There are many occasions when I speak to members of the public who apologise for calling the police, where they feel that the report that they are making is minor and that the police have better things to do.
In my experience it is the more minor reports can uncover more important issues, therefore the public should not feel this way and equally the police should not miss the bigger picture either.
Take the example of anti-social youths who gather late at night, causing problems to the local community. This type of problem is quite general in many areas where they may be abusive to members of the public and cause minor damage.
I have encountered a similar problem in an area I now patrol, where last week I began to look at other reports nearby because I suspected that these were all linked to the same group. The problems ranged from abusive language, small fires and drug misuse in a churchyard, damage to fencing and garage doors, threatening behaviour and theft of alcohol and cigarettes.
For me, all these problems matter, however, when taken individually, they might appear less important, therefore there is a risk that there is an under-reporting of the incidents.
There are two main reasons why reports such as these matters; firstly, they affect the community who deserve a response and secondly, there will be issues with the youths, or their families, which will need looking into.
I started talking to shop owners and staff along a parade of shops and not only did I establish that there were problems which had not been reported, but I discovered the impact that the youths were having to their businesses.
One shop owner informed me that footballs are kicked against the glass windows after closing, setting off the alarm. This means that they had to travel for one hour back to their shop to reset the alarm – not something anyone should need to do, especially when they work 6 days each week. In addition, members of the public had experienced problems, and some had decided to shop elsewhere, therefore there was an impact to business.
A member of the church staff saw the youths and politely asked them not to use the grounds and spoke to them about the small fires. This resulted in verbal abuse and threats being made, where staff now feel intimidated.
Having identified the areas where the problems were happening, speaking to people within the community was the next thing to do, since unreported incidents will be uncovered and relevant information and evidence gathered, such as CCTV and descriptions. The days and times when the problems occur will also be better understood.
In partnership working to resolve issues such as these, a simple problem-solving triangle is used and so far in quite a short space of time, two sides of the triangle are now known. These are the locations (place) and who is affected (targets/victims)
The missing side of the triangle is the offenders – the youths in this case who are the cause of the problems.
In order to find the names of those involved, the community often hold the key. One shop keeper had overheard a youth call out the name of another. This led to the identification of one boy and when I researched the police records, I found that he had been involved in other incidents many months ago, where other youths were also involved, so it is quite likely that some of these will also be involved in the current problems.
Two of the shops have good CCTV and the images of the youths are being sent to me. These youths are all school-aged children, therefore the schools will be able to help in identifying those the police may not recognise.
With these problems, it is not always a case of investigating individual crimes, such as theft or abuse. It is firstly about putting a stop to the behaviour to restore confidence within the community, and next to look at the youths themselves in order to find out what has led to them being involved. That is not to say that crime will be overlooked, but for the community, they are more interested in the restoration of peace than the solving of an individual crime.
Obvious questions will occur to officers and the partner agencies who can assist, such as why a child of school age is out very late at night and which ones are using drugs and alcohol. By speaking to their families, more will be established about their home life, such as parenting,
neglect or domestic violence, where the child is choosing to stay away from the home.
Hopefully from these few examples you will see why it is important to stay focussed on what is all too often seen as minor, because if we take our eye off the ball, then the bigger problems remain hidden and are not addressed.
Next week I will explain a bit more about the partner agencies who work together by using the problem-solving triangle and the methods that are used to reduce or prevent these incidents from occurring.