End of 2017 round up! Happy New Year

I just read the blog I wrote at the end of 2015 about police workload, resulting stress and the growing and unrealistic expectations placed on cops. As I start to write an end of 2017 blog I am depressingly aware that this year’s little round up will likely focus on extensions or worse news stories about exactly the same issues I wrote about then. Therefore, the concept of news or whatever is news, is kind of what this blog is about – news stories that have perhaps served to do two things. In many cases they seem present a very false picture to the public that the police are, in various ways, to blame for issues around the reduced service delivery to communities and secondly they often hide the realistic picture of crime and ‘other demand’ the police now deal with. Conveniently perhaps…………

Officers continue to face the same increasing workload issues and, related, wellbeing and stress factors. Budgets remain tighter than ever in our ongoing era of austerity and an announcement recently about police funding suggests that promised increases will be dependent on rises in local council taxes, which in some areas will place increasing pressure on already struggling communities as a result of stagnant wages, cuts to the welfare system and rising inflation. Whether this results in a postcode lottery in relation to who gets this ‘extra’ policing is yet to be seen but, if so, it is likely that those areas and communities that (perhaps) less need visible and proactive policing may have more accessible funds to cope with the rise in council tax rates coming.

Interestingly, 2017 saw a decision by the government to cut back questions in the Crime Survey England and Wales (CSEW). This vital survey has for many years provided a far more realistic picture of the crime and disorder some individuals and communities face daily. Indeed, the cynics amongst might ask why the reduction in questions has ‘really’ come at this time. This same year, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, the head of the one single establishment that has decimated policing, announced that decreasing police numbers would not impact on rising crime rates. Following that, Nick Hurd at the College of Policing conference, told delegates that there was no more money, the police needed to be more innovative when dealing with the issues they face, utilise more technology and essentially, in so many words, do more with less through innovation and good ideas. That is absolutely another story!

This week we saw a leaked report from the NPCC suggesting that the reduced police capacity to be proactive is impacting on levels of anti-social disorder – something regularly revealed as blighting communities in the CSEW strangely enough. And critically can often be indicative of other more serious embedded issues that link to hate crime and the targeting of families and individuals. Moreover, there are a number of other examples that could be cited to highlight the impact that reduced resources have on the ability to investigate crimes (recent focus on mistakes made in rape investigations), manage offenders, engage with communities, be proactive and deal with certain ‘lower level’ crimes (the most recent concern being raised around shoplifting). Indeed, nowhere is this more evident than when we see the revolving door of priorities that police forces are told to deal with cyclically as per ‘insert subject’ report is published damning certain forces for not dealing with a, b or c effectively. This year alone has seen criticism about neighbourhood policing, rape investigation, being visible, mental health, domestic violence and child sexual exploitation……..
I am not one to deny the important role technology has in the world of criminal justice. Undoubtedly in many of these areas of police work mentioned above new technological innovations will assist the police in doing their job but what has run true so much, also over recent times, is the need for human police resources in communities. Humans that can explore what the needs are of those communities and areas, engage with them and keep them informed about what they are doing to try and deal with those issues. It isn’t even simply about being visible as mountains of research will tell us, this is about interactions, engagement and working with different communities with differing needs. Technology may assist in part but the public still want to see and engage with cops.

It was The Mirror that published some information from a leaked NPCC report warning that “the legitimacy of policing is at risk as the relationship with communities that underpins all activity is fading to a point where prevention, early intervention and core engagement that fosters feelings of safety are at risk of becoming ineffective. “Forces have “increasing difficulty in sustaining local policing” and “the degradation of this capability is accelerating.” The document predicts that this will lead to increases in crime, a reduction in offender management and the protection of vulnerable people. Arguably here when we read of vulnerable people we refer to both potential vulnerable victims and indeed those vulnerable and at risk of becoming offenders themselves.

