‘We actually feel like we’re policing again’ after Horsham force changes

PCSO Laura Anderson, County Times reporter Harley Tamplin, chief inspector Howard Hodges and Sussex PCC Katy Bourne
PCSO Laura Anderson, County Times reporter Harley Tamplin, chief inspector Howard Hodges and Sussex PCC Katy Bourne
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Geographical responsibility has been removed from Horsham district PCs, in a significant shake-up to the way the local police force will operate.

The restructuring, which was rolled out across the district’s policing team last month, will be reviewed in October after it has been in place for three months.

The early signs have been encouraging. PC Natalie Stoner of Horsham police noted staff morale and productivity have noticeably improved in just a few weeks.

She said: “I am finding it 100 per cent beneficial to the whole team.

“I think one of the main outcomes of it all is it has made morale much better, and we are being a lot more productive than what we have been over the last couple of years.

“We actually feel like we are policing again, rather than the bureaucracy of sitting behind a desk filling in reports.”

Under the new system, PCs cover the whole district rather than a specific area.

The changes also mean PCs are able to better support PCSOs (police community support officers) - the previous system resulted in PCSOs being the sole officer in an area when their PC was off duty.

PC Stoner said: “I think it is really supporting the PCSOs a lot better because they are not having days left without their dedicated PC. They are getting a lot more from us.

“I think there are people still getting used to it, but I was fully supportive of it in the beginning because my workload was very high and I wasn’t able to be a productive police officer.

“I think there is no benefit of it going back to the way it was.”

The police force began operating under the new system on July 14.

The number of PCs based at the police stations in Horsham, Steyning and Pulborough meant that, with geographical responsibility in place, PCs covered large patches.

The move to adapt these officers’ roles is a more effective way in which to provide a police service, said Chief Inspector Howard Hodges, Horsham district commander.

He said: “In essence what it means is we are making changes to how we use our neighbourhood police officers more effectively to deliver a better service.

“We are removing geographical responsibility and deploying them across the district in a more intelligence-led manner.

“This replaces the previous model where PCs had geographical responsibility and would on occasion work outside those areas.”

CI Hodges has moved to assure residents that the changes will benefit the district, particularly improving police response to ‘emerging crime’.

He said: “What we want to do is to be as effective as we can to provide the best service to the public and also provide support to our PCSOs who are the public face of local policing.

“It means we can be much more responsive. As an example, if there is an issue in Henfield, before, if the local PC wasn’t on duty, we would have to extract someone from another area and deliver what we were going to do.

“On a daily basis, we can prioritise what needs to be done and put resources into it.”

He added that the new system could help to tackle emerging crime patterns in specific areas, reducing the threat, and apprehending offenders.

He said: “In the early part of this year we had a series of burglaries OTD [other than dwellings].

“They weren’t limited to Pulborough or Storrington, they were occurring across a bigger area than an area a particular PC would have been responsible for.”

The loss of a certain PC responsible for a specific area may be a cause of concern to some residents.

However, CI Hodges said the local links between public and police ‘remains through the PCSOs’, and that community intelligence and local knowledge would be maintained.

He said: “The first port of call for the public in relation to visible local policing is their local PCSO, whose details you can find on our website.

“In terms of availability and visibility there is very little change. What we can be is more responsive to emerging crime and more responsive to community intelligence.

“I accept there will be some concern with the loss of that local PC they can call their own, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

CI Hodges admitted there will be challenges as officers adjust to the new regime, highlighting communication between staff as a particular obstacle.

He said: “We are facing challenges and it is important we respond to that and continue to deliver the best quality policing in the Horsham district.

“I think the main challenge is around communication - people and communities understanding our rationale for making the changes and being assured it is something we will review after three months so all the benefits we expect continue.”

Despite the challenges, there are numerous potential benefits to the changes to the force.

Officers with a proven track record in certain fields of crime may be able to develop best practice for the entire district.

PCs and PCSOs will be able to work closer together, there could be an improvement in the way sergeants tackle targeted issues, and PCs’ knowledge of the district as a whole, and what issues affect certain areas, should improve.

CI Hodges added: “I have got to make best use of the resources available to me.

“It is my responsibility to deliver quality and effective local policing in Horsham, and I am convinced these changes are the way to catch more criminals and make people feel safer.”

Police will welcome feedback from the public, he added, as they decide whether to make the restructure permanent across the district.