Research, methods, police-academic relationships: A potted history

This blog offers another joint effort from me and one of our students – Gareth Stubbs. A police officer from Lancashire Police.
Academic perspective – Emma
I always talk to our students at CCCU about how evidence based policing is not new, the different definitions of it, the different perceptions of knowledge hierarchies (both from a police and academic standpoint), and perhaps, more controversially, the perceived hierarchies within the discipline of criminology about policing academics (their preferred methods and research focus).
I do firmly believe that there is room for all of the different standpoints on the criminology spectrum – let’s face it if there weren’t academics that raised police problems, there would be no platform for those that help further define those problems and generate new theory about them. Subsequently, there would be limited space for those that apply new practices to these issues and evaluate both their impact and process. The relationship in a way should be symbiotic, with different experts in the field (both academics and officers) being involved at various stages of the research process to provide a research outcome that informs all and most importantly, for practitioners, findings that can be applied to their own decision making in practice.
At CCCU, we recently started a new MSc programme in Applied Police Practice. The first module (Evidence Based Interventions) aims to provide students with an understanding of the use of evidence in various areas of policing, the barriers and enablers to making the application successful, how to learn from and reflect on ‘failure’ and the importance of problem definition and local context in planning any kind of initiative. Whilst designing the lecture series for the first year it became apparent that an overview of the history of police research and some reference to the sociology of policing was required to help students see two things:
• That research in the police is not new and that both the relationship between the two worlds and the research ‘type’ has changed over time, and;
• Having an understanding of how this historical context between the researchers and the researched impacts on the relationship between the two parties today, in the current EBP climate.
As we put together the lecture we felt the need to revisit the literature from the classics (Muir, Banton, Skolnick, Hall, Chan, Punch etc. etc.). Despite knowing the stages of research as defined and articulated by Robert Reiner it became glaringly obvious that the politics around such stages of research had a huge impact on the relationships I describe above.
The sociology of the police is the study of people, institutions, human relationships, organisational relationships, communities, cultures, social processes, how social and cultural structures are formed and how they influence the policing of society. In fact, this is exactly what research aimed to do when academia initially infiltrated the police – it sought to identify examples of the police working well with the community around social values and the building of social capital, it sought to explore police misconduct, disproportionality and the causes of it, it explored politics and the role of the police in the power of the state, and then in the late 80s it moved into informing policy making, what works and more operational, practically applied research.

The point here for me, as the academic in this piece, is that all the research that was conducted in the 60s / 70s and 80s is still relevant. It remains highly valued and cited in thesis’ about a range of police topics such as mental health, sexual violence investigation, community policing, stop and search, terrorism, police education and the list goes on. In my own work I regularly cite the likes of Bittner / Banton / Chan. I love the way that one of our students quotes Bittner in his training around mental health to police colleagues – it is so relevant!

But, I see less and less of this type of work being conducted now – this form of criminological research that questions things and raises problems. As Christie pointed out – in the current police research climate, there is a focus on the positive and the discovery of ‘what works’. This negates the role of researchers and research as critical problem raisers over problem solvers. You cannot do one without the other and, as Michael Brown often states when talking about policing and mental health, the focus on solving problems without effective problem raising leads to sticking plaster initiatives that far from increase cost effectiveness and efficiency. Indeed, they can fail, be implemented badly, leave out the needs of the people (both practitioners and the public) and ultimately can require the application of another initiative soon after if it all goes wrong. The impact on the officers themselves can also be risky to their own well being, as outlined by Ian Hesketh.

As a researcher in the Met Police for ten years I can’t tell you how many times I heard officers call me a ‘spy’ looking for wrong doing and bad practice – I wasn’t – but I can understand this when I read quite critical research with no helpful recommendations about how to use the work to inform decisions and implement findings. This is why the collaborative relationships are so important now…. It is not this I contest. It is more the statements about what makes reliable evidence in the hierarchical tree. It depends on the question!

We need an ever growing knowledge bank about police problems / practitioner concerns / organisational structure and the field within which policing operates (see Jock Young’s Voodoo Criminology for one of the best accounts on this). And we also need evaluations, RCTs and the research on ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’. In fact, I would argue that it is often this rich research conducted on the policing ‘field’ that can help explain the reasons why sometimes initiatives don’t work.

So….. I get more and more annoyed when I read blogs describing the importance of one method as the right one…. The two issues of solving and fixing are dependent on each other and also dependant on those officers making the change and the organisation it is operating it. Please can we start to respect each other’s chosen research methods, recognise the benefits of pluralism in this space and work together to create a true and balanced view of the policing world. At the end of the day the method ALWAYS starts with the question!

The practitioner’s perspective
Gareth Stubbs
It’s really tempting to read this sort of comment and think, ‘It’s nothing to do with me, who cares about the history of criminological research, tell me about what I can use now.’ I can feel that draw towards the ability to simplify and take what is proved to ‘work’ and simply apply it in the real world. It fits into my practical world well, at 3am when I’m dealing with three high risk missing from homes and some injured officers a solution that I can apply to free up resources is immensely tempting – both cognitively and emotionally.

The thing is – and the more I read, the more I realise this – solutions are political. What do I mean by this? Well, were I to take some of the studies around hotspot policing, I could point out that visibility of police officers has taken primacy of research over and above other solutions for several decades. We have fetishized the uniform and its efficacy, and spent many years investigating how its placement affects crime rates. This is valuable research, and a recent systematic study suggests that presence really does impact on crime. No shocks there – you may say – but the choice to spend a huge amount of resources over recent decades evaluating the concept has been driven by both the service and academia.

So where are the politics you may ask? Well in many cases the answer lies in the opportunity cost of the research. Why have we not been pouring huge resources into in depth studies of child sexual exploitation or the development of the dark net and its impact on crime? I watched a presentation on crypto currency a few weeks ago, and the potential for organised crime groups (and subsequently a large impact on communities) is huge, but the money spent on research in this area is dwarfed by the level of study utilising RCT methodology on things such as Bodycams, visible policing, and diversionary activities at the point of custody.

What does this tell us? It tells us that there is an undercurrent of control present in policing research that follows particular patterns, usually influenced by powerful networks and research consortiums.

