Interview with Sergeant Neil Pacey, Northumbria Police
The relationship between the police and football fans has not always been straightforward. For decades, the police have been keeping rival supporters apart, with the aim of keeping the public safe and controlling disorder on match days.
An initiative at Northumbria Police is aiming to change the policing approach by implementing a prevention strategy. This has gone someway to breaking down the barriers between fans and the authorities as the force adopts a more community-style policing approach.
Sergeant Neil Pacey talks to us about the innovative approach taken by Northumbria Police and the impact this has had on match-going supporters.
Tell us, what is different about the approach that has been adopted at Northumbria Police?
Our approach is based upon two Policing models; Neighbourhood Policing and Community Engagement. We treat football fans, clubs, local businesses, coach operators and partners as a Neighbourhood and hold meetings and run forums in order to get to know the community.Through this we develop the professional relationships and trust required to really make things work.
Why did you decide to adopt this approach? What do you hope to achieve?
Community Engagement and Neighbourhood Policing has a proven track record of success in this force and in others. We didn’t see why this approach couldn’t be adopted for football policing. We wanted to work with the football community, listen to their concerns and issues and understand how we could make match days a better experience for everyone.
What do football fans think?
The feedback from fans, the clubs and partners is on the whole very positive.
What benefits have you seen?
We have been able to employ less robust tactics and our starting point is to mingle and walk with fans rather than marching them into ground. The majority officers are now police in normal uniform rather than wearing full protective equipment. Overall, there is less trouble, we have fewer officers on duty on match day and the number of arrests is on the decline.
Can you tell us a bit about the work you are doing with school children and young football supporters.
Following an enquiry into disorder at the 2013 derby match, a young supporter received a banning order for his involvement. He had just fulfilled his life-long ambition to join the army and two weeks into his basic training he was discharged as a result of his involvement in the disorder. With his dreams in tatters and the realisation that he had chosen the wrong course of action on that day, he decided he wanted to share his lessons for the benefit of others. We have worked with him to create a film where he tells his story. We show this film to young people in schools and youth diversion groups to help them understand the consequences of their actions. We have been impressed with how he has faced up to his actions and in a few months time he will be eligible to re-apply to the army with the full support of the Northumbria Police, who will endorse his application.
What are the additional costs associated with this approach?
There have been no additional costs, the additional work has been covered by Dedicated Football Officers, from the football unit.
What are the main issues you face policing football in Northumbria?
Youth alcohol related anti-social behaviour at football is a key issue for us. We are trying to tackle this through education at all levels to address behaviour at matches and the impact this has on the wider community.
How has this approach been viewed by the Safety Advisory Group? Were there any initial concerns?
No concerns were raised.
Is this approach easily replicated around the country?
I believe so with some advice. We are happy to discuss this with other forces that are interested.
What do you see as the future of football policing?
Certainly for Northumbria Police, we see the future in continuing with the neighbourhood approach and developing engagement with the community.
If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Northumbria Police Football Coordination Team