Community Policing and Terrorism.

The police response to the terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market on Saturday night was exemplary. I was left in awe at the efficiency and professionalism of our officers, stunned by the bravery of the two wounded officers who first responded.


However, in this blog I will examine not the triumph of the front-line officers, but the deeper story of police cuts since 2010. Voters in tomorrow’s election need to consider Mrs May’s role, as former Home Secretary and member of the cabinet since 2010, in managing and mitigating the terror threat in the UK. How has Government policy affected the safety of the public? Is it fair or correct to blame the Government for the failure to interdict attacks before they come to fruition?

There have been several police voices making assertions like this:

‘“I’m a serving firearms officer and the Government is wrong to claim police cuts have nothing to do with recent attacks.” Despite her denials, Theresa May’s cuts to police numbers have made attacks like London and Manchester much more likely’ The Independent, 4 Jun 2017.

The claim is that community policing (CP) is important in combatting terror attacks. CP was not designed to fight terror, but was conceived as ‘A police organisational strategy that decentralises policing, seeking to be responsive to local citizen demands and to incorporate a general problem orientated approach to policing, and to helping communities solve crime problems collaboratively, often through partnership working.’ (Newburn, T., 2008, Handbook of Policing, Willan; 842)

A short item in the Guardian on Saturday, shortly before the attack in London, gave a very positive description of the power of CP to achieve results in difficult communities. PC Kevin Holland explained how he worked as Homebeat officer on the Aylesbury Estate in London from 1994. ‘I gradually become more of a conduit and peacemaker.’ Progress came not from nicking people, but from a gradual building of trust, which led to the community taking greater responsibility for itself.

kevin holland

Holland’s experience is backed up by academic study. Community policing is effective as a long-term approach: it can build trust and build partnerships that will defend communities from extremist influence.[1] Theresa May herself recognized this in the report published by her department, the home Office, in 2011: ‘Previous work in this area has made some progress but has not … effectively engaged with and used the influence and reach of communities and community groups.’ [2] P7

However, while Mrs May has been Home Secretary and Prime Minister, community policing has borne the brunt of the cuts. Chief Constables cannot reduce the emergency power of the police. Indeed Mrs may has assured us that the funding of anti-terrorist policing has not been cut. Therefore the cuts have fallen on the ‘soft’ policing and CP has suffered. This is most apparent in the number of Police and Community Support Officers in England and Wales. In September 2011, there were 15,469 PCSOs, by March 2015, they were down to 12,649.[3]

The humble PCSO plays a vital role. To quote from Mrs May’s Prevent Strategy  document:

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) form part of Neighbourhood policing teams and work with local communities to provide a visible police presence and build relationships with the public. PCSOs contribute to Prevent objectives by helping … to build trust and confidence in policing and create stronger and safer communities.[4] P99

CP has been shown to work. In Alum Rock, Birmingham, in 2011 it was the local community, supported and assisted by the community policing team that thwarted Al Murhajiroun’s attempt to establish a destabilizing presence.

 this case study provides valuable insights into how co-produced community action can frustrate, impede and disrupt the activities of known extremists. … This case involved no recourse to criminal law enforcement, subterfuge or deceit. Instead it utilised police community relationships to activate social networks of counter activism. … Such modes of intervention are entirely within the scope of the legitimate actions of a democratic state and provide a potential blueprint for the future development of Prevent strategy.’[5]

The attack by Khuram Butt[6] and his accomplices might not have been deterred by CP, but his family and neighbours had been concerned about his behaviour for some time. Had they been in contact with a trusted community officer, the outcome might have been less dreadful. There will always be a need for armed response and covert intelligence, but cut backs on community policing are a false economy.

khuram butt



[1] See Spalek, Basia (2010) ‘Community policing, trust, and Muslim communities in relation to “new terrorism”’, Politics & Policy, 38(4), pp. 789-815; Klausen, J., (2009) ‘British Counter-Terrorism After 7/7: Adapting Community Policing to the Fight Against Domestic Terrorism’, Journal of Ethnic and migration Studies, 35.3, pp403-420.

[2] Secretary of State for the Home Department, June 2011, Prevent Strategy, Cm 8092, HMSO,, p9.

[3] Strickland, P., and Beard, J., 2012, Police Community Support Officers Standard Note: SN/HA/2718 Last updated: 16 May 2012;

[4] Home Department, June 2011, Prevent Strategy, p99.

[5] Innes, M., Roberts, C., and Innes, H., 2011, Assessing the Effects of Prevent Policing: A Report to the Association of Chief Police Officers, Universities’ Police Science Institute, Cardiff University. Available at, p43


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