I’ve heard conspiracy theories about such networks and influences, but having met many people involved in the active development of research, like most conspiracy theories they are vastly exaggerated. I tend to find passionate academics and practitioners riding the crest of development in new areas of research, building on the work of colleagues and faculties. This creates its own version of groupthink that is present in every industry and isn’t without its value. Who wouldn’t want to know whether bodycams actually have value (millions of taxpayers pounds spent on them) or whether uniform policing affects crime (huge staff reductions due to austerity and Compstat driven culture to put resources physically where the crime is)?

So, what does this mean?

Appreciating that research is based on an agenda – unconscious or otherwise – leads us to critique both the outcome and the method of the research using a particular gaze. I could criticise current uses of RCT methods across the country as lacking in humanistic considerations, missing a large amount of qualitative understanding, and probably for being responsible for a whole host of unmeasured, unintended consequences. I could also critique in depth qualitative research for being myopic and often sympathetic to particular critical causes such as class or gender (which to be fair, I too am sympathetic towards).

The truth is that all research methods have their positives and negatives, the important bit is that you can see them, and appreciate the data/conclusions that you are provided with following their conclusion. Appreciating the history of the research in your area allows critical thinking, providing context to the currents around what is fuelling and directing research. When you are faced with a conclusion from a particular study, it enables you to ask questions such as:

• What is this research telling me?
• What isn’t it telling me?
• Why is it telling me this?
• How can this conclusion inform on practice?

The last question is the important one for practitioners. I have seen research conclusions immediately taken up and implemented without consideration for the previous three questions, that ultimately help to form a more proportionate response to change. Should a single study inform practice? In theory it could, but ideally I would hope that with a little wider learning, practitioners would ask the previous three questions and realise there is more to be done.

As a final point, a great comment from a practitioner in my force was asked on twitter. He asked me whether increasing the level of study/understanding leads to ‘paralysis by analysis.’ It’s an insightful comment, as the more variables you consider, the longer the thought taken before changes or decisions are made. At what point does the immense task of appreciating fully the context surrounding any study or change make decision making impractical? I can’t answer this question, as I suspect it is subjective, but it certainly made me think.

Academia is a little like a trip into Alice’s Wonderland. There’s a rabbit hole there and you can go as deep as you want. Appreciating your context is vital to ensuring informed decision making, but at what point does this level of learning become an impractical ask for practitioners? How do we answer the question:

“How much do I need to know to improve my decision making?”

The answer is elusive, but I tend to fall on the side of Emma, above. If we can’t understand the current political context that informs on academia and policing’s current research agenda, how can we properly evaluate the impact of research? Where should the rabbit hole really take a practitioner? I would say: Far enough to appreciate quite how far they have come, but not too far as to become one of the Mad Hatter’s guests at the dinner party. Do your reading, appreciate the classics, and be prepared to look at your own study and research with that eye that considers why you have made the choices that you have.

Be wary of ‘conventional wisdom’ and the currents of contemporary practice, they inevitably have a political history that drive their development and maintenance. As long as you can see it, you can appraise the results properly, with an informed, critical eye. Being able to consider contextual and personal bias is at the heart of good research, put some effort into understanding it, it’s absolutely worth your time.


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Taking the time out to take stock: reflective practice – views from police BSc students

A new term and a new module……. some reflections from Jenny Norman (and a couple from me Emma) – but mainly the voices of our great students!!!! Face to face teaching is so useful :0)

“…Reflective practice allows us to wonder our own world, work and ourselves, because problems do not present themselves to the practitioner as given…he must make sense of an uncertain situation that initially makes no sense…” (Schon, 1983, p.40)


Here at CCCU we have introduced a new module into our BSc in Policing degree programme which is specifically focused on reflective practice. Last week, I delivered a session with our first year group that covered some of the theory and models of reflective practice more generically and some of the work that places importance around critical reflection and thinking in policing. Two important aspects for me (Jenny) as module lead, is to hear the experiences of our students, the practitioners, and to actively reflect on this myself as the module progresses.

The students’ experiences are a vital ingredient in the context of this module because it’s about them, what drives their thinking, what influences their decision-making as police officers / staff, as well as the role they play in their wider social environment, the organisation they work for and how this interacts with the public. We cannot ever teach this and the module encourages a conversation about how critical thinking can create new knowledge (from officers) and arguably a deeper level of understanding. In a climate that is constantly referring to what we consider as ‘the hierarchy of knowledge’, both in academic and police circles, critical thinking / reflection offers practitioners the opportunity to learn from each other, share knowledge and adapt practice as a result. It recognises what we consider to be the importance of experience in this narrative. Plus with all the focus on risk aversion in the current climate and the avoidance of the ‘unethical’ – this method offers a chance to pick up on some of the great work officers do when dealing with new and very complex issues.

We genuinely believe in reflective practice. However, on planning the content for this module I (Jenny) was slightly apprehensive about the extent to which the area could be perceived – it’s not for everyone, some people aren’t always comfortable reaching within to explore themselves and unpick a certain scenario. There is an element of the subject being a bit ‘fuzzy’ and this is clear in constant debates by police about whatever is critical thinking. Some of the literature identifies that there is no unified definition of reflective practice, despite an ongoing academic debate over the past few decades.  However, we are not entirely sure that we need a single definition. It’s an observation but reflection is individual, self-guided and unique, having a prescriptive definition would arguably restrict the level of exploration one reaches and would perhaps, ignore the subjective (and important) element of what it can be. Using the literature to see where there is consensus about what reflective practice is and what it involves, is much more valuable. In our session with the students last week, we thought about what it means to reflect, how we’d go about it, and how it features in policing. Whilst this is anecdotal evidence, it was really interesting to hear some shared experiences and there were a couple of points that I (Jenny) have taken away from the session.


  1. Reflection as a conscious activity in police organisations

An important feature of reflection is that it should be done as a conscious activity, so we talked about some of the more overt ways police organisations consider what has happened. This involved thinking about organisational processes that are (in theory) in place to promote reflection…or some form of assessment of an event. The National Intelligence Model (NIM) and the role of analysis within operational decision-making was a really good example raised as a model that requires reflection.  In the session we considered the research on the analytical role in policing. Key findings from this research body identifies that analytical work only goes so far, the ‘evaluation’ part of the intelligence cycle is often neglected. This is the reflection part. Consciously and constructively exploring ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’ and using this to generate more specialist knowledge of a problem to inform future decisions is key – not just reviewing what.

