Building Bridges, Safer Communities Blog

Why We Came Together to Hold the first Citizens Panel on Policing and Community Safety

In recent years, the conversation around policing in the UK has grown increasingly urgent. At the heart of this dialogue lies a critical need to understand the diverse perspectives of those most affected by policing policies and practices.

To address this need, in 2023 Revolving Doors and Shared Future joined forces to hold a Citizens Panel on Policing in Liverpool. This collaboration emerged from our shared vision to harness the insights of those with lived experiences and the principles of deliberative democracy to inform and shape public policy.

The ability of Deliberative Democracy to tackle complex problems

Shared Future, an organisation dedicated to promoting deliberative democracy, believes in the power of inclusive and participatory decision-making processes. Deliberative democracy involves engaging citizens in discussions about often complex policies that affect their lives, ensuring a diversity of voices and perspectives are considered.

At Shared Future we know that meaningful change comes from involving the whole community in decision-making. We focus on creating inclusive spaces where everyday citizens can deliberate at length on important issues, guided by expert evidence and diverse viewpoints.

The Citizens Panel on Community Safety and Policing, an issue on which this approach had not been used before in the UK, proved to be a perfect opportunity to bring together people from different backgrounds to share opinions, gain fresh insights and finally develop their own informed recommendations for improving policing and community safety in Liverpool.

The Power of Lived Experience

Revolving Doors is a charity dedicated to changing systems and policies that trap people in cycles of crisis, crime, and multiple disadvantages. Central to our approach is the belief that those who have direct experience of these issues are best placed to offer insights and solutions. Through peer research, we engage with people who use services, ensuring their voices are not just heard but actively influence policy and practice.

Our peer research in Liverpool, speaking to over 200 people who experience multiple disadvantage revealed a crucial truth: those who experience more police contact often feel overlooked and misunderstood. Their experiences offer a unique and valuable perspective on how policing can be improved. By including these voices in the Citizens Panel, we aimed to ensure that any recommendations would be rooted in real-world experiences and needs.

A Unified Approach

The collaboration between Revolving Doors and Shared Future was born out of our mutual recognition that both lived experience and deliberative democracy are essential to creating effective and equitable policing policies. By combining our strengths, we sought to create a comprehensive and inclusive approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of policing in Liverpool.

The Citizens Panel brought together a diverse group of Liverpool residents, including some who have been directly affected by policing practices and also members of the general public who hadn’t. This mix ensured a wide range of perspectives, fostering a deeper understanding of the issues and more balanced recommendations. We also ensured they heard from experts knowledgeable about the criminal justice system, and from organisations and individuals supporting those most at risk or marginalised in society.

Key Findings and Recommendations

The Citizens Panel’s discussions were rich and enlightening. One of the most striking outcomes was the alignment between the aspirations of those who had experienced the most police contact, due often to unmet health and social need, and those that hadn’t. Despite different experiences, both groups shared common ground on several key issues.

Prevention Over Punishment

Running throughout the recommendations from the panel was the need for a greater focus on prevention rather than punishment. Participants emphasised the importance of addressing the root causes of crime, such as poverty, lack of education, and inadequate mental health services.

By investing in preventative measures, supporting families, and a focus on restorative justice we can reduce the need for heavy-handed policing and create a safer, more supportive environment for all residents.

Community Policing

Another significant request was the adoption of more community-based policing strategies and multi-agency collaboration. Both the peer research and the panel discussions highlighted the benefits of building stronger relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

This approach fosters trust and cooperation, making it easier to address issues collaboratively and effectively.

Training and Accountability

The panel also underscored the need for improved training and accountability within the police force. Participants called for enhanced training programs that focus on de-escalation techniques, cultural competency, and mental health awareness. Additionally, there was a strong demand for mechanisms to ensure police accountability, including independent oversight bodies and transparent complaint processes.

Importantly, particularly from the panel, there was also recognition that the police were often left to tackle social problems they weren’t designed or best placed to deal with, to the detriment of their core role of tackling crime and ensuring community safety.

Moving Forward

The Citizens Panel on Policing in Liverpool demonstrated the power of combining lived experience with deliberative democracy. The alignment of views between those who are over-policed and the general public highlights the potential for unified, community-driven approaches to policing reform.

At Revolving Doors, we are committed to continuing our peer research efforts, bringing the voices of those who use services into the policymaking process. Shared Future will persist in advocating for and facilitating deliberative conversations, ensuring that the public has a meaningful say in decisions that affect their lives.

Together, we believe that by listening to and empowering the community, we can create a policing system that is fair, effective, and rooted in the needs of those it serves. The Citizens Panel was just the beginning, and we are excited to see the positive changes that will emerge from this collaborative effort.

This blog was written by Pavan Dhaliwal and Jez Hall, inspired by the launch of the Building Bridges, Safer Communities report on the 28th May 2024, in Liverpool.

Read our report about this project on our reports and resources page.