The Denial of Voice and the Removal of Responsibility: Some reflections on the reductions to the Crime Survey England and Wales


New cost-saving measures applied to the Crime Survey for England and Wales from 2017/18 will reduce the number of people interviewed each year and so challenge the ability of academics, police forces and policy makers to draw on a robust local evidence-base that is much needed to inform and steer decision-making and service delivery tailored to local needs. That the Crime Survey is being squeezed again at a time when the in-house analytic capability of police forces is at an all-time low, when forces are no longer mandated to routinely survey victims of crime and many have stopped local public surveys to save money, is of major concern when all the signs point to rising crime and vulnerability in society.

Emma Williams – a little history

Last night (November 15th) I attended Professor Ben Bradford’s inaugural lecture at City Hall in London. The paper was focused on policing diversity, immigration and the impact of this on police legitimacy. It was a brilliant paper which yet again highlighted to me the clear ignorance around the governments’ decision to reduce the questions in the Crime Survey England and Wales.

I will avoid making this blog a history of certain criminological theories and the influence they had on the development of victimisation surveys in the UK. But I cannot write this without making reference to Jock Young and the Left Realist school. These writings exploring and questioning ‘the truth’ of official crime statistics and the lack of discussion about the dark figure of crime led to the development of victimisation surveys and the British Crime Survey, which later became the Crime Survey England and Wales (managed by ONS). Such data finally shed light on the reality of victimisation for many communities and groups in the UK. Without such insight we would not effectively understand multiple and repeat victimisation, incidences of hate crime, the reality of domestic abuse or the reality of how certain areas and groups experience crime and violence differently and disproportionately. Plus, critically, just how much of this goes unreported to the police.

The crime survey plays a vital role in helping us understand how the public view the police which is essential to understanding the level of legitimacy the public feel the police have in the UK. The surveys reveal issues around differing definitions of what constitutes a crime, personal narrative about harm or an act of violence. Such insight helped to confirm feminist criminologists’ exposure of the level of threat women feel as a result of their gender. This allowed for some real challenge to the notions of women’s fear of crime being irrational as it revealed the type of everyday perceived violence that women can experience. The dark figure of crime and victimisation is vital to understand – it facilitates (or should) more focused resource deployment, policy and strategic initiatives aimed at informing the community and dealing with their concerns, local policing plans and targeted work where certain groups are overly represented or have lower levels of confidence in the police. Force data and local surveys have largely gone due to severe cuts but now it seems it is deemed as ‘not a priority’ by our government also.

Helen will talk more about some of the practical implications of these cuts later in the paper but I want to briefly discuss them in relation to something Ben raised last night. I cannot do his words justice in this short piece but what his analysis showed us is how much we need to understand the experiences of immigrants as just one vulnerable group, and how much a sense of identity and belonging in a new country / community is linked to their perceptions of legitimacy and trust in the police. The cutting back of questions to the crime survey inhibits and limits the exploration of this groups’ experiences of crime and policing – particularly given how much crime experienced by these groups goes unreported. The crime survey can help us track issues over time – indeed by exploring perceptions of the police we might even be able to further understand our social order and our ability to integrate and include immigrants within the UK. This understanding gives us a broader sense of understanding our social order – a gauge on which to consider our wider social order not just simply victimisation.

Therefore, when I read articles about how the police are no longer dealing with low level disorder and minor crime – predominantly I would argue because they have had to make decisions based on such severe budget cuts – it makes me think that there may be more reasons for the cuts to the CSEW than simply money. If we don’t ask about some of our most vulnerable citizens experiences of crime, harm and victimisation, if we don’t fully understand the disparity in crime and victimisation then we a: can justify and excuse ourselves for not dealing with it and b: leave some very serious questions about our country’s social order and willingness to deal with the type of exclusions that more and more of our communities face, unexplained. If the evidence is not there then we don’t need to deal with it………..

Dr Helen Innes – some practicalities

So having looked at why the CSEW matters, I would like to turn to explore how reducing the overall sample size by 600 households (from 35,000 down to 34,400 annually) and the survey response rate to 71 percent will have a detrimental impact upon the conduct of evidence-based policing and other forms of research. The kinds of research that the Crime and Security Research Institute at Cardiff University, and other similar units, have been able to conduct at the request of some police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners has used local data in the Crime Survey to directly inform difficult decisions about service re-configuration and delivery in today’s austere climate.

The loss of 600 households from a continuous national survey of around 35,000 doesn’t sound a lot, but it is important to put this in a longer-term perspective. For it represents a further ‘chipping away’ at a sample that at its peak included 46,000 interviews across England and Wales. Whilst the total number remains large, the effect of these cumulative reductions is felt disproportionately when it comes to sub-national or local analyses, such as those using the geographical unit of police force area (PFA) to align with the agendas of locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

As part of a broader move to empower local communities, PCCs were introduced in 2012 to play a key role in driving innovation and reform in local policing priorities to accord with local need and to evidence these in their annual crime plan. On average, however, the number of interviews per PFA has fallen markedly since the Crime Survey became continuous in 2001; from 1,000 in each police force area down to 650 in 2012-13 and cut again today by an average of 13 interviews per area, or a total of 637. The numeric effect of this reduction will not be uniform across England and Wales because some force areas (e.g. the Metropolitan Police) are larger than others, but it does mean that the opportunity to leverage local insights from the survey will be further compromised across the country.