With the absence of retrospectively asking these types of questions, the intelligence cycle is incomplete and the knowledge that could have been fostered is potentially compromised, as it can be in other forms of research. In times of austerity and when police problems are recognised to be complex and far reaching, a lack of conscious reflection limits the ability to gain a deeper understanding of a problem. Without this sound problem definition, subsequent decisions are not being made about solutions via a thorough ‘evidence-base’ despite the EBP agenda.


  1. Reflection as a conscious activity for individuals

There was a sense in the classroom that police organisations do not encourage individuals to engage in reflection as a conscious activity routinely, when this does happen the ‘reflection’ is often an assessment of something that has gone wrong and only perceived to be necessary when there is blame to apportion. However, it could be argued that the absence of routine reflections can miss opportunities for learning. Christopher (2015) promotes the idea of critical reflective practice and suggests a number of reasons why it is beneficial in policing. Much of this is related to our understanding of a certain event and thinking about what could happen differently to improve /change the situation in the future which might mean thinking about professional development. However, Christopher also acknowledges the human-factor as a benefit of reflective practice, in terms of how it promotes conversations which in turn helps to foster trust and encourage support. He also places importance on practitioners acknowledging the effects of their professional practice.

In the session, we talked about the role of de-briefings as a form of reflection. I felt a sense from the group that they would value this type of reflection at work but there was inconsistency in relation to when de-briefs are used. It often depended on the extent of the incident, a high-profile or major event would involve a de-briefing, but they aren’t widely practised on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, this recently came up in some research we did with custody officers.

Some students shared examples from their day-to-day practice and it really brought the demands placed on police officers and their continued exposure to trauma every day into perspective for me. The points made in the session were relevant to the wellbeing narrative and the need for police organisations to recognise and respond to the mental health needs of staff through listening to their workforce.  Fostering reflection with more consistent use of de-briefings day to day, would not only provide a deeper understanding of the problem by considering what happened and how the event prevailed but it also facilitates a conversation about the impact this has on frontline policing and officers. This may go some way to help identify support strategies for police practitioners and importantly, provide opportunities for early intervention if necessary.


This, in reality is difficult to achieve with continued resource cuts, a lack of time and a workforce that is overworked dealing with several issues they potentially should not be involved in. Even without these pressures, it is inevitable that not everyone would want to practice reflection and share their experiences. But, police organisations need to encourage productive conversations that supports the staff that work within it. Finding a space to allow reflective practice to support the workforce through listening is key. I wonder if with an emphasis on reflective practice from the profession there needs to be a way of exploring more effective ways to provide this space to reflect and the viability of this being a normal part of day to day practice.

We know that demand on policing has changed and there is an acknowledgement that the police deal with problems daily which fall outside of their remit. Whilst it must be acknowledged that taking time out to take stock is perhaps a luxury, it is very clear from our class discussions that the potential benefits of routine reflection would outweigh the reasons not to do it and would help re-enforce the point that is so much needed at the current time –  that the organisation is listening consistently to its most important assets – its people.




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A critical review of the Reform report @Nathanconstable and me

On Thursday 24th August 2017, the policy think tank Reform published their report on their view of the digital future of policing. It runs to 46 pages (not including bibliography) and makes 10 recommendations which it claims are “the only way to police in an ever changing world.”
When it was published it attracted a LOT of comment. In this blog – Emma Williams (Deputy Director of Canterbury Christ Church University Police Research Centre) and I take a detailed look at the report and…… raise a few issues.

NC – Policy think-tank reports are usually controversial, especially with the agency who will be affected by the proposed changes. Policing has had an increasingly tense relationship with such bodies ever since Blair Gibbs and his four horsemen of the police reform apocalypse started producing reports-which-became-policy (including the sensationally clueless suggestion that police officers travel to and from work in uniform.)

