Sir Thomas Winsor today announced, without any apparent evidence on which to make his statements credible, that the demands on the police had fallen. He also suggested that forces need to ‘analyse new demands placed on them’ at a time when cuts are here to stay.
The use of rational and objective ‘risk’ analysis to focus resources in the right spaces and places on the right people was something that essentially arose from the politically right agenda in the 1980s. Language around social causation and crime drivers changed to a more private sector rhetoric focused on measuring risk, supply and demand and efficiency.
The products arising from such analysis should be both operational / tactical and strategic in their response. This ensures short term need is dealt with alongside longer term problem definition and solving through collaboration and partnership working.
There have been a plethora of issues that have negatively impacted on the use of analysis in policing which I haven’t got the time to discuss here. Additionally in the current climate when analyst numbers have been reduced and centralised in some police areas this makes the issue of robust analysis even more difficult. However it seems clear that what Sir Thomas advocates is more efficient problem definition by local forces, more effective prioritisation and the deployment of reduced resources to the most serious issues.
Anyone who has an interest in policing can see how the demand on policing has not reduced. It has widened. The net to catch the fall out of these cuts is shrinking and as a result, the remit of the police has grown. Issues that may have before been dealt with by social service functions, youth offending teams and/or diversion programmes now fall into the shrinking net which is fast becoming the catch all of ‘the police’.
The recent media coverage concerning individuals under the influence of alcohol that enter accident and emergency departments being arrested and dried out in a custody suite exemplifies this point. The brave Chief Constable who publicised on social media that he was holding an individual with mental health issues in a custody suite because there were no beds available is another and these are really just the tip of the iceberg. Are these police problems or are they rather social problems that require a social welfare response which ideological based cuts and rhetoric have no time for?
The notion of measuring risk and risk management is complex, especially when applied to something as multi-faceted, in itself, as criminal behaviour and policing. Blogs written about this topic in the current fiscal climate might focus on police officers and their ability to conduct effective risk assessments during a time when demand is changing and resources are depleting. Risk to the most vulnerable becoming involved in the criminal justice system as they receive little assistance from a bulging social care system that can no longer cater for all those that need them.
The risk to victims when officers workloads are pushed to the max; the risk to officers’ wellbeing and mental health; the risk to the way senior leaders manage and, more critically, lead what is fast becoming a fire brigade police service where targets and the negative behaviours they influence appear to remain; the risk to any long term problem solving work to reduce demand and resolve the issue of sticking plaster policing…..and the list goes on.
The College of Policing are currently working with researchers and forces to review data and consider the changing nature of demand on their resources which is positive news. I suspect it will not report as Sir Thomas did today that demand has reduced.
However, what might have been helpful, prior to the now needed local demand analysis, would have been an acceptance by the government to explore a long term joined up strategic plan to deal with the fall out of the cuts. Reforms have essentially been based on a particular ideology concerned with a desire for the further roll back of state responsibility and agencies managing their own problems and budgets.
Even with an effective analysis of what the police face now, on a daily basis, can they alone really deal with it? Social problems require long term thought, educational change, social change and long term planning. The police may be able to equip themselves with the knowledge that they will have to juggle resources and widen their remit but can they really effectively deal with the ‘risk’ that all this may produce?
As responsibility is pushed down from the state, to the agency, to the leaders and to the staff delivering these changes on the front line, the line of responsibility is subsequently pushed down also. Just as the state has reduced its responsibility for the disastrous impact of the cuts to social welfare and care facilities the fear of getting it wrong and being the one who ‘drops the balls’ becomes more pressured. This probably explains to some extent why officers are leaving and are taking sick leave – and again I suspect we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the welfare of those doing the job.
The service aspect of policing takes time, resources and reflection. Responding to the changing demands, whether officers understand them or not will not stop it from happening. Fire brigade reactive policing could, worryingly, become the norm at a time when there is a push to professionalise the police through a code of ethics and an evidence based agenda which helps inform decision making. Understand risk yes but have an ability to do anything robust about it in the current climate may be debatable.
As I similarly ended my last blog….. There must have been some strategic thought and, dare I say evidence, to support the increase to the IPCC and HMIC budgets? The rationale of this seems to be that the government are increasing accountability and attempting to reduce corruption which should always be in place. However perhaps questions might be asked around who these financial increases really assist and if there are actually other forces at play?