The problem with PACT
Have you ever run or been part of a Police and Communities Together ( PACT ) meeting? Where members of the community are invited to: ‘raise their community priorities or concerns;’ ‘receive crime prevention advice,’ and be updated as to what the police (mostly) and partners have been doing to address the priorities and concerns raised at the previous meeting.
PACT tends to be called different things across the country, you’ll even hear it called a ‘surgery’ in some forces (what image does this metaphor conjure up in your mind – that this is a meeting where you go to get a problem treated?). If you were to walk into one what you’d see is a ‘top table’ where the police and partners sit with rows of chairs in front for community members. From there the meeting will probably follow this familiar format:
Welcome and Introductions with police and partners sat at a ‘top table’ with rows of seats for the community in front of them
Update on actions from last meeting
Updates from police and partner agencies, which may include:
Descriptions of recent operations or successes
Quantitative data on how the police are performing
An opportunity for the community members to ask questions about the above
An opportunity for the community members to raise any priorities or concerns
An agreement on actions for the police and partners to take away and act upon on behalf of the community members
Familiar? Now I know that across the country there are exceptions, but my guess is 95% of all PACT type meetings across the country are run this way?
I’ve often wondered how PACT meetings came to be like this? I was at the College of Policing Local Policing and Partnership Conference last November as one of their speakers, where I asked the delegates if they knew where the guidance is that tells police to run PACT in this way. None of the delegates had an answer, nor did they know where they could access such guidance. My next question was to ask what the typical PACT meeting agenda reminded them of. When one of the delegates replied how it reminded them of an internal performance meeting there were nods of agreement around the room.
So, if we are running our community meetings the same way as our internal performance meetings, should we be surprised at the reaction to those meetings from our community members? As a sergeant said to me recently, in his force area they’re going to, ‘stop doing PACT as hardly anyone turns up, the community aren’t interested.’ Would you be?
I’m not convinced community members aren’t interested in crime and safety. So, apart from the meetings resembling an internal performance meeting, is there something else that is putting members of the community off PACT? Is there something about the style of language used around PACT that switches off community members?
This next point (actually it’s a question) isn’t meant as a criticism, it’s more of a critique, as the officers running PACT are doing the best they can with the resources and knowledge available to them. But is there something about PACT, where it focuses on what is ‘broken’ and ‘going wrong’ (surgeries?), that failed to resonate with most members of the community?
I’d like you to think if you can about the last police performance meeting you went to. What was its focus? On what was working? Or was most of it spent discussing the ‘Reds’ and trying to identify the causes of what was going wrong? How much time was spent on discussing a ‘cure’ in the shape of actions? How did you feel when you left this meeting? Excited and motivated? Or slightly (or even very) deflated as all that was discussed was what was going wrong.
By asking community members what their needs are via questions that aim to seek out what is ‘broken’ and ‘going wrong,’ the top table tend to get exactly what they asked for. And as PACT is a meeting where the police have specifically invited community members to air their concerns and priorities so that ‘we can deal with them,’ the police end up in a situation where they create more demand for themselves in a cycle of never ending dependency. Has PACT in its current format added to a culture where services are expected to have all the answers, to fix all that is broken and problematic and where service providers, because they exist in this culture, need people’s needs?
But does it have to be like this? In my next blog I’ll describe how (with my support) a group of police officers and council employees in Oxford are experiencing a shift from a deficit based model (seeking out what is broken and wrong) of community engagement to one that actively seeks out the best of what has been and is, so that they can collectively work towards a vision of what could be in their communities. How they are using Appreciative Inquiry and other forms of asset based approaches to catalyse community action and reduce demand.