary and community organisations.

On the 15th of November 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were elected for the first time in England and Wales. The new Commissioners are accountable for the way in which crime is tackled in their area and, over the next eight weeks, they must devise a five year police and crime plan which, based on local priorities, will set out how they will achieve their crime-cutting objectives.Importantly, they are also responsible for commissioning services from other organisations which they consider will support their community safety objectives.

Commissioners must coordinate collective local leadership on crime, justice and community safety and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) should be an integral part of this collaboration. The VCS has a lot to offer the Commissioner in their new role, in facilitating community engagement, developing community safety policy, and in delivering services which ultimately reduce crime.

Commissioners have a statutory duty to consult with the communities they serve in order to devise a policing plan which is reflective of their constituency. They are responsible for areas as large as 180 miles wide, therefore consulting with diverse and often complex communities, with differing concerns and priorities, is a significant challenge. This is a key area where voluntary and community groups have a lot to offer.

The VCS works within communities and therefore is able to represent local needs and perspectives.Many organisations work very closely with vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.

These groups are often the most affected by crime and community safety issues and it is therefore essential that Commissioners engage with them, yet typically these groups do not participate in elections and their engagement with politics is limited. Working with community groups is therefore an effective and important way for Commissioners to ensure that they consult with all parts of the communities which they represent.

Another example of this engagement is the inclusion of victims into criminal justice policy. The pledge to listen more closely to victims was heard in many of the Commissioners’ election campaigns, but for this to move beyond rhetoric they must consider how it will be achieved. Many voluntary and community groups work directly with victims, such as victims of domestic violence, and collectively the sector can provide Commissioners with valuable access to a complex range of victims’ issues.

By working with the VCS, Commissioners can effectively engage with local people including those who may find it difficult to advocate for themselves. The strong links the sector has with communities and its direct experience of working with offenders and victims mean it is an important partner in developing an evidence-based, informed and representative policy programme.

A further area where the Commissioner must make use of the sector’s skills and expertise is in the delivery of services. From April, the Commissioner will have access to a Community Safety Fund from which they will commission services for 2013/14.

These services might involve the rehabilitation of offenders, the protection of the vulnerable, or they might focus on the prevention of crime.

The VCS has a lengthy and diverse history of delivering services across criminal justice and community safety. The sector’s experience ranges from drug and alcohol rehabilitation, to homelessness, to young people and gangs. It can offer evidence of which services work in reducing crime and how cost effective they are, and its independence brings genuine innovation to service delivery.

Where previously the policing budget would be broken down to include provisions for specific services, these funding decisions are now at the discretion of the Commissioner. During the election campaign, two of the most frequent promises were around visible policing and anti-social behaviour. Whilst these issues might be important— and are certainly vote winners— Commissioners must make sure they don’t neglect other issues such as domestic violence, drug rehabilitation, homelessness and reducing reoffending.

The diverse nature of the VCS means that it can target all aspects of criminal justice and can make a real impact on the overall picture of crime reduction. For this reason, it is an important partner at all stages of the commissioning process, from identifying need, to developing solutions, to delivering services.

Before the election, Safer Future Communities, a coalition of voluntary and community groups, produced an ‘offer’ for the prospective Commissioners on behalf of the VCS which outlined the unique benefits that the sector brings in the development and implementation of crime and community safety policy. Now two weeks into their new role, the Commissioners would do well to consider engaging with the VCS as a key priority.

The election potentially heralded an environment of renewed collaboration in local policing and community safety and voluntary and community groups are expert and necessary partners.

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