Sun headlines such as the ‘dim blue light’ and ‘cops letting crooks get away with it 50% of the time’ are unhelpful to everyone but more critically they present an unrealistic and unfair picture that the police themselves somehow ‘chose’ do this. Such depictions have implications beyond the headlines as they imply incongruence between what the public want the police to do and what the police want to do for them. Conversely and for a long time the police have been attempting transparency about the risks thee extreme cuts have on the public and their ability to do their job. A job that is ever changing along with the expectations placed on them. Cuts have consequences campaigns and a number of @wecops debates are prime examples of where the congruence between want the police want to do – indeed issues that were core motivators of them joining the job – and what the public want them to do is clear. The concerns raised by the public are the same concerns as those raised by many officers daily about their ability to do ‘it all’ effectively and yet we continue to see blame placed at the door of the police when most of these new reports and subsequent critiques are published.
We constantly see denial from this government about a number of issues but Rudd’s statement was at best not thought through and at worst, completely incorrect. Police legitimacy is SO VITAL because of the link it has with compliance to the law and therefore crime levels. The recent report from Ipsos Mori highlighting the perceived lack of visibility and information provision from the police in some areas did not discuss the huge implications this has on public confidence in policing or legitimacy but if analysed in the context of all the research literature there are huge issues here both for relationships the public have with the police and their ability to understand local needs and problems – and subsequently, crime levels. How the government can continue to state that ongoing austerity will not impact on crime is incredulous.
Of course the growing social problems in the UK are contributing hugely to crime as are cuts to diversion schemes, increased poverty and cuts to the welfare state. What this government never did when they made these decisions to cut the public sector to the core was think about the, obvious to most, impact this would have on a police service also being cut to the bone – and the police people themselves. When May was Home Secretary she stated that the decisions to cut police budgets was viable – it clearly was not. It was not viable for the public, the police or anyone else and yet heads remain in the sand and there is no admission from anyone that the country is at breaking point and so is policing.
A few years on from May’s speech and the cracks are becoming huge pot holes- into which the public and the police are falling. Vicious headlines by unethical papers like The Mail and The Sun have other implications – on the police themselves. Police who spend their Christmas period and New Year looking after us, looking after and dealing with the most vulnerable victims and offenders, the lonely, the homeless, the mentally ill… need I go on.
I for one want to say a huge thankyou again for keeping me and my family safe in the most dreadful of times. Such incorrect headlines are damaging and deny the fact that many (most I speak to) officers only want to do more for the public. This is not an active decision to stop core policing tasks but it has becoming a measure to maintain functionality both practically and mentally for the officers struggling with the in-congruence and cognitive dissonance that they experience now when doing their job.
Someone please publish that in their papers.. well maybe next year!
Happy New year from us all at Canterbury and thanks for letting us into your fascinating world.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reflections on my journey so far with PoliceNow – Nick Falconer – Avon and Somerset Police

Huge thanks to Nick for writing this blog.. I hope we can get more as his experience advances…. I worked with Nick in the MPS and when he asked me to be a reference for him I was only too pleased! A great guy with a good future in policing ahead of him!


I have been asked to write a short blog by Emma Williams from Canterbury University, detailing my experiences so far as part of the 2017 Police Now cohort.

Before Police Now

I’ve had an interest in policing for as long as I can remember – I listened to the stories of a family friend who was a response officer in Torquay; thinking that one day I would do something similar. I went off to university with the intention of joining the police after university, but due to the stop in recruitment around 2010 this never happened. I was fortunate enough, however, to secure my placement year from Aston University with the Met Police in 2008. I worked alongside Emma and her team in the Strategy, Research and Analysis Unit based at ‘Met HQ’. I was able to see the professional work that goes on behind the scenes that contributes to everyday policing. What made my year even more unique is that our boss, Prof Betsy Stanko, allowed me to take a month off and train as a Special Con-stable too. This enabled me to see both sides of policing. I’ll always be grateful to Betsy for letting me do this!

After graduating, I was accepted onto the graduate scheme for a major international supermarket. I spent three years there, and was able to travel all over the world helping to grow their international online business. I then moved to another supermarket and accepted a position in their head office look-ing after a key part of their online business in the UK, before moving again in 2016 to become an area manager for a discount supermarket. During all of this, I kept my position as a Special Constable, work-ing alongside a response team and doing a few shifts with neighbourhood as all Specials do.

