Chief Constable Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), chaired a meeting of police leaders and policy makers at Cheyneygates in Westminster on Thursday 20th October, to discuss the challenges posed to policing by social tensions.

The round-table seminar was organised by Cumberland Lodge and attended by police leaders (including representatives from the All-Parliamentary Group on Policing, the College of Policing, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Police Foundation and the Police Now graduate leadership programme) and representatives from government bodies, the media, the social media think tank DEMOS, and the policy institute, Reform. Lyn Brown MP, the new Shadow Policing Minister, also joined us.

Key themes of discussion included:

  • Current threats to social cohesion in the UK, and how they impact on policing.

  • The role of procedural justice in promoting social cohesion.

  • The importance of the use of language by law enforcement agencies in influencing social cohesion.

  • The role that neighbourhood policing plays in promoting social cohesion and the changing definition of ‘neighbourhood’ in the context of the rise of the internet.

  • The scale of threat posed to social cohesion by violent and non-violent extremism, and in the context of a rise in reported hate crime post-Brexit.

  • How perceptions of social divisions vary.

A summary will be published on our Learning & Resources page shortly.

Challenges and opportunities

Speaking directly after the event, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, Sara Thornton said: “We discussed a range of challenges to, and opportunities for, social cohesion and the way in which the police need to respond. There was broad agreement about the importance of relationships with local communities, neighbourhood policing in all its forms, treating people fairly to engender trust, and the representativeness of policing. Many of these challenges are very familiar but all agreed that online communities present new challenges for traditional policing.”

Dr Rick Muir, Director of the Police Foundation, also attended the event. He said: “It’s important to understand what we mean by community cohesion. In Robert Putnam’s work, he describes communities in which there are high levels of trust and neighbourliness – what he calls ‘bonding capital’ – and communities in which few people know each other, but in which people from very different backgrounds get along well, which he calls ‘bridging capital’. Ideally, one would want to see a mix of both in a cohesive community, but often communities will be very strong on one but not the other.”

Sara added: “What does it mean for us all to be a ‘digital citizen’ and how is the law upheld on the internet? It’s important to be aware that it’s not just about catching people committing crime online but what can we all do to prevent those crimes from being committed and harm being caused in the first place. The police clearly have a role in this but so do the internet service providers and social media platforms.”

Annual conference

The event was organised as a follow-up to the annual Cumberland Lodge Police Conference, which brings together senior police leaders with government and policy representatives, academics, NGOs and front-line community practitioners, to discuss responses to key social and ethical issues affecting the police service. 

This year’s conference, ‘A Divided Society: Challenges for Policing’, was held at Cumberland Lodge in April 2016. The weekend programme explored threats to social cohesion in 21st century Britain from global, local and historical perspectives. It also looked at core policing principles such as ‘policing by consent’, and how to uphold them even in situations of protest, social unrest and dissent, and in the face of challenges such as the rise in extremism. Presentations from the event can be found on our Learning & Resources page.

Speakers included: Rt Hon Theresa May, Louise Casey (Director General, Troubled Families), Lynne Owens (Director, National Crime Agency), representatives from Police Now, George Hamilton (Chief Constable, Police Service of Northern Ireland), Humera Khan (Social commentator and Founder of An-Nisa Society) and Sir Peter Fahy (former Chief Constable, Greater Manchester Police).

The conference was attended by senior police leaders, government and policy representatives, academics, NGOs, media representatives and front-line community practitioners. 

The long-standing annual Cumberland Lodge Police Conference is also held under the Chatham House Rule. Topics in previous years have included surveillance, multiculturalism, the media and professional standards, and drug abuse.