Sunday, 21 February 2010

POLICE RESPONSE OFFICERS - A DANGEROUSLY THIN BLUE LINE? (PART 1)


One of the issues that crops up again and again from police blogger books and numerous blog articles, is the apparently disproportionate number of police officers assigned to admin roles as opposed to response duties.

We have collated countless articles where the complaint is of no parking spaces between 9-5 and how stations become like the “Mary Celeste” when darkness falls (coincidentally when the resources are most needed), as the mass exodus begins.
 
One front liner response to an inspired and emotive Inspector Gadget post sums it up well :
 
"My favourite shifts are nights, weekends and lates after the carpark has cleared of bean counters because the bureaucrats who annoy me and get in the way of my job are gone….and the real work still gets done…..our “intel” section seem to live to complain about response cops and it is TWICE the size of a patrol team! Additionally in twelve years they have never told me anything I didn’t already know".


This got us thinking about how much of an impact this actually has on operational policing at the sharp end. How many of the 143,000 are actually available to respond to public calls when they are needed most? The figure has then to be divided across shift patterns, with courses and sickness taken into account. Is the tax payers money being well spent by those responsible for placing officers on our streets? Or, as front line officers report, are our cities woefully and dangerously under policed, with the vast majority of the wage bill paying officers assigned to 9-5 office based responsibilities.
 
With that in mind, last month we submitted Freedom of Information Requests to all forces, asking for the following information :-
 
1. Please provide the total numbers of officers by rank within your force for 2009
 
2. How many of those officers were assigned to response duties in 2009
 
3. What are the non response ad ministerial departments within your force?
 
4. How many police officers are assigned to each of these departments, by rank?
 
In this two part article, we will detail what we expect to reveal from the requests. In the second part, we will attach the figures and reports from each force, together with explanatory notes.

All but a few of the forces have now responded (albeit in different formats). The majority have been helpful, with only a few seeming reluctant or resistant to provide the information.
 
The responses received are very disparate, in that some provide long lists in excel, others in pdf or word format. In trying to assimilate all the information, many of the forces have referred to certain Home Office terminology. Terms often quoted are :- 
  • Operational
  • Operational Support
  • Organisational Support
Looking at the national picture, there are 143,725 police officers and 79,296 “Police Staff” that we understand to mean police civilian staff.
 
The exercise we are undertaking will shed some light on how many of the 143,725 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) officers are actually available for front line response duties.
 
A number of forces almost refuse to be drawn on the “response” question, sticking to the mantra, “If they are operational, they can be considered response”. The feedback we’ve been getting from the front line is that in practice this simply isn’t practical to say or apply. The most extreme example is that some forces place ACPO ranks into the Operational, Operational Support or Organisational Support. Whilst a Chief/DCC/ACC may appear on the patch occasionally and I can understand their interpretation of Operational for these purposes, they could hardly be viewed as a regular “First Line Response” resource.
 
We had to smile at one force, whose response to the question “3. What are the non response administerial departments within your force?” was :-

“3. No information held. This is because a department is not regarded as being either 'responsive' or 'non-responsive' since all departments within the constabulary will respond to the demands of the present situation. All officers are required to maintain full competency to carry out response duties at all times; this can be best illustrated by the recent arrests made by our Head of Learning & Development (Superintendant) and also by our Assistant Chief Constable; both roles which may otherwise be considered as administerial”.

All credit to them if they stepped out of their bubble to get stuck in, but one incident hardly justifies classifying them as “response”. That’s like saying the true response officers are “organisational support” when they have to stay indoors to fill in reams of paper about public confidence.

The Home Office and ACPO issued guidelines to all forces to enable a more uniform allocation of resources by function. The guidelines contain a list of 61 groups of officers, applying either Operational, Operational Support or Organisational Support as the descriptive label for each function.

A straight lift from from the Home Office definitions of the functions, suggest that the pure response officers fall under paragraph 30:-

(30) Foot/Car/Beat Patrol – Operational – The ACPO Working Group on Patrol settled on the definition: “The overt presence, whether on foot or mobile, of a locally accountable uniformed police constable who provides public reassurance and who is approachable and available to ensure an appropriate response from all the resources of the police service, to the needs and demands of the general public”. Thus, include staff who are predominantly assigned to operational patrol in uniform either on foot, on a pedal/motor cycle or in a motor vehicle (includes ‘Home Beat’, etc). Also include Task force/support group/territorial patrol. Do not include traffic and motorway patrol (see 54) and members of dogs’ sections (see 22).

We will seek to illustrate is how each force uses the resources already at its disposal. It seems a valid point from Copperfield, Gadget, Bloggs and from loads of blog pieces on the subject, that in many a cases, a disproportionate number of officers are engaged in “non response” duties, applying greater strain than necessary of the frontline response resource.

