Policing and the Big Society

On Saturday, I joined up with Sussex Police at Tangmere to take part in the force's activities to mark National Specials Weekend. 

Specials have a 175-year history.  They are fully empowered police officers but they are volunteers, giving their time for the community and making a huge contribution to policing.

There are now over 300 Specials in Sussex and I met a number of them, alongside the regular officers and Community Support Officers who they work with.

The number of Specials in England and Wales has increased in recent years to nearly 17,000, but I'd like to see far more.  In the 1950s there were 67,000. 

The theme of this year's National Weekend focused on the role Specials can play in building the Big Society by tackling anti-social behaviour.

But as David Cameron said in his speech on the Big Society earlier this week, an increase in volunteering is only part of building a bigger and stronger society.

In his words, it's also about devolving "more power to local government, and beyond local government" and ensuring that we "open up public services", so that the public are given real power to change their communities.

I'm proud to be driving an important part of this agenda with the launch of the Home Office's crime mapping website (www.police.uk) and the introduction of directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

Since we launched the website a fortnight ago it has received a staggering 382 million hits, showing that the public want to know what's happening on their streets.    

By giving people the power to hold their local force to account, through transparency and the ballot box, we are transforming how the police answer to the public and how citizens will play their part in keeping communities safe.

Over 3.5 million people involved with Neighbourhood Watch, active groups like the excellent Pulborough Local Action Team and dedicated Specials show the potential of social action to help tackle crime. 

We need social recovery as well as economic recovery.  That's why, as I said in a speech in Petworth last year, the Big Society really is a big idea. 

Christopher N Howarth