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Ask a policeman

The government has promised to re-introduce a 'police de proximité', which is usually translated as 'community policing' but really means 'police who are nearby' ie police officers walking the beat as they once used to do.

Who could object to such a sensible idea? People do: it is costly, they say, and an inefficient use of resources because there is no evidence that it achieves anything.

True, it is a difficult policy to justify to an accountant. How do you measure productivity when the aim is to prevent petty crime? No one can ever know the amount of offences not committed because a police officer was in the vicinity.

There is, however, a far more important issue. Marginalised communities increasingly see the police as agents of the state rather than public servants working for everyone. That means ‘community’ policing performs a vital outreach function. It counteracts the perception of every policeman or woman being armed, masked by a visor and wielding a riot stick or firearm.

Visible policing is just as important in intelligence gathering as covert surveillance. The only drawback is that it is long-term. It takes time for a community to get used to a local officer and to trust him or her. It’s a step towards humanising a difficult job that will only pay off if successive politicians are committed to it.

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