Editorial: More patrols, more trust

GRANT SHIMMIN
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014

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OPINION: How do you feel when you see a police officer, or officers, walking Stafford St when you're in town?

Or any part of town, for that matter. In any town in South Canterbury.

Is it a different feeling from when a police car drives past you, when you're either walking or driving?

Walking might well be the most important part of the concept of "walking the beat" if both local and national reports on an increase in police foot patrols are any indication.

In yesterday's front page lead, Timaru Senior Sergeant Randel Tikitiki said he believed a big increase in the time members of the force here were walking the beat was working. He didn't have statistics to hand, so the evidence is anecdotal, but if police really sensed it wasn't having an impact, after two years in which hours on the beat have climbed dramatically, they'd surely be looking to change tack. And they certainly wouldn't be trumpeting the success of the move.

So why might it be working?

Approachability is the point raised by Mr Tikitiki, and that's a good one. Having officers walking the beat among members of the public surely will make them seem more approachable, at least to those members of the public with no reason not to want to cross paths with a police officer.

That last thought leads on to another one, though. Having officers walk past businesses in the day probably acts as a real deterrent to crimes of opportunism, like shop-lifting. At night, there's no doubt it would help to keep a lid on any situation that might get out of hand.

Of all the potential benefits, though, and it's hard - provided you're a law-abiding citizen - to see downsides to an increased police presence, I'd suggest the biggest one would be trust. In smaller communities, which often have only one or two officers in residence, there's often a real relationship of trust built up between locals and their police.

It's the type of relationship that - anecdotally - seems more unlikely the larger the centre, but there's no reason it has to be that way. After all, our police are part of our communities and we should be able to build up trust with them. That's got to be beneficial to both parties.

Perhaps a demonstration of that sort of relationship is the fact that the highest-polling Timaru ward candidate in last year's local government elections was Steve Wills, a police officer who has, among other roles, spent time as a "community cop".

His success is surely an indication of the level of trust the public has in officers they feel they know. Hopefully more such relationships will be developed in future.

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- The Timaru Herald

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