Sunday, 7 March 2010

POLICE RESPONSE OFFICERS - A DANGEROUSLY THIN BLUE LINE? (PART 2)


‘Thin blue line’ - or a very insignificant dot?
PC David Copperfield – “Wasting Police Time”


An investigative report based on freedom of information requests
made of the 43 police forces in England & Wales.

Identifying for the very first time . . . . . . . 

How many police officers are ACTUALLY assigned to “response duties”
attending to calls from the public

A few weeks ago we announced on these pages that we had sent Freedom Of Information requests to each of the 43 police forces in England & Wales. Click the link below to read the introductory article.


SOME BACKGROUND TO THE NEW REPORT


Frontline police response numbers is a very emotive subject, both to the officers engaged in that role and to the public in receipt of the service they provide from limited resources.

As a former serving police officer and having seen many media articles on the subject, the topic really hit home when we read “Wasting Police Time” by PC David Copperfield (Stuart Davidson, formerly of Staffordshire Police), now resident in Canada,  who still authors his blog at http://coppersblog.blogspot.com/

Inspector Gadget is responsible for a response team of officers and is among the best qualified and most experienced officers, with a gift for directly addressing the flaws and inadequacies of the present resource allocation strategy.

In his book “Perverting The Course Of Justice” he comments:-

“Thousands of officers who could and should be on the streets deterring and nicking criminals are employed behind desks ‘auditing’ crime reports and managing detection figures. I am concerned that our insane obsession with largely irrelevant targets will eventually cost lives. It probably already has".

Both books make compelling reading, and there are others out there now too in a similar vein. Police blogs we view every day are littered with hundreds of examples, from officers of every force, detailing the impact of real life situations worsened by a critical lack of resource in this essential area of response policing.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS

Early in January 2010, we sent an FOI request to each of the 43 police forces asking the questions:

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 administerial departments within your force?
4. How many police officers are assigned to each of these departments, by rank?

All requests were submitted via the website http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ which sends automatic e mail updates when a force has replied.

All but five forces have now sent responses :-

• City of London
• Dyfed-Powys
• Gwent
• Lancashire
• Merseyside

 
The responses from 38 police forces are now in. Front line response police officers will not be surprised with the results, facing as they do,  the problems of the job every shift.
 
To read or download the report now click here A copy will also be placed in the "View Our Reports" sidebar to the right of this page.
 
Response Officers know only too well the practical issues surrounding the lack of resources forces assign to this vital role. What they may not know, are the ACTUAL numbers of officers in admin roles -vs- response roles within their force.
 
This report is the first of its kind to explore the problem in depth and report the facts force by force here and now.
 
When the station car park is rammed full between 9 - 5 and looks like the Mary Celeste as darkness falls, you must have asked yourself the questions "Just how many people are tied up behind desks in this force?" and "How many response officers do we actually have in our force area, and how many members of the public are we responsible for?" and finally, "How does our force compare with the other 42?"
 
All of these questions and more are asked and answered in the report and the supportive documents we will be posting on these pages over the weeks to come.
 
The report finally blows the lid off the "Response" scandal. Yes, that's what it is, a scandal, that officers safety has been allowed to be compromised by dangerously low levels of resource, not to mention the members of the public who have been conned for so long about police forces never having had so many officers. Yes, police force strength is the highest it's ever been, but that advantage has been wasted up to now, with so many officers sitting behind desks, auditing other officers, making plans or filling in more forms.
 
The findings in this report are a "must read" for officers and members of the public alike.  
The report contains two spreadsheets that illustrate :-

• The actual number submissions from each force
• An adjusted model, taking into account “overstated submissions” (where forces have stated either Operational totals as response levels, or included non response functions in the response totals). [YES, they did try this!]

Each set of findings are accompanied by explanatory notes, referring to the individual force useful notes in the appendices, and our observations and conclusions.

TASTERS FOR YOU FROM THE CONCLUDING SUMMARY

• Of the 144, 469 FTE officers returned by the FOI requests, at best, 60,181 officers, just 42% are committed to response activity.
• From evidence disclosed by the forces, the more realistic number is in the region of 30% - 43,341 officers.
• Divide that number by four to account for shift patterns and rest days, leaves 10,835 officers to police a population in excess of 54 million.
• Factor in annual leave of 25 days per annum per officer reduces the number still further.
• Factor in sickness at 3.7% and course attendance and you start to get the picture.
• Police officers are spending no more time on the street now than they were two years ago, despite a series of initiatives intended slash paperwork and get them out of stations.
• Home Office figures show that in 2007-08 officers spent just 13.8 per cent of their time on patrol, which does not include attending incidents, down from 15.3 per cent in 2004-05. That is the equivalent of one hour in an average eight-hour shift, or fewer than six in a 40-hour week. Front liners tell us the situation has only got worse since 07-08.
• By contrast, officers spent more than a fifth of their time on paperwork (21.7 per cent), up from 18.4 per cent over the same period and the equivalent of more than eight hours in a 40-hour week.

We take a detailed force by force look at the real population to officer ratios, NOT the fairy tale told to the public by the Home Office.

We look at the Policing Pledge and ask if the promises it contains are sustainable in light of the dangerously low response team levels. (As response teams carry most of the burden of delivering it).  We ask the question... "Would it not have been money better spent putting 131 new police officers on the streets than this wasteful PR exercise that will only service to dash expectations and damage public confidence still further?"

A NOTE FOR POLICE OFFICERS . . . . .
You will find your force response rates on this report, and the population to response officer ratios. Please feel free to comment anonymously about the report, but we would ask you not to make reference publicly about a specific force. We want to ensure your anonymity is protected on these pages and would not wish to see any officer compromised by commenting on their own force.

