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Superintendent Justin Srivastava

Blog: Public health approaches in policing and the learning so far

Written by Superintendent Justin Srivastava, Lancashire Violence Reduction Network

I remember back in 2012, when I was working in Blackburn being told by public health colleagues that the future of policing needs better policing activity around adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and public health approaches.

How right they were, little did I know that 9 years later the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network and NPCC would be hosting a four-nations five-day webinar on the same approaches with an amazing @WeCops Twitter debate on the Wednesday night.

Only a few months before we had been asked by the Home Office to be the lead Violence Reduction Unit on trauma informed and public health approaches and combining our expertise with the webinar seemed to make a lot of sense.

The energy, enthusiasm and dedication to public health approaches has been astounding. I have been overwhelmed by the contributions from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and what we originally planned as a two day webinar quickly became a five day event with 65 speakers, 1700 participants and excellent content from front line leaders and practitioners including national and international policy makers or influencers.

On Wednesday the 10th February 2021, CC Andy Rhodes and I hosted the “WeCops” debate on Public Health approaches in policing. We were really keen to get as many different views and thoughts from across the four nations and beyond.

We weren’t disappointed – some of the questions that were posed are often echoed in other forums and meetings:

What do you mean by a public health approach to policing?

Is it relevant to law enforcement?

Are we just doing the job of other agencies?

In 2018, the National Police Chiefs Council, College of Policing and Public Health England tried to answer that particular “exam question” when they published “What is a Public Health approach in policing?

In that document the public health approach is broken down into five key areas:

  • data
  • prevention
  • partnership
  • population
  • and dealing with the “causes of the causes”.

In many ways this has a lot of synergy with the original Peelian principles of policing namely that the goal is preventing crime and thus earning public support not solely catching criminals.

All of us in our careers have experienced the need to deal with vulnerable members of our community and for some at 2am in the morning the police are a telephone call of choice. This was supported by the College of Policing in 2015 when they highlighted that the majority of our police demand and deployment isn’t crime related – a picture that is probably recognisable to all colleagues from Cornwall to Newcastle. Thus, if we are having to deploy to non-crime matters maybe, adopting a public health approach isn’t a “nice to have” but more of an operational necessity?

So, this was hotly debated in the webinar and the “WeCops” Twitter debate and a number of consistent themes emerged:

  • The opportunity for co-location or integrated services at a strategic and place-based level
  • Learning from lived experience and ensuring that this is a key part of service delivery
  • The importance of recruiting, retaining and progressing leaders that can operate in complex partnership environments.
  • Mainstreaming and sustainable funding across the system for prevention, early intervention and public health approaches.
  • A call for cross government departmental working to address the “causes of the causes”
  • The need for enhanced and improved data sharing across local and national systems that includes the ability to use data to predict vulnerability.

Some of the themes need to be discussed, debated and actioned at a local level and those that are national issues have been fed back into the NPCC lead DCC Julian Moss for consideration by Chief Officers and the Home Office and other government departments.

We wanted the @WeCops event and the webinar to continue the debate, raise awareness and assist those leaders and practitioners working at a local level as well as informing our senior leaders. I think we achieved our aims but there is still a lot to do.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”

After the success of the webinar we are planning several monthly 90 mins events to showcase some of the excellent public health and trauma informed work that is taking place across UK policing. The next one will be a “public health approach to gangs” to be hosted in April.

Details of the monthly webinars and the content is still available to view “on demand” – www.virtual4nations.uk

This blog was originally published at We Communities (wecops.org).

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