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 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.
“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.