Rochdale police column: Problem-solving and improvements in Newbold

Date published: 27 January 2020

Inspector Robert MacGregor, of the Rochdale East Neighbourhood Policing Team, on what the police are doing to tackle local issues across the borough.

This week he discusses problem-solving and improvements in the Newbold area.

Sergeant Walsh and I went to an event held by Action Together at the Maracuja Community Centre on St Mary’s Gate.

The event brought together those working in the voluntary, charitable and social enterprise sectors. There is exciting work going on and I was grateful to have been invited to make new connections in the community and to try and make a contribution on behalf of the local neighbourhood police.

One part of the day asked attendees to write down a skill they had which they thought would be valuable to the work. I found this difficult. I decided to copy whatever Sergeant Walsh had written but when I tried to cheat from him, he was also sat with a blank post-it note with pen hovering over it. We both managed to write something down, but we discussed that moment as we walked back to the police station afterwards. 

We should have said problem-solving. It is the area we are both specialists in, but we see it as so routine that it did not occur to either of us as being a skill.

Problem solving is one of the core principles of neighbourhood policing. There are a few brilliant books which have influenced how I approach community problem solving: 'Rebel Ideas' and 'Black Box Thinking' by Matthew Syed, 'Problem Oriented Policing' by Herman Goldstein, 'Bowling Alone' by Robert Putnam and 'Reducing Crime' by Jerry Ratcliffe. If you are non-police then I recommend reading 'Black Box Thinking', if you are a cop then read 'Reducing Crime'.

In late 2019 the London School of Economics looked at every part of Greater Manchester and using data including employment rates, benefit claimants, and health they applied an algorithm to predict what crime levels were expected to be and then compared it to the actual crime figures. Any area where the actual figures exceeded the predictions were then considered chronic crime hotspots. One of the areas identified was in my neighbourhood: it was Newbold.

I met with the Newbold officer and the Rochdale Divisional Intelligence analysts to discuss this data, to understand the problem and discuss what we should do to try and address it. Following that discussion, we met with partner agencies in the area and agreed that we needed to do work on not only enforcement but also building a stronger sense of community to any improvements could be sustained.

This led to GMP, RBH, Guinness Housing, Moss Street Youth Centre, and the council all holding a day of action where 900 leaflets were posted asking for residents to help us do a litter pick as an activity to make an immediate improvement to the area and to bring the community together and from there to try and support the community group. Everyone worked hard and I was grateful, but the initiative failed in its objective. We only received four responses to the 900 leaflets. No community group emerged and within a week we had lost all momentum.

Admitting failure is never nice but it is important. Newbold is an area where the problems are so deep that traditional ideas and our default options will not scratch the surface. I met again with the officers who cover Newbold last week to return to the drawing board. We still have the same objectives but have to approach things differently. One suggestion was to go down a harder enforcement line and to have a heavier police presence and do as many warrants as we could at addresses. We have done this before. The patrols were too random and achieved no lasting improvement and the warrants created a vacuum which another criminal then stepped in to fill. It was very expensive and had no long-term benefit.

It was a mistake for us to try and force a community group into existence. We have not done enough to earn the community’s trust at the moment. There are changes which we and other agencies can make to improve the lives of people living in Newbold. These will need significant funding by a number of agencies but if we all agree that there are chronic social issues (including crime) in the area then we need to find that money. I spent some time at the Smallbridge Pantry where the local community can pay £3 to get food each week. The volunteers who work there are nothing short of inspirational. The commitment that RBH have shown to that initiative has made a huge difference to lives in the area. We will discuss the prospect of doing similar in Newbold.

The second mistake we had made was not knowing enough people in the community who shared our objectives and who already have their own networks in place in Newbold. Since our first failed efforts we have spoken to three different individuals and groups all of whom have a vital role to play in making that community stronger and improving lives. We need to support those groups, and that includes financing, and allow them to tell us and partners what they want to make the area a better place. We then need to deliver on the issues they identify.

Finally, the enforcement strategy was discussed again. I am still not convinced by random patrols and warrants. The divisional analyst is producing a product based on something called the Cambridge Crime Harm Index – this assigns a score to every crime type and if a person is linked to that crime, they are allocated points. The points are tallied up and the most harmful offenders emerge.

I have asked for that analysis to look at individuals living in Newbold and only their offences committed in Newbold. We will then target those individuals with every enforcement power available to all agencies. Crimes, planning permission, TV licence expiration, failure to update driving licences. We will bring pressure to bear on those who are most harming that community. It will be zero tolerance enforcement.

We have received funding to set up a police post in Newbold and Guinness Partnership have offered us space in their office to move in. The local officers will be asked to parade from that location rather than Rochdale police station. I will also increase the number of police officers working on that area by moving an officer from another neighbourhood. You will see more police in the community – but not cops randomly walking around – cops forming part of the community and working each day to achieve these bigger objectives.

If these ideas fail again then that is fine. We will admit it and take the lessons and try something else. We will improve the lives of people living in Newbold.

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