Building Bridges, Safer Communities: Why we came together to hold the first citizens’ panel on policing and community safety

Earlier this week (28 May 2024), the Building Bridges, Safer Communities project launched its reports at an event in Liverpool – a peer research report about attitudes to policing in the city, and a groundbreaking report containing the recommendations of the UK’s first ever citizens’ panel on policing and community safety.

The Building Bridges, Safer Communities project has been run by Revolving Doors; however, the citizens’ panel and its revealing, representative findings would not have been possible without Shared Future CIC – an organisation dedicated to the revelatory power of participatory democracy. Here, Revolving Doors Chief Executive Pavan Dhaliwal and Shared Future’s Director Jez Hall reflect on why our organisations joined forces for this crucial project:

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 a 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.

We at Shared Future know that meaningful change comes from involving the community in decision-making processes. We focus on creating spaces where everyday citizens can deliberate at lengths on important issues, guided by 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 disadvantage. 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 involved speaking to over 200 people who experience multiple disadvantage and 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 a mutual recognition that both lived experience and deliberative democracy are essential to creating effective and equitable policing policies.

The citizens’ panel brought together a diverse group of Liverpool residents, including some who have been directly affected by policing practices and 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 experience the most police contact due to unmet health and social need and the general public. Despite different experiences, both groups shared common ground on several key issues.

Prevention over punishment

Running through 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.

Community policing

Another significant request was the adoption of community 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.

Moving forwards

At Revolving Doors, we are committed to continuing our peer research efforts, bringing the voices of those who use services into the policymaking process. At Shared Future, we 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.