The 19th century holds several keys which modern policing could use to reform, and one of which is using the willing public to help enforce justice. Former MEP Rupert Matthews explains why the lessons of the past can solve the problems of the future.

I've asked hundreds of people across Leicestershire or Rutland what change they would like to see made to their local police. Those over the age of 40 answer 'bring back the bobbies on the beat'. They are old enough to remember the days when the fabled Bobby on the Beat was a real thing.

But when I asked a senior police officer what change he would most like to see, the 'bobby on the beat' didn't rate a mention.

On this issue, there is a disconnect between the public and the police.

A key role for the Police and Crime Commissioner is to act as a sort of modern-day 'Tribune of the Plebs'. Our police do a difficult and dangerous job, but it is the PCC who is tasked with staying in touch with public opinion.

But though he may be disregarded by senior police officers today, the bobby on the beat performed a number of functions helpful to cementing cohesion between the community and the police, not all of them immediately obvious. Certainly not all of them can be easily quantified, costed or measured.

One of these was the collection of local intelligence – 'intel' - as one Leicestershire ex-copper describes it.

I'm not talking about the big crime gangs, dealt with by specialist units. No, what the bobby on the beat used to know was where the local youths gathered out of the public eye to consume their silver gas canisters, or which field was being eyed up by a hare-coursing gang or who was responsible for the local park's vandalism. Burglars usually live near their victims. Pickpockets rarely stray far from home. Fly-tippers don't waste money on petrol driving to distant dumping grounds.

As I have chatted to residents across Leicestershire, it is the small crimes that get mentioned most often. It is very often the unglamorous crimes of vandalism, burglary and soft drugs that can blight areas, depress victims and ruin the quality of life for thousands. They don't make the headlines, but they cause misery and fear.

The increase in these crimes is driven in part by the fact that those responsible believe that they won't get caught. And that in turn is driven by a lack of street level intel. But there is no quick fix. There are simply not enough police officers to provide a bobby on the beat everywhere that one is wanted, and haven't been for decades.

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So what is to be done?

Well, Sir Robert Peel can show the way. When he founded the modern police force back in 1829 he set forth a set of principles for his new creation to follow. One was

'To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.'

In other words, the public can do part-time what the police do full-time. It is time to move the police into the 21st Century by taking it back to the 19th Century.

Fortunately, we already have groups of citizens across our city and counties who are interested in their local communities, who are concerned about crime and who are willing to help the police. Step forward our Neighbourhood Watch bodies and, in rural areas, Parish Councils.

As Conservative Candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, I have spoken with many of our Parish Council and Neighbourhood Watch groups and before lockdown had met with a good number of them too. You could not meet a finer bunch of people anywhere.

There would need to be proper training of community members who want to help the police. There will also be a need for realistic expectations from both police and volunteers which will be undoubtedly tricky. The police will need to provide equipment as well as training, and a supportive infrastructure that speeds and assesses the flow of information so that it arrives at the right place fast enough to be useful.

Setting up such a network in our community would provide real cohesion to our communities and their relationship with the police. It would, however, be time consuming and would absorb resources in time, money and equipment that many might argue would be better spent on quick fixes that would have a more immediate impact.

But you don't fatten a hog on market day, to coin a phrase. Making our communities safe and providing the sort of community cohesion that the bobby on the beat used to provide will take time. But it will be worth it.

The law-abiding public deserve nothing less.

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