This one from Reform caused a bit of a stir. Ironically, given the digital subject matter, this was mostly played out on social media. The National Police Chiefs’ Council tweeted it and called it “engaging” – just about everyone else tweeting about it seemed to have issues with it.
I read it through once and was pretty stunned. I read it through again and it made me angry. On the third reading I realised I was sat with my jaw dropped and struggling to believe what I was actually reading. I have wanted to blog about it since the first day but I have had to pause, stop, re-read, take notes, pause again and take a few deep breaths.
In order to address what I perceive to be are very many gaps and issues in this Reform report I will attempt to point out various elements from within it.
Look for the references
NC – I am new to academic study but more than one of my peers, mentors and supervisors have taught me that the first thing you should do when reviewing any academic article is to look at the references. Who have they included? Who have they missed?
The very first thing to point out is that the Reform report is NOT academic research. It is clearly policy research. When you examine the references it is notable that, with the exception of mention to Peel’s Principles from 1829 there is not a single other referenced piece which pre-dates 2004. Yes – the subject matter of the article is “digital” but actually the report goes into some commentary about culture. It also talks about demand. The absence of any literature which goes back further in time is telling. It is arguable that proper research into policing started with Michael Banton’s (1964) study The Policeman in the Community and that in most years subsequent to that many eminent academics have studied the role, function and culture of policing. This includes seminal research from the likes of Maurice Punch, Egon Bittner, Robert Reiner all of whom have gone into great detail to describe the makeup, work and politics of policing. Any proper academic study which goes on to make proposals for the future of the police would need to pay due regard to this work and truly understand where policing has come from, what it is and, crucially WHY it is. The Reform paper does not refer to these at all. It pays glancing reference to Peel but only to one of the nine principles.
The quality of the references is also important. The purists will argue that for something to count as evidence it has to have come from a Randomised Control Trial and be peer-reviewed. Well – perhaps this article could be construed as something of a peer-review. I personally do not hold with the belief that RCT’s are the only true form of evidence and I am also a fan of qualitative research but this report manages to be “none of the above.”
For example, large sections of proposed change are based on the comments from one individual that police officers are “terrified” of digital things. That hasn’t come from a survey, a questionnaire sent to a properly defined and selected sample base – in fact the comment isn’t even contested. A chief officer has apparently made this comment and – presumably because it suits – it has been taken as fact.
Whilst I state that I don’t hold with everything needing to be a “gold-standard” of evidence there have to be limits. If, for example, I were looking to make wholesale strategic changes to the structure, make up and working methods of an entire police service – I would want my proposals to be sound, tested, piloted and evaluated. I certainly wouldn’t be making such bold proposals based on articles in magazines – which is something this report does quite a lot. The section on augmented reality glasses in the Netherlands comes from a one page article in New Scientist magazine. The only evaluation offered in that article if from the person behind the idea saying it is “adding a lot” to how they do things. Not exactly conclusive proof of concept.
This isn’t an isolated example. Other proposed solutions in the report have been found in The Economist and Fortune Magazines. Neither of these, to the best of my knowledge, are particularly well renowned for their scientific and academic rigour.
Other references come from multiple government departments and newspapers. The office of national statistics comes up but – here is the real kicker – so do a number of political speeches and responses to parliament. When you look at these – they all come from one side of the political spectrum. Yes – the governing party but they are not the only ones with a voice or ideas or who have done research. No mention of Lord Stephens’ review of policing for the Labour Party. Just Winsor.
To me, the entire reference section reads like it has been selected to prove a pre-determined argument. Not least the multiple references to the authors own previous research and recommendations.
Emma – As an academic who publishes and peer reviews articles I believe that if I produced a piece of work with the lack of evidence this report involves I would be told immediately that the work was unpublishable. The methods and subsequent data produced referred to by the authors is not cited in the report in enough depth or detail to justify the recommendations made in this piece. Indeed many of the specific initiatives they describe from the forces they have used in the work are not officially evaluated examples of good practice and this only adds to the descriptive and anecdotal nature of the report. This report comes at a time when the drive for evidence based policing is huge hence I was surprised by the extreme recommendations made from such a lack of evidence. In addition to this much of the evidence challenging the report recommendations were conveniently ignored. For example evidence around the demand that cannot be dealt with by technology / the issue of under performance and the reasons and drivers involved / the evidence around why volunteers chose to get involved in policing. All absent from this work. I think the critical review Nathan provides above offers an excellent peer review (importantly by a practitioner) which I wonder should have been done prior to publication.
Digital Demand
NC – The report starts with the confident (and cited) statistic that nearly half of crime has some form of digital element to it. If you just look at this as a statement then you might be forgiven for thinking the police need to completely review how they are doing things. Except – this is a very broad statement. It also lulls you into the false sense of security that therefore “half of what the police deal with has a digital element.”
So – let us look at what the police currently do. The College of Policing provided the government with a demand profile in 2015. This piece of work was taken from the figures produced nationally from all forces’ command and control systems. It showed that – of all police demand – only 17% related to crime. Yes – you read that correctly.
83% of police demand is not crime related. So if you extrapolate that 17% of police demand is crime and half of that is digital enabled – then that is 8.5% of demand. Now read the report in full and see how it is building an entire police force almost entirely focused on digital.
This exact argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as I am sure that much of the non-crime demand will have some form of digital element but this report is making it out to be the be all and end all of policing. Any practicing officer will tell you – it is not.
The next question, therefore, is just exactly how skilled to police officers need to be. This for me – is where the report begins to contradict itself. In a section which looks to delineate which agency will deal with what it says “Local forces need skills to investigate crimes which involve the internet but are less likely to require the elite skills needed to address sophisticated cybercrimes.” And yet – it goes on to recommend that 1700 officers per year are sent to an, as yet not created, Digital Academy – presumably to learn the skills they won’t need. In fact – what skills they would be taught at this Academy are not explained.
I’m going to be bold here and suggest that what forces need are sufficient experts to be able to do the difficult stuff. I have no doubt that the number of these experts will need to increase. But this report suggests that IT investment is falling and then goes on to suggest that this could all be covered by “cyber specials”. 12,000 are required it suggests. Well – call me old fashioned but this suggests that there is work to be done – work that needs doing and an ACTUAL demand. Surely if this is the case then the job needs doing and it shouldn’t really rely on volunteers – whose time and commitment can never truly be guaranteed.
The biggest bulk of cyber enabled crime (besides fraud) mentioned in this report is harassment and stalking. I am struggling to work out just how tech savvy the average cop needs to be to deal with such things. In the vast majority of cases surely the suspect is known? (as I side note – the authors of this report would do well to recognise the difference between suspects and offenders) How knowledgeable does a police officer need to be to approach an internet service provider with a properly authorised Data Protection Act disclosure form with the question “Where did these messages come from?”
On the occasions where someone has gone a bit further to hide their tracks or they aren’t easily detectable that is when you might need some more expert assistance – but not in every single case. Most of these digital crimes can be dealt with with existing processes.
So then we come to fraud. These are the cases the report suggests we know little about and are probably mostly hidden. On this we can agree. But – then you have to look at where they are originating. I’m sure that there is a large home-grown proportion of criminality on the internet but most of the really serious reports about hacking, phishing and large scale fraud seem to be coming from abroad. And from countries with whom we do not have the best of relationships, jurisdiction or extradition arrangements. So – what happens when the local constable starts an investigation into a six figure internet fraud and then finds that the perpetrators are based in the dark web in Russia or Nigeria.
Surely – surely – the overall argument here is not to make local police forces deal with this kind of stuff – but for the National Crime Agency to deal with it completely or even set up a new police service which is entirely dedicated to this type of crime. The report already says it needs 12,000 people (volunteers) and that local officers don’t really need to be trained to that level (even though it wants to send 1700 each year to a tech academy for reasons it doesn’t elucidate on.)
Emma – of course digital crime is a huge issue in the current climate and we need to consider the technical skills required to deal with this. However I think the drive to utilise technology discounts the importance the other very important people skills required to deal with some of these issues. This is ignored in this report. I recently attended a problem solving award event in the Met Police where many of the schemes up for awards focused on cyber crime. These problem solving programmes focused on the vulnerable / education / local community issues and building social capacity to deal with them. This is prevention and this is policing.
Technology is part of the solution not all of it. I refer to a reference Nathan has already alluded to. That of Punch. There is a lot more in the demand conversation both in terms of what officers face and how to deal with it – this is what matters. The skills officers need to deal with such factors extend way beyond that of being good with a computer and that must be acknowledged.
NC – The report mentions a series of potential solutions which often lead to the question “what problem are they trying to solve?” We have already discussed the Netherlands Augmented Reality Glasses (unevaluated and – as far as I can see – nothing a smart phone couldn’t do) but there are others.
Drones – says the report – Drones with facial recognition could be deployed to places so they could find wanted and missing people. So many questions arise here – never mind the obvious surveillance issues (more on that later.) Where would you deploy them? Places which have large amounts of people? You mean – places that already have a lot of CCTV coverage? Who would pilot them? Who would respond to a positive sighting and go to locate or arrest the person? What do you do in large covered shopping centres?
Whilst we are on the subject of drones (and the Netherlands) it should be noted that they have gone full retro when it comes to tackling the drone issue. They are now training eagles to take them out in mid-air. And you thought working on the dog section had kudos. This report didn’t mention the potential problems or criminality which drones could pose – but I do wonder if their solution might have been “more drones” or “drone-killing-drones” or maybe even a death-ray from space (I read about that in a magazine once. I think NASA had one – police could have one too.)
The report suggests that forces should use digital reporting and have systems where people can send in virtual evidence. Now – there are elements of this which make sense but I am not sure that the public actually WANT digital reporting. What is it the papers keep saying? Oh yes “police couldn’t be bothered to turn up.” Has anyone asked the public what they want in this discussion? Do they want the police force that is being described in this document? Do they want a more impersonal and remote service where contact is primarily by email? They might – we don’t know. Reform certainly didn’t ask them.
Body Worn Cameras. These, says the report, have the ability to reduce traditional crimes. The example they quote? It reduces escalations of situations in the vicinity of a police officer. You see the obvious flaw here don’t you? The clue is in the title of what they are – BODY worn cameras. Yes – they may play a role in reducing crime but they require a fundamental piece of hardware to achieve this. A human police officer. 1700 of which have been sent to an academy – 1500 others have been sent away on secondments for reasons the report doesn’t really explain and we have lost tens of thousands more due to prior financial cuts.
In fact – almost all of their tech solutions require a police officer or police officers or staff to be able to do something with the information they are given. It almost CREATES work!
Staff Matter
NC – I could spend hours and pages dissecting this report page by page but I fear that you don’t have the time and I don’t have the patience. I have written copious notes on lots of details but I have covered my main reservations so far – with one exception.
Having already said that local forces should not be expected to deal with advanced level digital crime the report then comes on to the compulsory severance of police officers who are unable or unwilling to get to grips with technology. This struck me as a massive non-sequitur.
Having not spelt out what the basic requirement for technical knowledge for the average constable should be it goes on to talk about sacking people who don’t meet it.
It talks about chief officers having the ability to fire officers whose roles are no longer needed. Without specifying what those roles might be – or recognising the vast amounts of experience that officer could be redeployed to use – or trained in – or even basic employment rights.
Then comes the craftiest trick in the book it says “senior management, officers and staff” spoke of the need to be able to sack people. It doesn’t mention who, how many, in what context. For all we know it could be three people. It doesn’t say “the majority of..” it just lists the role. For all we know 96% of those same role holders might have said they DIDN’T think compulsory severance was a good idea but the statement – as written in the report – cannot be said to be untrue. Semantics, eh?
Finally on this topic I would like to reserve special mention to the senior leader who is quoted in the report as having said “we find ways to make things unpleasant” for people who are not doing a good job. The report states that this is “inefficient.”