I remember enjoying my jobs in retail, but I got bored quite quickly and would soon be seeking my next challenge. Surely, I couldn’t keep switching between supermarkets for the next 35 years – there were-n’t enough brands!? I was coming home from my police duties feeling that I had made a difference to someone on most of my shifts. Literally, every day was different, but I was not brave enough to make the jump permanently.

The Police Now Application

After a particularly demanding few weeks at work last year, I came home and saw an advert for Police Now online. It offered a different entry route into policing; seeking graduates that could work on com-munity problems from day one. I decided to apply, and after a few application stages that were very similar to what I was used to first time around when I applied for graduate jobs, I was informed that I was successful and was being posted to Avon and Somerset Police. I accepted their offer, left retail and started in the 2017 cohort in July this year.

The Police Now Summer Academy and force induction

In July, I joined 230 other new recruits from forces across the UK. We stayed for the whole summer on a university campus in London and trained five days a week in Central London. The training was tough, we worked long hours and had a number of knowledge assessments and physical training sce-narios to complete. Our first knowledge check was on day one, testing our understanding of the pre-learn content from Blackstone’s and other online training packages. Training was different from my peers who entered through the traditional route. It was condensed, and was often conducted in a lec-ture room format compared to the classroom setup. We worked in syndicates of around ten officers, supervised by a sergeant. We had regular pastoral support from our syndicate leads too, who provided us with feedback as we progressed through the training.

Much of the training that we received had a neighbourhood focus. We had content on partnership working, and law was often based around offences that we may be encounter when we arrived on our beats. Some of the most engaging sessions were from ‘visiting staff’ who provided insight into their ex-periences and previous involvement with the police. One talk – from Paul Hannaford – remains with me to this day; so much so that he got a standing ovation from all of the officers in the room and I am look-ing to book him to give a talk at the secondary school on my beat next year. We also went out with re-sponse teams across London to consolidate our learning. At the end of the summer, all of the new re-cruits returned to their respective forces, and we then had our force induction.

Force induction for my colleagues and I in Avon and Somerset consisted of a week of getting to under-stand force IT systems back in the classrooms. We were issued our Airwave radios, body-cams, note-books and station passes and were sent out to work with our mentors in neighbourhood teams across the force.

Arriving at the station

When I arrived at the station, I was unsure as to what greeting I would receive. We had been told at training that some officers may not know what the scheme is about, and that we may experience some hostility in the early days. For me, this may have been even more apparent as I was the first PN officer posted to Weston-super-Mare.

I received a warm welcome from my colleagues. Despite working in our own office on the estate on which I patrol, we brief daily with the response team at the main station. I spent a couple of sets out with the response team, and was able to start building some good working relationships early on (there is no better place to explain what Police Now is all about than when you are sat in the response car waiting for the next ‘code 1’ call!). I can honestly say that the support that my mentor, PC Stephens and my supervisor PS Batchelor have given me has been fantastic. Despite a few teething problems, they have really embraced the Police Now process and enabled me to continue my learning on the job.

My training enabled me to start to be a great problem-solver. I hope to bring across skills I learnt in re-tail management too. As an officer in a non-metropolitan force however, I still need to do more ‘on the job’ learning to ensure that I am competent enough to deal with whatever the community calls us for. The division between neighbourhoods and response policing in my area is not clear-cut, and as a result I could be called to assist with any 999 call that we receive. Some of this learning comes through experience – I don’t think we missed out necessarily because of our training path, we just need the op-portunity to put our learning into practice on the front line.

My reflections three months on

I’ve been on my beat now for three months. I’m still enjoying policing and the opportunities to get in-volved in some intergenerational neighbourhood issues. When I look back at what I was doing six months ago, I can’t believe how much my career path has changed. I was looking for a job that will keep me interested for the rest of my career, and I hope that policing will be able to give me that. As I was looking for, every day is certainly different (the other day I identified a corpse in some woodland, and twelve hours later I was in the primary school on my beat eating Christmas dinner!)

I definitely made the right choice – this scheme is delivering what it said it would – and I’m looking forward to our next 100-day impact event early next year.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment