This week policing witnessed the death of one of the influential visionaries that it has ever had. For those who have undertaken studies in criminal justice the name of John Alderson, the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police is synonymous with community policing amongst other issues. Throughout my bachelors and doctoral studies I have referenced the work and thoughts of Alderson countless times and I know that fellow students have too.
To say that John Alderson was a man before his time does not do justice to him. Alderson recognised the importance of police legitimisation through engaging with communities. He lamented the extent to which reactive policing in the shape of Unit Beat Policing, whilst deemed efficient and with a consequent orientation to mobile rather than foot patrol, may have caused damage to police-community relations through distancing themselves from the community. He argued that the reactive style of policing was causing the police to lose the ‘art’ of preventative policing and some three decades later my colleague Captain Bill Bongle from Green Bay Police Department Wisconsin eloquently wrote of his experiences along the same lines, albeit he referred to it as his ‘out of care experience.’
Alderson also sought for the police to consult with communities and draw them into preventative schemes, ideas that came to fruition through the Reassurance Policing programme and the institution of Home Watch areas. And who would disagree with him when he accused police chiefs of being more powerful and less accountable then ever?
But it is as a vehement supporter and advocate of community policing that John Alderson will be remembered for. His legacy now lives within each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales who now have a neighbourhood policing function. Many of these forces are still seeking to develop their style and create closer relationships with communities and other agencies. Alderson’s concept of community policing revolved around the police officer being a social diagnostician and mobile community resource, which required a proactive rather than reactive approach. Over time the proposition of Alderson has gained support with the Home Office (2004) stating that constables are taking on increasingly skilled roles within neighbourhood policing teams, managing a diverse range of staff and acting as community leaders.
A number of the ideals that Alderson related were published in the works of another visionary, OW Wilson from USA, and I recently tried to contact John Alderson to ascertain whether the books of Wilson were in his library. Alas that contact was never made; however, I for one cannot recall a police leader who has had a greater impact on policing. The fact that the values that Alderson had have impacted around the globe is testament to the fact that his stance against the disbelievers in community policing, community engagement or ethics within policing was proved right.
I for one am grateful for his insight, his knowledge and his vision.
I am grateful to Stuart Lister of Leeds University for sending me the Times obituary of John Alderson dated 11.10.11