From the mid 1990s onwards recorded crime rates in England and Wales started to fall. Notwithstanding issues concerning the accuracy and reliability of crime statistics, this fall in recorded crime was not matched by falls in fear of crime.
A disjuncture between falling crime rates, the public thinking that crime was rising, plus falling confidence in the police was labelled a ‘reassurance gap’ (Millie and Herrington, 2005). The answer to addressing this gap was not, it seemed, increased performance management, but a shift in focus to improving public perceptions of the police. Some criticised this as a move to “there, there policing” or “big hug policing” (Millie and Herrington 2004: 4), or just a re-branding of existing community efforts (Herrington and Millie, 2006; 2007). ‘Reassurance policing’ emerged emphasizing the police’s communication of a positive image to the public, that the public is reassured by the police being visibly present within communities, and that they are accessible and familiar faces. The communication of ‘reassurance’ needed to be backed by real changes in policing style, otherwise there was a risk that reassurance was simply image management. The public were to be involved in discussing – and sometimes dictating – neighbourhood policing priorities.
Reassurance policing is a concept closely allied to ‘community policing’ and ‘neighbourhood policing’. The term was first coined in 1974 by American psychologist Charles Bahn but taken forward in the UK in the early 2000s by Martin Innes and colleagues. Professor Andrew Millie became involved in this area of research from 2003 onwards while working on projects funded by the Police Foundation and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (Millie, 2003; Millie et al., 2003).
In England and Wales the notion of reassurance policing evolved into a focus on neighbourhood policing. The focus was on greater numbers of dedicated neighbourhood police officers assisted by greater employment of uniformed civilians known as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Some of the focus of reassurance shifted (Millie, 2010) and, more recently, cuts in police budgets have meant that large numbers of community officers have become less of an option (Millie, 2014). As with all areas of policing, austerity has been a significant challenge to the idea of reassurance.
According to Professor Millie, for ‘reassurance’ to survive and to be a meaningful contribution to policing, it has to be integral to all policing efforts, “from call handling through to public order policing” (Millie, 2014). Second, the assumption that greater police numbers is always the answer needs to be questioned. And third, reassurance policing’s democratic potential needs to be given greater emphasis and be inclusive of all citizens, including victims and those often targeted by police action.
If you would like to learn more about this topic please contact Professor Andrew Millie.
- Millie, A. (2014) ‘Reassurance policing and signal crimes’, in G. Bruinsma and D. Weisburd (eds.) Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, New York: Springer.
- Millie, A. (2010) ‘Whatever happened to reassurance policing?’ Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 4(3) 225-232.
- Herrington, V. and Millie, A. (2007) ‘Reassurance en de nieuwe gemeenschapsgerichte politiezorg’, in P. Ponsaers and L. Gunter Moor (eds.) Reassurance policing: Concepten en receptie, Brussels: Politeia.
- Herrington, V. and Millie, A. (2006) ‘Applying reassurance policing: Is it ‘business as usual’?’ Policing and Society, 16(2) 146-163.
- Millie, A. and Herrington, V. (2005) ‘Bridging the gap: Understanding reassurance policing’, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 44(1) 41-56.
- Millie, A. and Herrington, V. (2004) ‘Reassurance policing in practice: Views from the shop floor’, Papers from the British Criminology Conference, Vol. 7.
- Millie, A. (2003) ‘Monitor’s report’, in The Police Foundation (eds.) The Reassurance Policing Pilot Project – An Interim Report on Independent Monitoring and Mentoring Activity, (internal project document), London: The Police Foundation.
- Millie, A., Herrington, V., Hearnden, I. and Curran, K. (2003) The National Reassurance Project – Readiness Assessment Final Report, (internal project document), A report for the Police Foundation and the National Reassurance Project Team, London: The Police Foundation.