Community Safety: A Decade of Development, Delivery, Change and Challenge in Northern Ireland

John Topping, Jonny Byrne

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In September 2011, the Belfast Conflict Resolution Consortium (BCRC) commissioned research to examine the development of community safety policy since the publication of the Patten report in 1999. The research was also tasked with considering the range of dynamics which impact upon participation in, and delivery of, community safety programmes within interface communities; while exploring challenges facing the new Policing and Community Safety Partnerships. Over a two month period between October and November in 2011, an extensive audit and analysis of policy documents, academic literature and research reports related to the development and implementation of community safety was conducted. Alongside this, thirty semi-structured interviews were carried out with representatives from the community, voluntary and statutory sector.The initial review of academic literature and policy highlighted a number of political developments which have positively influenced the community safety agenda – including the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2007; and the devolution of policing and justice powers in April 2010. In this regard, several observations can be made in relation to the design and development of a community safety approach suited to the unique landscape of a society in transition:• The political, policing and security landscape over the past decade has had a direct impact and influence upon the delivery of a community safety model as originally envisaged by the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland;• Local communities have embraced the concept of community safety. However, levels of community participation in local initiatives have been inconsistent across the country;• There has been a degree of scepticism at the community level as to how much impact the community sector have historical had in relation to community safety and policing issues, especially when set against the influence of elected representatives and service providers;• Because of the ever-changing policing and security environment, it has been challenging for statutory bodies to deliver what might be considered ‘normal’ policing and community safety services;• The past decade has been predicated upon cultivating a more inclusive environment in which service and community providers can work together in delivering a community safety model suited to the needs of all stakeholders;• The next decade of community safety and policing is about building upon existing practice and partnerships, and aligning those with the DoJ’s new vision for safer, shared and confident communities.Aside from the literature review, four case studies were also selected to illustrate the range of community-based programmes and activities that have been established in both urban and rural settings to address the diversity of community safety issues across the country. This analysis revealed the importance of community participation in the successful delivery and implementation of community safety strategies, programmes and initiatives; the need for statutory agencies to be flexible in regards to the holistic nature of community responses to local issues beyond their own policy lens; and the significant role that the ‘community safety’ framework has in relation to facilitating and encouraging closer partnerships and positive engagements between communities and formal criminal justice providers. Building upon the case study findings and policy analysis, it became apparent that local community groups were involved in responding to, and providing a diverse range services to deal with community safety and policing issues. Indeed, a range of volunteers, community activists and (generally) under-resourced community-based organisations played a major role in bridging the gap between statutory service providers and communities through facilitating meetings, promoting advocacy and acting as facilitators for the implementation of the community safety agendas at a local level. A closer examination of their roles revealed a typology of community safety work and activity in which they were regularly engaged. These approaches have been categorised as follows:• Community advocacy• Education and intervention• Emergency response• Partnerships• Prevention• Mediation• Restorative justice The research concluded with a series of thirty interviews with representatives from the community, voluntary and statutory sectors. Discussions explored themes surrounding the implementation of community safety strategies within interface communities; participants’ experiences of DPPs and CSPs; and views on the new PCSPs and their potential. The findings revealed that interface communities had suffered disproportionately in terms of the legacy of the conflict in comparison to other urban and rural parts of Northern Ireland. Therefore, the implementation of a community safety agenda not only had to contend with high rates of social and economic deprivation, but also had to incorporate within it, manifestations of the conflict, such as sectarian violence, peace walls and insecurities around policing. The findings which related to DPPs and CSPs revealed a deep sense of frustration in terms of their general inability to address many of the community safety and policing issues prevalent at a community level. Respondents maintained that both sets of partnerships were not representative of the communities in which they served; often operated in isolation from community organising; and beyond pockets of good practice, had failed to meet the local communities needs or expectations around policing and community safety. There was an acknowledgement that the past decade had been difficult for statutory agencies tasked with implementing and delivering a policing and community safety agendas because of the fluid dynamics underpinning the country’s transition from conflict to peace. However, there was renewed optimism that the devolution of policing and justice powers, along with the political stability at Stormont would facilitate the successful delivery of an effective, new community safety model in line with the DoJ’s goal of creating safer, shared and confident communities.Finally, the research also captured views and opinions in relation to the forthcoming PCSPs. There was a general consensus that the new structures provided an opportunity to shape the future of community safety in Northern Ireland and build upon that which had been established though the DPPs and CSPs. As part of the ‘streamlining’ opportunity provided through the PCSPs, a number of challenges were evident from the research. These concerns primarily focused upon the management of the PCSPs structures; along with issues as to whether PCSPs could facilitate improved input and delivery from statutory and community stakeholders. Aside from immediate challenges, the research also highlighted the need to define more fully, the roles and responsibilities of community stakeholders. Indeed, a key concern was that the community safety strategy, as delivered through the vehicle of the PCSPs, would become a conduit for a wide range of governmental programmes of action without adequately considering the potential limitations of stakeholder input. But in general, there was a great sense of optimism about the amalgamation of DPPs and CSPs, with an acceptance that the first year of the PCSPs would be a period of transition and learning. In general, respondents acknowledged the complexities which underpinned the streamlining of the community safety and policing agendas in Northern Ireland which for a decade had been split between the DPPs and CSPs. And where the lessons from the last decade could be learned, it was felt that the PCSPs would provide an excellent vehicle through which a new era of community safety could be delivered into the next decade. In view of the research findings, a number of recommendations emerged which have been documented below:1. That greater consideration should be given to incentives for community involvement in community safety programmes. The research highlighted the difficulties with encouraging local participation in community safety processes. Therefore, training, internships, accredited courses, child care provision and accommodation of other family needs should be considered;2. Steps should be taken to more formally recognise and quantify the contributions of community-based community safety programmes – outside traditional police centric measure of crime;3. That sufficient acknowledgement and attention is paid to the continuing fragility surrounding the lives and experiences of those living in interface communities. It is imperative that future community safety agendas are tailored to meet those specific needs and not become subsumed under a broad community safety agenda;4. That innovative, less bureaucratic means of both providing funding and assessing the impact of community safety programmes must be developed outside the current parameters of statutory frameworks; 5. The inherent frustrations and difficulties associated with the DPPs and CSPs should be taken into account and the necessary adjustments as part of the functioning of the new PCSP structures;6. The DoJ’s community safety agenda should not overburden the PCSPs with too many programmes related to the social, economic and political development of commununities.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBelfast Conflict Resolution Consortium
Number of pages103
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 Apr 2012

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  • Community safety
  • Northern Ireland
  • Policing
  • PSNI
  • Policing and Community Safety Partnerships
  • community


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