The impact on evidence-based research is twofold. First, it follows that a smaller sample for each police force area places more stringent access conditions on the data for researchers given that there is an increased risk of disclosure of respondents’ personal details. The danger is that this limits the reach and potential of local data (which may well be the only consistent and representative survey sample of victims and non-victims of crime available) to a select few in academia. Second, of course, is that a smaller sample reduces the precision of estimates from the data, meaning that confidence in the reporting of findings from any single year becomes limited at a local level, particularly when looking at important but small sub-groups within a sub-national population such as victims of crime.

This matters because the Crime Survey is so much more than a counterpoint to police-recorded crime statistics that report each quarter if, and what, crime is going up or down. Being able to see the volume, trend and clustering of crime is important nationally and regionally as the nature of crime itself changes and evolves, but so too are peoples’ reported experiences of crime and policing. How these intersect with where and how people live and the drivers of vulnerability to social harm is something that will vary between and within police forces. It is to be hoped that, in reducing the response rate to this survey, there is no disproportionate impact on capturing the voices of those most vulnerable to victimisation and repeat victimisation.

Although we remain fortunate in this country to have a number of high-quality surveys capturing data on public attitudes, family, education, health and well-being, rarely do they permit these areas to be connected with public opinions on crime and policing. This is particularly the case in Wales, for example, where policing is not a devolved responsibility.

The Crime Survey really is the best large-scale tool we have for understanding and anticipating demand on police and victim services in England and Wales, what crime means to people, how it harms them and where we should look to prioritise action and intervention given limited resources across the whole public sector. An example of this from our own work is a local Crime Survey analysis we did on behalf of a Police and Crime Commissioner focusing on public perceptions of victim support services within their force area. By highlighting areas of unmet need based on the qualitative harm associated with reported victimisation rather than the category of crime itself, this evidence informed commissioning decisions about the future direction of quality and delivery of these services.

It is now up to individual police forces and commissioners to decide their ongoing commitment to surveying victims of crime and utilising survey-based evidence to best tailor the services they can provide to their public. Facing this choice, a pertinent question might be whether it is enough to rely on robust ‘national’ indicators (e.g. of victim satisfaction) that the Crime Survey of England and Wales provides rather than drift towards a more fragmented, piecemeal picture of regional variability from locally commissioned, small scale surveys utilising diverse sampling techniques and questions. It would be foolish to deny that cost-efficiencies have to be made, but perhaps an alternative in this case would be for PCCs to come together collectively to financially support the Crime Survey in achieving a sample that makes it robust, useful and comparable for locally oriented analyses in England and Wales.


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Partnerships, People and Systems…