No – it is unethical.
I accept that I lack the full context of this statement but – if it is as reported – then whoever you are – you do not deserve to be in a senior leadership position and one Chief Constable has gone on record in direct response to this quote suggesting that if ANYONE were to be eligible for compulsory severance it might be whoever spoke these words.
I could not agree more.

Emma – this was my main concern with this report. The audience this report focused on is surely political and I cannot believe any officer truly believes what this report appears to advocate around staff performance. It astounded me (my jaw dropping moment) that no consideration was given to the excellent work produced by Ian Hesketh and others about well being and performance and the College of Policing‘s work on organisational justice and the link to productivity. This aspect of the report essentially suggested we condone bad practice by leaders and remain unquestioning of the reasons for under performance by simply getting rid of people. Plus what does this mean? How do we define under performance – reading this report one might assume the authors refer to technology skills only. This is concerning, ignorant and minimises the importance of empathy / people skills and indeed being able to deal with the unknown. Context and the unknown is something technology cannot deal with either but that is another issue not for this blog. I wondered as I read it if that was why the authors chose to leave out the huge demand coming in to the police from the mental health area. Technology cannot deal with that can it?
NC – As this is a blog I have stopped short of covering all of the points I noted in the Reform report. I can summarise it by saying it is political; it is selective; the evidence for the proposed solutions are weak; it takes no account whatsoever of the many and varied things that the police do besides dealing with internet related matters and then seeks to build a police force entirely designed to deal with internet matters. It talks of sacking officers who don’t come to terms with technology but doesn’t specify a level of knowledge they might require.
There are so many questions which could be asked: who back-fills for the 3200 police officers the report wants to put somewhere else for a year? Why does the report say that violent crime is falling when the very statisticians they quote elsewhere on other matters have just reported that it is rising? What about things like moped crime, dealing with mental health issues, victim contact, road collisions, crowd control, policing protests?
How to overcome the massive ethical issues it raises about surveillance and data sharing – the report simply bats these off with “lingering issues should not be excuses for not implementing technology.”
How to address the obvious paradox that if, as the report states, 80% of cyber crime is PREVENTABLE with simple computer hygiene (a matter for the user and arguably the tech companies) why the report then goes on to design an entire police service designed to DETECT it.
Where and why is it ethically right for police and health to share information because it seems to be something this report thinks should happen more frequently.
How “buying off the shelf” tech isn’t as clear cut as this report makes out – partly because the products often still need massive reconfiguration – partly because the products don’t exist and partly because there often is no “shelf” to buy from. An off the shelf product still takes months to implement and years to tweak and configure. See your local crime recording systems for further details.
Why advocate a product whose algorithm only gets 88% of predictions on HIGH RISK bail release decisions correct?
Why are none of the ethical issues of predictive policing addressed? Why no counter evidence (of which there is plenty)?
When talking about flattening the rank structure it says that the only legal requirement is for a Chief Constable and Constables. I have heard this before but it takes no account of the legal requirement for certain officers to perform certain functions within such legislation as PACE, RIPA and many others. It would be a pretty busy Chief Constable having to authorise EVERYTHING if only two ranks existed. In fairness – the report goes on to say that the police could survive with fewer ranks not two and quotes ongoing research by an existing Chief which supports this. An approach the Met have just decided not to follow.
And then there is my favourite bit of all – in the section about “re-branding policing” to make it more attractive to millennials. Whilst comparing the advertising campaigns of a spy unit in Israel it says that policing cannot compete and so should therefore do more to sell the fact that it is a public service and appeal to people that way.
Well – to that I say this – anyone who joins the police not knowing it is a public service or not wanting to serve the public has probably joined the wrong job. I’m not entirely convinced that “police as public service” is much of a secret?
Not only that – but, in trying to advertise the sexier parts of the job the report suggests that the police should talk more about the work of the National Crime Agency. Which is a completely different organisation. With its own recruitment process. Arguably, the NCA should be advertising the work of the NCA (which I am sure it does) rather than the police – who don’t do what the NCA does.
But here’s the thing – a lot of police work isn’t sexy. A lot of it is horrible. A lot of it is dealing with very unpleasant things in unpleasant circumstances. A lot of it is standing around in the cold and the rain. There is quite a bit of blood and violence. A lot of decision making in a closing time frame. A lot of pressure. A lot of paperwork. This work isn’t going away – despite the best efforts of some people to have you believe otherwise.

