The launch of the Red Button Project… have your say!

This blog was published in ‘The Oracle’ yesterday…

Last week I attended the 8th International Conference for Evidence Based Policing at Cambridge University. One key subject that could not be avoided at the conference was the issue of austerity. Whether this related to the changing nature of demand facing the police as a result of other agencies not being able to address particular problems or whether it was about using austerity to nurture innovation, creativity and new ideas, it was there bold as brass across many of the papers given.

I posted a few updates on Twitter about the topics coming up at the conference and as ever the police community responded in a passionate and articulate manner to not just my tweets but to others sharing their thoughts on the conference via social media. If you read through these comments there is no doubt that some officers are feeling angry and frustrated right now about the impact of austerity, ill-considered reforms that have not involved their voices and in some contexts prescriptive tasking that has involved very little if not nothing on this aforementioned local ‘innovation and creativity’.

The reaction on social media prompted me to return to a conversation I had just last week with two police bloggers @nathanconstable and @dedicatedpeeler about the definition of evidence, the lost voices of the federated ranks and the sometimes lost talent and knowledge that is present amongst frontline staff who are actually doing this ‘stuff’ during fundamental change. They witness the increasing pressure, growing workloads and perceived political interference more than anyone else who is looking in on the organisation as a bystander or ‘viewer’. We had come up with the idea of asking these officers to voice their opinions about the changing picture of policing and to provide their narrative to us and all interested parties explaining what they would do if they could ‘push the red button’ on policing and start it again.

Blogs about the critical issues facing the police are published weekly – leadership, mental health, public protection, political interference, evidence based policing, education standards, diversity, stop and search, professionalisation, cybercrime, decreasing resources and neighbourhood policing cover just a few. All of these topics arguably reinforce and indeed evidence the need for a royal commission into policing and yet there is very little likelihood that this will occur any day soon.

However we know the landscape is changing and police officers, if they are to deal with this properly, will need to be suitably equipped and able. We believe there is no better place to try and understand these gaps than by asking those dealing with the issues and asking them how they think the structure and staff should be re-configured to more effectively address them.

It is hard to deny that current reform programmes have involved limited input from the voice of officers from the federated ranks. Surely there is no better place to start than to talk to those doing the job to develop the journey of an evidence based reform programme. In a climate where the use of evidence in policing is key, particularly at a time of austerity, this evidence should not simply be evidence about where to put resources and what works well with certain crime types. Evidence is also essential in the development of reform agendas when an organisation is going through such change. ‘What is the demand’ is of course a key question but the nature of enquiry also needs to be focused on the participants within that space who are affected daily by both the demands and the reform agendas coming in.

As a result of this we will be publishing a number of fairly regular blogs over the next few months in an attempt to stimulate discussion and ideas amongst officers about what they would do if they could change the police to better meet the demands it faces today. We plan on calling this the Red Button Project and want to invite all officers from the federated ranks to get involved.

Currently perhaps the nurturing of ideas amongst officers is at its lowest ebb. Senior officers at the conference this week acknowledged the remaining bullying culture in some areas where ideas and challenge is not welcomed. This completely negates the opportunities that austerity might give us to foster creativity and learn from the talent inside as officers feel threatened to speak up in a culture that does not often welcome debate.

Leaders in the police need officers buy in right now, they need staff that sign up to the direction of their ship. All of the academic evidence on organisational justice suggests that this is very unlikely to occur if officers feel done to, void of engagement and working in a world of prescription without any understanding of their experience of their working world. Evidence suggests that perceived unfairness amongst officers is a huge organisational risk and that fostering a culture of enquiry which incorporates experience and evidence together would lead to reflective practice and see officers as active in the learning, reform and evidence gathering processes that they currently find happens to them rather than with them.

We hope that this project will be supported by senior leaders, that it will encourage officers to speak about their own personal visions of what policing might be and could be and provide a form of knowledge production that allows officers to be creative in a relatively anonymous forum. Our vision is that we could get this published… a publication that might provide some collective evidence from the ‘bottom up’ about the changing face of police work and what the active participants who work in that field think about changing it.

If you are interested in getting involved please send comments to me at emma.williams@canterbury.ac.uk

and / or use #oldbillrebuilt on Twitter.

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