Emma Williams – Policing
Next year the Canterbury Centre for Policing Research will focus its annual conference on partnerships and the need for the police to work together with partners to understand and manage the demands they face. How we define partnerships and who we consider as important partners for inclusion within this debate at the conference is complicated. It may, therefore, challenge traditional conceptions of what a partnership is and who they involve. However, we believe that the anyone involved in the development, implementation and delivery of a partnership initiative needs to be engaged in that process. Consequently, this involves police at all levels (so internal partnerships) as well as the partner agency involved – whether that be an academic partner or another agency.
The conference will include a focus on academic partnerships in relation to the use of evidence, to both define and subsequently solve ‘wicked’ police problems. However, there is also a need to talk to other public sector agencies who have involvement in the many complex issues that the police face. Perhaps as a result of austerity and budget cuts, agencies such as the social services and the NHS are increasingly lacking the capacity to cope with the cyclic issues that are emerging in the current climate. Increasingly, we witness the need for agencies to move away from their silo approach to working, to collaborate and come together to more effectively deal with the type of social problems that we face today in the UK. Such issues seem to increasingly end up, if not culminating in a ‘criminal matter’, at least in the hands of those that are meant to be dealing with ‘criminal matters’. This presents a range of risks for all involved including the chance of ‘policification’ of all of these very complex social problems.
It often occurs to me that when partnership or silo working is discussed (at least this is my perception in the policing world) that we ultimately end up referring to partnerships with ‘other’ agencies and ‘internal’ silo working. I wonder however, if we can also observe silo working between agencies and a lack of partnership working within our own organisations. What seems to happen is that despite, what seems to be, the majority, advocating a more joined up ‘system’ approach, some seem to remain most comfortable when focused on life as seen through their own individual lens and work area. Internally, this can end up with micro systems operating to meet their own individual / team and department ends and outcomes without the effective consideration of the macro system approach as is required in thorough problem solving and more strategic processes. Sadly, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is also reinforced by performance methods and the over reliance on numbers.
In policing I could give a number of examples of where I have seen this happen, in fact many of these issues came up in a recent @wecops debate which was hosted by Ian Wiggett. It is a complex area at the current time particularly with the growth in evidence based policing which some have concluded can reinforce this sense of silo working as teams of officers focus on crime reduction figures and short term methods which serve as a reaction to a long term problem which requires longer term partnership working. Anecdotal evidence suggests that officers involved in hotspot tasking for example, are driven by crime reduction outputs and that this can negatively impact on more proactive activity. This can hinder and create an obsession with numerical performance targets over long term outcomes and this is critical for developing an understanding about what inhibits good partnership working.
Much of this comes down to leadership. I have always liked Grint’s discussion of wicked problems in the context of policing and the understanding that when it comes to more complex problems, often an easily applied scientific solution does not work – other than as a quick sticking plaster approach to a problem. Often a more collaborative and thoughtful approach is required. When considering dealing with these wicked problems Grint articulates that both leadership and decision making is present across all ranks and it is particularly at this stage of problem solving that engagement with the frontline is required. The application of a collaborative style is often applied in society (all be it not always effectively) to deal with wicked problems however this is also highly relevant in the context of supervisors and their relations with their staff (staff capital). Quick fix – what works evidence is the easy option for some. “Oh this must work – it has somewhere else”. This idea suits an organisation with a command and control style of leadership but it will not work effectively for complex problems that require longer term outcomes that all partners engage with and work towards as an end goal.
Carrie Jackson – Director, England Centre for Practice Development
Faculty of Health and Well Being, Canterbury Christ Church University
Culture in Public Services
Such important points that Emma raises here. Organisations that are able to respond flexibly to wicked social problems have systems that enable continual learning at top, middle and end. These must be connected through a shared vision and a core drive for improvement and innovation. Ultimately in public sector organisations there is a preoccupation with top down approaches to managing complexity which are rarely sustainable or successful and in fact do not take advantage of the immense skills set that organisations hold in their pockets – their people. In order to improve, adapt and innovate, organisations have to invest in the capacity and capability of its workforce at all levels and this requires a different set of leadership skills than what we have seen previously in public sector services.
In order to manage complexity, we need systems leaders who are capable of co-creating a compelling shared vision with others, who understand the impact of workplace culture on well being of staff as well as clients or service users.
Attending to macro, meso and micro systems within an organisation requires the ability to have a helicopter view, political influencing skills as well as an accurate understanding of what it is like on the shop floor. It is at the micro system level of an organisation where we can really further understand the power and impact of relationships between care or service provider and recipient. It is the culture of the workplace that impacts on the quality of a service, the safety of that service, the well being of people involved and ultimately on whether strategies work or fail. Indeed, as Peter Druker points out “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. Positive human relationships enable people ultimately to flourish and, if people flourish, our services flourish. The added and most important bonus is that they then meet the needs of the public.
This requires the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and conversations about how to shape our services differently to tackle some of the silo’s we currently face. And yet the silos are the very barriers that are impeding our ability to transform in a holistic way that pitches public sector services against each other rather than working in true partnership.
The most current example I can give you is my experience over the weekend as a service user in a local A & E department. I had to accompany my elderly frail mother to hospital by ambulance on Saturday because she was suffering from dehydration following surgery and a bout of laryngitis. She is living with dementia and so any changes to her ability to swallow ultimately adversely affect her cognitive functioning. What we needed was a hospital at home service with a GP or health professional administering an intravenous drip to rehydrate her, and some intravenous antibiotics with plenty of rest at home. What we got instead was a 22 hour wait in A & E in an environment that was chaotic noisy, uncoordinated, and at times unsafe. I saw a wide variety of public sector workers trying to do their best but with no coordination- Paramedics and ambulances backed up and waiting with patients to be triaged by a front line system that wasn’t working, police colleagues accompanying patients who were a danger to themselves or others, bed managers trying to find beds in a hospital that had none, locum doctors running around assessing patients with very little insight into who should take priority. The net effect of our experience was that my mother ended up on a ward 23 hours later and became delirious because the environment was so noisy and confusing for her.
I ended up with hospital acquired bronchitis and exhaustion because I felt I could not leave her. All of this was completely unnecessary if the right services had been in place in the community and working in a coordinated manner around the needs of people living in the local population. It was a microcosm for me of everything that stops our public services working together to be more effective in managing the safety of our local communities. We hear all the time in the media that the system is broken and the multiple reasons for this. Yet the people who have the skill set to truly transform it are on the shop floor not in the corridors or Whitehall or in public policy think tanks.
Surely effective problem definition and a subsequent, effective problem solving process involving paramedics, police and health care professionals in the community with social services could prevent people ever needlessly getting to the front door of the hospital or indeed being dealt with by the police. Such a coordinated approach would require us to invest our money differently in a health and welfare budget much like many of our European partners.

A community hub and bespoke model aimed at community wellbeing as opposed to illness and crime, has a far healthier philosophical foundation than a deficit model that has to meet waiting time targets or crime numbers within a defined budget. Working together to tackle some of our wicked social problems would enable us to collectively collaborate to find solutions that are more sustainable and pool our resources and expertise so that we are co creating our future together. There are already great examples of this happening across the UK through some of the city devolution projects and by community groups coming together to pool their resources lets learn from this and all see things through a different lens.


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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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