Problem Solving In Community Safety

Bluelight Founder Brendan O'Brien

The majority of UK police forces engage with communities through Police and Communities Together (PACT) meetings or through face-to-face and online consultations that revolve around the principle of, ‘You Said, We Did.’

During this process, traditional problem-solving questions are asked of the community to try and ascertain what their priorities are and the causes of the problems behind the priorities. The answers often lead to community members telling the police and other services what they should be doing more of: additional CCTV; more visible patrols; more arrests; locked gates; higher fences; barbed wire… the list goes on resulting in increased demand on services.

The theory behind this process is that the actions taken, once fed back to the community, will result in increased confidence in the police and other services. However, while this approach might have been appropriate a decade ago during the formal launch and development of Neighbourhood Policing, its use in the future is questionable. A process that focuses on identifying needs, concerns and what is broken can only serve to create communities that become increasingly reliant on services to solve their problems. Through the, ‘You said, We Did,’ cycle service providers have unwittingly embedded a culture that focuses on deficits in a cycle that does nothing more than perpetuate a myth that they are the only resources that can resolve problems in communities.

If ‘You Said, We Did’ was the theme for the last chapter of our community safety story, how can we develop it into something more meaningful for the second chapter? Less, ‘You Said, We Did.’ More, ‘How Can We Support You?’

For several years as a Neighbourhood Policing Inspector Brendan O’Brien, now the Director of Bluelight Consultancy, developed a community safety model where through the use of appreciative and asset-based development models he was able to enable and catalyse communities. Individuals and families were no longer passive recipients of services but instead became active citizens able to drive their own problem-solving agenda. A Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Policing Minister have described Brendan’s achievements alongside communities as, ‘inspirational.’

Brendan is now taking his approach to over 100 police and community safety officers in Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Oxford. The results so far in Oxford have seen officers exploring and adopting new problem-solving methods to deal with complex and ‘Wicked Problems’ with results that feature reduced costs and demand as well as an increase in community confidence.

All delegates have the opportunity to work towards the Skills for Justice ‘Problem Solving in Community Safety’ qualification which helps support them on their journey from ‘public servant’ to ‘citizen enabler.’

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