Policing with the Community – Belfast Holylands

Ulster University, March 2017

The execution of the first INSPEC2T test case will take place in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland week commencing 24th April 2017. Ulster University will serve as the lead for the Belfast test case on behalf of the INSPEC2T consortium. The INSPEC2T team has worked with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Belfast City Council as well as resident and community groups, business owners, landlords and student representative bodies to formulate a series of scenarios which not only serve to test and validate the features and functions of the INSPEC2T system but which also mirror the crime and security challenges within the Holylands district of south Belfast. The Holylands area has the largest volume of student population in Belfast and is characterised by large volumes of Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs). The student population reside alongside permanent residents and this has the propensity to generate friction within the area – particularly at ‘pinch-points’ in the academic year namely, Fresher’s week, Halloween and most synonymously St. Patrick’s day (17th March) celebrations. Paradoxically, ongoing relations between permanent residents and students has tended to dominate local media coverage but this to some extent underplays the transformation in the social fabric within the area over the course of the last decade including the growth in ethnic communities which have tended to cluster in this part of the city.

Stakeholders within Belfast have embraced the INSPEC2T system with enthusiasm and whilst the motives and objectives of the stakeholders vary in terms of their priorities, a series of key themes are consistent in their prominence. A key priority within the Holylands is to improve communication flows between the police and the community. The transient nature of the student population as well as ethnic communities has made policing engagement problematic. The lack of ‘engagement’ is exacerbated by historic mis-trust of police within certain quarters of the community. It is clear that some communities are reluctant to report crime – which means that crime rates are under-reported in the area. The INSPEC2T App affords a medium of communication that may appeal to many of the harder to reach communities. Residents within the Holylands area feel that the INSPEC2T system (or a technology akin to that proffered by the INSPEC2T consortium) will improve the levels and transparency of crime reporting, and provide more robust statistics (including trend analysis) as a means of informing resource deployment. But the key features of interest include the ‘traceability’ of an incident report and also the command and control system which they hope will serve to improve accountability across statutory bodies/agencies as well as improving response times and decisiveness of action. INSPEC2T is viewed as a key component of a wider holistic intervention strategy which could serve as a basis for the revitalization and regeneration of the Holylands area.

Testing of the INSPEC2T system within Belfast and Northern Ireland will comprise a ‘closed’ test environment as well as a ‘live’ test within the Holylands district. Testing will commence on Monday 24th April and is scheduled for five days in total. More than 100 stakeholders comprising police officers, city council officials, political representatives, resident associations and students will participate in the test case.