But hey – digital. Anyway – lets REBRAND policing whilst nailing it fully to the mast of principles created around 1829.
Let me conclude by stating what I do agree with in this report – Police IT procurement is poor; investment in police IT is poor, there is a need for officers to have better kit, more knowledge and better access to expertise. But this report is written in isolation – it is a single-issue subject which links badly to other things with a view to making recommendations which do not naturally follow.
It shows little understanding of what policing is – what it does – where it has come from – what people want from and expect of it or how it is held to account. Somehow we need to combat this developing narrative that the police service of the future will be so much better if it is made up of 20-something computer experts – working behind screens – and on short term contracts. What price experience? What value on skills which do not involve the ability to touch-type or interrogate the inner workings of the internet? What about compassion, empathy, courage, resilience?
Its concluding paragraphs say that change is not something which should terrify officers – yes – the same report which wants to sack them if their role is no longer needed. It says officers “should embrace” its recommendations without really properly or adequately selling them or justifying them (which is ironic given the section on leadership needing to take people where it wants to go) and finally it claims this is the “only way” to police an ever-changing world.
It isn’t the “only way” – there are many other ways – it’s just that this particular report has failed to mention any of them.
Emma – policing is a public service. It deals with people – I could write a 1000 words on this alone but this is already too long. Nathan has covered the evidence and drawn excellent conclusions in his writing. To rebrand what we want the police to be requires far more thought and consideration and evidence than this report touches on. Currently I would argue that revisiting the classics as Nathan does above is still highly relevant. This is what policing is – it is messy / contextual / needs interaction and engagement with people. Not people beavering away behind a screen or being told by an algorithm who might commit the next crime. Technology is part of the issue not all of it.

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Silos – @wecops debate by Ian Wiggett and Emma Williams

Silos – #WeCops Blog


This weekend was the first study weekend at Canterbury Christ Church University. We were very lucky to have Chief Constable Ian Hopkins come and deliver a presentation for us on leadership. This blog isn’t about that but it was timely that he mentioned his move in GMP towards systems thinking and joint outcomes – essentially a move away from silos (both internally and externally with other agencies). This he explained was based on the strong realisation that the police cannot alone (ina silo) deal with the type of wicked social problems that are driving demand in his city. The next day a police officer student used the term ‘silo junkie’ to describe the impact of quickly establishing specialist teams to deal with the next crisis that is perceived as RED on the priority list. It seems relevant to mention this as a little ‘background’ for this blog.


The first thing that was apparent from the #WeCops debate was that the term ‘silo’ is not widely known or defined.  I (Ian) didn’t encounter it myself until the early-2000s, when I started looking at how policing fitted in with the work other agencies.  ‘Silo Thinking’ is the problem when different teams within the same company sit in their own boxes, focused on their own problems and resources – putting their needs ahead of the company’s overall objectives.  This is important if we consider the decision by Ian Hopkins to move away from this way of thinking and consider how ‘separateness’ might actually restrict effective problem solving and linkages between different, encountered problems.


When in GMP I (Ian) looked across our contact with other agencies and we found silos everywhere.  We had similar problems, usually involving the same people and places but perhaps different outcome aims.  We realised that we could all help each other.  A small effort by one agency could make a big difference for others, and that one agency’s problem could often be solved by using the powers of another agency – or getting another agency to change the way they worked.


Instead, we saw jobs/cases/problems passed from silo to silo, from agency to agency, sitting in queues, shifting up and down separate priority lists that took no account of others’ needs.  We were happy to dump work on each other, but we were not happy sharing information.  And we wouldn’t change our priorities in order to help other agencies out.


Cops readily see silos in their dealings with other agencies.  Health, and mental health in particular.  As cops struggle to resolve incidents and help people in crisis, it can often seem that other agencies are working to completely different agendas.  The CJS is also plagued by silos.  On the other hand, partnership working in neighbourhoods has really progressed, and there are many great examples where silos have been broken down.  Walk into some of the multi-agency problem solving or enforcement teams, and you will be hard pushed to figure out who works for which agency.


It’s easy to point at silos outside policing. We can all agree on how they get in the way of us doing our work.  But we wanted to look at silos within policing.  They are there, alright.  The silos are internal: separate teams/units/departments focused on their own work, to the detriment of the force’s overall performance; not sharing information and intelligence; a defensive and protective mindset, where getting support from other teams can be really difficult.


Those internal silos lead to work being passed from unit to unit, sitting in queues, and often being rejected or re-prioritised.  To save effort in one unit, it’s passed to other units – even though it may cause extra work overall.  Others may refuse to pick up work that they do not think is their’s, even when they have the space to do it.


