Close to 100 streets in Bristol have now played out since the idea took root, and residents in more than 30 towns and cities are also opening their streets for play. What role can the local police play in this use of residential streets? Chief Inspector Kevan Rowlands from Avon & Somerset Police talks about the support he and his force have for the idea….
‘They are a fantastic idea. The children in the street love it. The whole street gets together and participates with lots of games. They are a great idea and I think it should be pushed as much as possible to bring back the old neighbourly community like the old days!’
These words are from a police officer working in Southmead in north Bristol.
I first became involved with Playing Out when I returned to Bristol after a long spell working at our constabulary headquarters. I was asked to become involved and to provide police liaison at a senior level. When I learned what Playing Out was about I jumped at the chance.
It may not be immediately obvious what playing out has to do with the police. There have been a very few cases where motorists have not been as patient as they should be with the road closures and one incident has ended up in court. But these are rare incidents and most motorists see what is happening and are quite happy to take a small detour. Here in Bristol the road closed signage has undergone a recent upgrade and training is provided to volunteer stewards to avoid any conflict with motorists who don’t show the necessary patience.
But that isn’t the point. Whilst we encourage Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers to get involved, we do not manage the road closures or attend in an official capacity.
The point is that crime and anti-social behaviour will not thrive in strong communities. The benefits of playing out go way beyond the fun the children have. It is the community coming together to achieve something they can see and hear that really makes the difference. Getting to know each other, understand each other, trust each other and develop a sense of community achieves much more to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour than patrolling police officers can.
In fact there is evidence to show that the ‘bobby on the beat’ can actually have the opposite effect from making people feel safe and makes people worry something is going on!
The reality of crime is that it has been reducing for at least the last ten years. Despite that the evidence suggests people are not feeling proportionately safer. It is the opportunity that playing out gives people to feel they have control over their environment that can make a positive difference – helping people feel safe and secure.
Bristol is an exciting, busy, vibrant city with huge cultural diversity. The role of playing out in bringing people together and giving our children the chance to laugh and play together is hugely important to our future and I think the volunteers who help make it happen it deserve our support and a huge vote of thanks.
Have you been in contact with your local police? Do get in touch to share your experiences or to talk about ways to make those links and build support where you live.