Billions are wasted each year across all the public sectors, on pointless bureaucracy, with thousands employed to create the latest fashionable projects that do nothing to improve the lives of the taxpayers who foot the bill. The explosion of unaccountable quangos (NPIA, ACPO & APA spring to mind), public sector invented “non-jobs” and costly bureaucracy are indictments of a reckless regard and approach to spending other people’s money. Forces should be given what they need to do the job properly, but whilst there is so much spin and suspicion surrounding force resources, crime statistics and Chief Officer bonus payments, it’s probable that forces are actually being under funded, under resourced and poorly managed from the top.

Under the Freedom of Information legislation, the remaining forces will no doubt respond over the next week or so. At that time we will complete our analysis and report fully on these pages. This will enable officers to see, for the first time, the actual number of police officers their force assigns to "response" type duties and those engaged in clerical or office based admin type roles.

In the meantime, consider this if you would . . . .

Force strengths are determined by a number of factors, not least of which is the population and household count. Imagine for a moment all the strategies for manipulating crime statistics were wiped out overnight. In this ideal world, detections are not the important driver they currently represent. Then imagine police recorded crime was actually closer to double what it is now (which is what it is believed to be, due to under reporting). From the force head count, what percentage would you think would be about right to provide a sufficient first line response service? Don’t worry, we won’t hold you to it. We have our own thoughts on the priority of “response” and wonder what the feelings of the rank and file are. It seems from all that is written, that "response" does not seem to receive the resource you feel it needs.  Instinct or gut feeling will do.

We are guessing front liners on response teams will not be surprised with the numbers when they are all in. 

As Copperfield and Gadget have suggested, the problem of frontline resource doesn’t necessarily mean more officers are required, but quite possibly that the existing resources could be more effectively utilized.

8 comments:

dickiebo said...

When senior officers try to pretend that they are operational, we see what can happen. Like Dizzy!!

Stressed Out Cop said...

I posted on the numbers thing recently. I could also add that by bringing control and dispatch back locally to the Division would mean we get more done.

The central dispatch is not working

allcoppedout said...

Managerialism has a bad name (rightly). Yet a full review of current policing could lead to a virtuous downsizing. Doing this in manufacturing always required a realistic speadsheet on costs (not endless activity based costing), and decisions on cuts to keep production alive and competitive.
Whilst I doubt we'd notice a cull of CCs, DCCs, ACCs and even CS levels (maybe abolition), matters are sadly much more complex.

Hogday said...

To my mind, response numbers was about how many officers I had at my disposal for immediate deployment at any given time. I would often shock the occasional local community consultative meeting I was attending, by posing the the following question to the audience: "The area my officers cover consists of(giving the geographical boundary). As residents, how many officers would you think are on duty in this area right now"? I would get a random selection of answers ranging from 15 to 30. I would then call up the Control Room as ask them what my resources state was. The answer, which I ensured everyone heard over my radio, was always between one and three single crewed units, most of which were committed with jobs. I would then ask Control to include any available traffic units. This would usually add just one more unit. The silence that followed was always rather long and the faces always had a shocked expression. I'd then ask Control Room what was the most senior rank on duty in the entire force at that time (usually about 8pm) and how many of them were there. Inevitably the reply was "You Sir, plus 3 inspectors in X, Y and Z cities". That, for me, was what `response` was all about. It was dire.

Crime Analyst said...

Dickiebo : Thanks for that. I think we can all agree the world will be a better place without the pompous pillock. Nice to see justice being seen to be done for a change.

SOC : Have you any more like this I can look at : http://stressedoutcop.blogspot.com/2010/02/24.html

A.C.O. A big problem is that the SMT seem to mix up their priorities. They focus more on the Measurement of performance rather than the management of it which are two entirely different aspects. If they focused more on acquiring the necessary skills to become adept at the latter, half the problems created by the former would not have evolved to the degree they have.

H : As ever, a very informed and relevant view, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hogdays piece smacks of common sense, not management material, not enough waffle and gobbledygook.
dungbeetle

Retired Sgt said...

When I joined my force in the mid 70s there were 3 ACPO ranks 5 Ch.Supts about a dozen Supers 20 Chief Insps and a small bunch of cracking civvies who worked hard at supporting "their" police from cleaners control room assistants and admin.Now there are 4ACPO 6 Ch.supts and more Supts and Chief Inspectors than you can shake a stick at and that is just at FHQ!!!.Meanwhile officer numbers are being cut Sgts and Inspector posts
left unfilled ..and dont mention the costs of running a full time police authority

Anonymous said...

Dungbeetle again;
Waiting for the no of doers [frontliners], the number of teachers [instructors] , the number of preachers [cps etal] and the number of leachers [you know who].

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