A police-speak translation of ‘silo thinking’ is ‘squad mentality’.  ‘Squad’ is not used so much in policing these days.  Instead, we have created a plethora of specialist units.  It’s a minefield these days trying to understand all the 3-letter acronyms, and work out what exactly they do.  NPT, PPU, DVU, RPT, RPU, TSU, TAU – the list goes on and on.   And so, much of the @wecops debate on ‘silos’ ended up talking about ‘specialisms’.


That was partly my fault, because I started talking about ‘remit’.  All these separate units have their own ‘remit’.  The remit defines what those units are there to do: what is their job – and what isn’t.  That seems to be where the problems start.  As one contributor said, ‘Not in my remit’ is the most hated phrase, and often meant you were not putting the needs of victims or colleagues first.


In some research I (Emma) am completing currently these issues have been observed in practice. I have spoken to officers who have been given no choice about being moved from an area of policing they enjoy and have skills in into a different area as a result of a review publication and an internal ‘moral panic’ occurring as a result. This has huge implications on the discretionary effort of the officer, the knowledge lost in their previous role and the lack of knowledge they described having in their new one which bought them into contact with some of the most vulnerable victims who report an offence to the police. I have also heard officers say that the good thing about specialists is that it removes ‘things’ (people) from their remit leaving them to focus on what is important (in this case dealing with offenders). Without getting to academic this reinforces the perceived mandate of policing of being focused on crime fighting and catching the bad guys when we know that much of what they do is simply not that.


The debate discussed examples where remits got in the way: geographical boundaries, between teams, between shifts.   Growing workloads and shrinking resources had led teams to becoming even more protective. How can you take on other units’ work when you are already under pressure?  It’s natural for supervisors to be protective of their team.  We may even regard it as good leadership.  Leaders should look after their team, and help them.  Taking on extra work, which other units should be doing, is ‘not right’. Why should my team cover the failings of others?  No-one helps us, etc, etc.


But specialisms are not the same as silos.  Of course we need specialisms and specialists.  We need officers and staff who are experts in particular areas of work.  We talked about how specialist units brought energy and impact – solving problems, raising standards, and improving service for victims.  But we also talked about how sometimes the bigger picture was missed.  At the centre is the victim, of course.  And sometimes that can be forgotten in disputes over remits.


Is it inevitable that specialist units become silos?  The feeling in the discussion was that it should not.  Good leadership (hmm – see above), and a focus on the overall and shared objectives should overcome the negative aspects.  But is it all about leadership?


We talked about when a major incident, a crisis, brought everyone together.  A clear objective and shared priorities.  Teams focused on same goals, eager to help each other out.  Those sorts of operations can leave everyone with a sense of achievement… and then we go back to the day jobs.


What made the difference during the major incident?  It wasn’t ‘leadership’ – what happened was that the ‘remit’ had changed. The ‘day job’ was different.  Change the remit, and barriers disappear. ‘That’s not my job’ becomes ‘how can I help’.


Of course, it’s not as simple as that.  The other work doesn’t go away; the crisis doesn’t last for ever.  And if you change one set of remits, you just create another – with the same risk of silos.


The lesson is important, though.  Bloodymindedness and personalities can get in the way of teamwork.  But the biggest factor is remit – how the work is organised and shared out.  If the design is good, it can minimise the tension points and risk of clashes, and build the sense of teamwork.  If the design is poor, it can cause too much tension and frustration.  Conflicting objectives, disputes over whose job it is.  Teamwork undermined.


Good leadership can help manage those conflicts.  But good leaders should also be looking to stop those conflicts happening in the first place.  That, for me, comes down to the design of the work.

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@wecops summary. AIR SUPPORT – Dan Reynolds

Blog – Air Support
This @Wecops blog follows on from the ‘Air support’ discussion that was led by our guest host Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
This blog is mainly based on what was gleaned from the discussion on Twitter and as always we want to reflect the debate in the right way.
This twitter topic was a great discussion that bought current police practitioners of all ranks and roles together to share experiences, discuss areas of self-doubt and areas for improvement. We like to be inclusive so it was great that academics and members of public alike also contributed to the shared learning. We even had commentators from distant shores of Canada, Australia and the US plus those in the aviation industry – and we thank everyone for taking part.
Three questions were posed and the following narrative pulls out some of the key messages gleaned from the conversation that resulted (with some extra observations from the @WeCops team) and benefiting from our hosts extended knowledge in this matter.
1. How valuable do you feel air support is as an enhancement to frontline policing?
2. What are the current challenges with air support and how would you overcome them?
3. What should the future of Police air support look like?
Air Support has developed at a pace over the last few decades and is now seen as a crucial part of everyday frontline policing. It provides assistance to officers on the ground in a variety of circumstances. Helicopters search for vulnerable people or wanted criminals, help at public order events with crowd control and safety, assist during pursuits of vehicles, assist with firearms incidents and carry out aerial photography, to name but a few of their routine tasks.
Since 2012, air support for all 43 police forces in England and Wales has been provided nationally by NPAS (National Police Air Support) which is run by lead force West Yorkshire Police and they tweet as @NPAShq. There are 15 bases across the country operating a 24/7 borderless service with 19 helicopters. This move to a national service was prompted by a review of air support carried out in 2009 and was implemented to make air support more effective and efficient. Prior to the 2009 review, Air Support was run at a local level and on an Ad Hoc basis by individual forces or in some cases regional Air Support units.
The collaboration that is NPAS is still relatively new and although savings and efficiencies have been made, its introduction meant an overall reduction in the number of Police Helicopters in the UK which some felt may lead to a reduction in service. It is clear that collaboration is the way forward in order to continue to meet the financial savings required by the Police service but how do we also ensure that the best possible service is provided? Some of the NPAS bases and NPAS HQ were able to join us on our twitter chat and they highlighted the excellent work that the NPAS helicopters do. We thank all those at NPAS for what they do and for adding their contributions to the wider discussion on air support.
1. How valuable do you feel air support is as an enhancement to frontline policing?
This generated lots of discussion around air support and was mainly and perhaps unsurprising centred on the use of helicopters and NPAS (National Police Air Service).
The usefulness was positively commented on by the vast majority of contributors and good examples of its use were clearly illustrated throughout the chat. @NPASBarton, @NPASBarton and @NPASCarrGate all highlighted how they had provided continuous support to police deployed at the recent incident at Manchester arena as an example. @NPAShq showed how air support find an average 6 suspects and 5 missing people each day which was surprising to some but all agreed was a common reason for requesting air support. NPAS are surprisingly busy as well – as tweeted @NPASCarrgate with “#NPAS supported #UKpolicing on 27000 jobs last year from our network of national bases” and @NPAShq showing the variation of the jobs they attend with: “We have landed in inaccessible areas to use defib, stop a male self-harming and to render first aid [just this week].”
Police helicopters are a familiar sight in the skies above both rural and urban areas and both NPAS and individual forces engage in communication with the public, particularly via social media, to promote the use of the aircraft and to provide reassurance.

Helicopters are an excellent tool in the fight against crime and we have seen from our @Wecops chat that frontline officers are keen to involve and use them as often as possible, especially for certain high risk deployments where they are invaluable in assisting patrols on the ground. @NPAShq commented that: “#NPAS locate around 2,000 missing people every year in the UK#savinglives” and this was supported by @GraemeDixon5 who followed it with “Massively valuable! The question is are they value [for money]? I would say yes but am sure others won’t agree.”

The chat highlighted that generally Air Support is felt to be vital, especially for some deployments such as cars that fail to stop for police and become pursuits. The value of the helicopter becomes clear as they can cover distance quickly and can monitor from above, leading to a much safer situation for those on the ground. This was illustrated by tweets like “Valuable? Essential for some jobs! E.g. certain high risk pursuits!” @ThebigHon, and “As we find police pursuits on the increase at a time of high scrutiny – air support is a most valuable resource” from @Daveandcaz.
@DannoReynolds noted air support were not just useful in pursuits but any police activity where it added a much needed eye in the sky such as with firearms incidents tweeting “Totally agree – and for firearms incidents. Why chase at high speed if we can follow from 1000 metres up!”

2. What are the current challenges with air support and how would you overcome them?

A key theme from the chat was the current availability of aircraft and the time in which it takes a helicopter to arrive on scene.

Some felt that this had been compounded by the rationalisation of the air support fleet into the NPAS group but acknowledged that austerity and the need to be lean and efficient would always lead to some trade-off and a feeling that the air support was not always available. “It is a source of frustration [when not available] – largely because it is so effective when it is!”

@DanHalliwell1 commented “a frontline issue is often the time NPAS are requested to the time of arriving on scene is on average 30 min due to demands on bigger forces.” #

Our own @WecopsCaroline added “Indeed, but must be readily available for optimum effectiveness” which highlights the frustrations.

This was a common comment or observation during the chat and rather than being negative of NPAS, it simply highlighted a problem that front line officers experience from their perspective. It also highlighted a feeling in some areas that having lost their force dedicated helicopter they felt they were now losing out. For example tweets such as: “Better provision in Wales would be a starting point. Clearly a lack of resilience in our great country” from @Swales_Fed_Rep.

What is interesting is that the statistics about NPAS deployment and the when and where, don’t always support this assertion. Perhaps there is a need for better understanding that with austerity, we can’t always have what we want or when we want it. This naturally led into the generation of ideas around the future of air support and how to bridge these gaps and shortfalls in service.

3. What should the future of Police air support look like?

This was probably the most interesting and lively part of the debate and the @WeCops team steered and prompted the threads of conversation to create a wider discussion beyond just that of NPAS and helicopters to see what was already being used out in the world. We also wanted to imagine what the future could look like. Cue images of blimps, drones and all manner of things!

Emerging technology such as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Drones) is already being used by forces on an ad-hoc basis to provide a complementary option to helicopter Air Support in some circumstances, particularly in terms of imagery and search capabilities. This technology is in its early stages and the near future is likely to see increased usage, with various public and private sector bodies looking at how drones can assist them in their areas of business. There are likely to be legislative changes in relation to drones and their place in the aviation world is still very much being tested. It was clear from our chat that people feel drones, in addition to helicopters, will provide a great resource for policing. There was some debate about how much of the Helicopter work a drone or UAV, could realistically complete. So is it just the newest shiny toy that everyone wants or a valued piece of police kit?

@Stanton1Mark commented “[helicopters are] very valuable but drone technology may soon replace them” but not everyone agreed with this point of view.

@notlistening emphatically disagreed adding “No way can drones replace air support, how many times does this need repeating!”

@jumbo747pilot Scott Bateman MBE (who is a commercial pilot and also the head of Wiltshire Special Constabulary) added valuable contributions to the discussion around UAV’s from his experience in leading Wiltshire UAV team. His experience in aviation also helped and he observed that “Coordination of a mixed portfolio of assets is key to success. Weather bad, send UAV. Etc.”

This was joined by others who indicated that across the country there is a real interest in UAV use and many are starting to test out its usefulness with mixed results so far.

There was a general call from the host CC Byrne to all around the country that are testing or trialling UAV’s to collaborate on what works. He extended and open invitation to get in touch with him as the national lead, so that the best stuff around ‘what works’ can be captured and then shared. This would ensure best practise is adopted across policing as well as ensuring that what doesn’t work is not repeated.

This should then lead to a faster and more research focussed, evidence based approach to the use of UAV being developed. This was well received with @RPFOYSgt adding “We’ve just started a drone trial” and @WYPDeeCollins – the CC of West Yorkshire added her thoughts with “Agree UAVs needed but need regulation, APP (approved professional practise) and rely upon trained operator being available and in the right place – better for scenes perhaps?”

The conversation broadened out and considered those other agencies and departments that have or use air support and drew on the experience within those twitter contributors.

It was observed that our partners in the Ambulance Service and Coast Guard have their own well-established Air Support whereas other partners such as the Fire and Rescue Service rely on assistance from NPAS when necessary with no clear funding model for this work. Partner agencies are also beginning to experiment with Drone use. The general consensus was that there are clear areas for future collaboration.

So what does the future now hold?
Our @Wecops chat was intended to discuss how air support will change and develop over the coming years to meet the new demands of modern day policing. It is clear from the responses and debate that our helicopters and air support are highly valued. There was a warm appreciation for the skill of those working in NPAS but people also feel that we need to incorporate new technology (UAV’s) in order to get the best from our air support.
What is sure is that there will always be a need for an eye in the sky that can assist police and other emergency services on the ground with saving lives, preventing and detecting crime and providing reassurance to our communities.
He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. Friedrich Nietzsche

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