Risks, risks and changing demand…..

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?

Emma Williams

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5 Responses to Risks, risks and changing demand…..

  1. onlywayisethics says:

    Great blog as usual Emma. But your use (twice) of the term “fire brigade policing” is not a good analogy. The fire service used to be a purely reactive function and the police used it to refer to a very unsatisfactory form of policing that ignored preventive and engagement aspects. However, against reducing budgets in the early 2000’s the fire service transferred resources from reacting to fires to engaging with communities, children, young people and carrying out preventive work. Even with the neighbourhood policing programme there has been no such widespread transfer of resources into preventive and engagement work in the police. People like you with great research and writing skills, unconstrained by police affiliation (we can’t even blog contentiously in our own names) need to have a look at the number of fires attended by brigades 12 years ago compared to recent years (it makes our crime reductions look very insignificant) and ask how a similar process could happen in the police. Much as I hate to give any nod of agreement to the rail regulator I suspect it will involve some robust way of prioritising and managing risks in order to create the space for more effective prevention and engagement.

    I wonder if firefighters now use “police force fire brigading” as a pejorative term. It is certainly more justified than “fire brigade policing!”
    Keep up the debate


  2. Clive says:

    ‘Crime fighting’ is obviously a big part of policing, but the ‘core business’ of police is wider. Not as wide as current social service failures have made it, but wide none the less. Missing persons, attempted suicides, assaults on medical and ambulance staff (I suppose that’s really crime), but due to their own systems failing, and inadequate court responses giving little incentive for people to rein in anti-social behaviour are all part of the mix, which cuts do not seem to recognise. Add to this the system performance distortions caused by ideological objectives and even implied ‘targets’ and you have the makings of the disaster that is now unfolding.


  3. N Cook says:

    Bang on. Great blog. Hits the ideas that the ideologues don’t seem able to acknowledge and accept. The Police are willing to change and adapt – for the benefit of the public they serve. Not for the dogma of people whose only motivation seems to be to take the UK back to a rose-tinted idea of a UK that never really existed, and who seem to only want to go down in history as being more Thatcherite than Thatcher herself. Rant over… Thanks again.


  4. Thanks for all your comments. Noted and received. Interesting thoughts on the terminology fire brigade policing as it used a lot these days. I think you have raised some critical points and it will and have given me food for thought. We must all keep up the debate!


  5. Elbow Baggins says:

    Interesting blog Emma.

    I think, however that your analysis is too shallow. You are quite correct to point to the emergence of neo liberal thinking in terms of crime control in the 1980’s; however, as your man David Garland, pointed out, what marked that period was a Conservative Government that was both neo-liberal AND neo-conservative; what marks out this administration is that it is neo-liberal and NOT neo-conservative.

    The failure to recognise this issue has been central to the failure of the Police Federation both strategically and tactically to counter the Police Reform agenda. If you accept the premise that, as opposed to the Thatcher era, this is not a neo-conservatice government then you can see how the Police Federation approach has failed so miserably, to put it bluntly, the further they threw their teddies out of the pram, the stronger they made the case for their own reform. I believe that Paul McKeever made this error initially and had a belated cahnge of heart. The final self defeating moment (so far) was the conduct of Federation officers with regards to Plebgate two (the Sutton Coldfield event). This is where I think McKeever had a change of heart and tried to stop the contact with Jon Gaunt.However the Federation are still managing with the fall out from that.

    Amongst other things it strengthened support across all political parties for the Home Secretaries Police Reforms – the BBC recently reported that all previous Home Secretaries supported and applauded Mrs Mays’ speech to Federation last year. It consolidated far right MP’s against the Federation, MP Mark Reckless, remarking how the Federation Conference was “pale, stale and male,” and when you’re being lectured by a UKIP MP on diversity you know you’re in a corner. It provided the evidence (since you asked) for the strengthening and increased funding of the IPCC (see their evidence of the IPCC on Plebgate two to the Home Affairs Select Committee), and provided the amunition to Mrs May to dock the Federation’s funding.

    Belatedly the Federation has seen the fulility of their strategy but even then they struggle to become a viable organsiation – at the last appearance before the HASC, the chairman Keith Vaz pointedly finished by asking the Federation Chair, Steve White, “Have we turned a corner now? (referring to the Federations’ own reforms) to which Steve White replied “Yes”. Only to be undermined two weeks later by another example (drink related and Federation Headquarters) of poor behaviour from the Federation Vice Chair Steve Evans, leading to his resignation, unsuprisingly he led for the Federation on discipline matters.

    The irony is that this has been a fight between a neo-liberal Conservative party with a neo-conservative Police Federation and on the evidence so far it is a battle that the neo-cons are losing.


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