My contact e mail address is contained within the report and many of the police bloggers and visitors are happier sending their cooments and observations in this manner. Either way, we will not do anything that might compromise your position within your force.

Media sources will be viewing the repport over the coming weeks and we hope that it will keep this important issue in the spotlight and prompt initial steps for the reforms that you want to see.

With best wishes

Steve

Crime Analyst
Nice 1 Limited   

12 comments:

Metcountymounty said...

Excellent work Steve, here's hoping that it'll make a difference. It will be interesting to see what Chris Grayling makes of it, but more importantly how he uses it. He seems to be quite pro from what I've seen but then he is still a politician. Whatever happens, we really can't carry on like this.

allcoppedout said...

My own view on this Steve is that the figures are never going to give us the picture needed. I see where you are coming from and would support the effort in any way I can. It seems to me that the situation is so screwed up that we need other ways into the reality.
My suspicion is that the real work that needs doing is not identified and cannot be because of the current recording system and the widespread interests of highly paid bureaucrats across the relevant agencies.

Crime Analyst said...

For The Information Of All Police Visitors....

If you would like to see what your force provided for the freedom of information request about response numbers, I have posted links for each of the returns in the side bar under F.O.I. Response Numbers.

Please remember that many forces overstated their response numbers dramatically, including full operatiuonal totals in some cases.

The report we have compiled (links above)takes their data and, sifts out the pure response functions. Even then, we feel the numbers are overstated as they do not take account of annual leave, rest days, sickness, courses, arrests, paperwork etc.. but the force figures are the starting point for the analysis.

Please feel free to comment anonymously or otherwise about the report, but we would ask you to think carefully before making reference publicly about a specific force. We want to ensure your anonymity is protected on these pages and would not wish to see any officer compromised by commenting on their own force.

Stressed Out Cop said...

Mate - I would have asked for the minimum staffing levels for response team officers in each Division and added them up by force.

That's the true number

Crime Analyst said...

SOC - Thanks for that

The FOI questions I asked them were :-

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 administerial departments within your force?
4. How many police officers are assigned to each of these departments, by rank?

I was warned by one of the visitors to Gadget that they might wriggle like crazy before giving the numbers, and sure enough a fair few of them did just that.

As it was, I had to clarify exactly what we meant by response to each force. Many conveniently forgot that its defined by the Home Office guidelines.

I got my hands on the guidleines that contain a full list of the 62 Home Office function definitions. The category that best fitted this description is (30) 1. 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. Do not include traffic and motorway patrol and members of dogs’ sections. Officers of supervisory rank who perform patrol
duties, e.g. shift supervisors, should be included.

Digging deeper, neighbourhood teams are excluded from the definition, but then you have forces like Essex, who have ceased using the word response and only use the term Neighbourhood teams, so again I had to look individually at the numbers they sent to drill down to the reponse functions.

All in all, forces clearly operate non generic resource recording systems to enable them to say "we can't be compared with other forces". Wonder why?

The forces will only do so much without charging massive rates for the enquiries. If the question is too simple (as it seems mine were) they ask for clarification, which I gave to every force that asked.

If the enquiry is too detailed, they wont consider it without charging for it, and even then will wriggle like mad.

One force that shall remain nameless, when asked for their overall officer count and response numbers, declined by stating :-

"It has been established that the information requested in respect of Question 2 is not held in an easily retrievable format, in order to ascertain whether the information you have requested is held would involve
all 1193.3 police officers in the force checking their pocket note books
for the period in question.

A pocket note book is a note book that police officers are allocated and maintain with handwritten notes I am informed that a pocket note book contains 150 pages. A breakdown of the work involved is provided below:-

It has been estimated that a police officer will use between two and four pocket note books annually and that it would take an officer approximately an hour to check each notebook for any information. I have now broken the calculation to explain further:

Average of three pocket notebooks a year @ 1 hour per book, equates to an average of 0.25 books per month.

1st of January 2009 to 31st December 2009 = 12 months

12 months x 0.25 books x 1193.3 = 3579.9 Hours

In order for Question 2 to be answered, the period of time over which the information has been requested would have to be considerably shortened to be within the appropriate limit".

I only asked "How many of those officers were assigned to response duties in 2009?" You'd think I'd asked for the sacrifice of their first born!

Accepted, this was the most extreme response, but it gives an idication of how difficult it is to get a simple answer to a simple question from 43 police forces.

In a lot of cases, forces did provide breakdowns of officers by function and I was able to lift that more easily, but that didn't stop them overstating the position from the outset.

archytas said...

It's a hopeless task Steve, perhaps not worth pursuing in more than outline to be able to show they don't really know or want to tell.
I wonder how we could actually find out what the real workload is both in terms of real demand and what is really supplied.
It's pretty clear in the HMIC 'antisocial' survey (I still can't find the original - do you have a link?) and from the BCS generally that what is getting recorded is a fraction of demand in terms of what people want a police response to. This itself would be a fraction of the workload when one considers prevention work in all areas, public order and so on.
I was on Block for about 4 years, during which the vast proportion of my time was wasted and most of what I wrote up of no real consequence other than satisfying procedure. I worked much harder in the Charge Office than out on the beat, not for want of wanting to do more.
I also spent 3 years on 'special duties' in which I was working all the time, most of which wouldn't show in the records.
More recently (not in the job) I've seen the vast waste of time high-level enquiries can entail even when organised superbly because case enquiry, management and presentation-prosecution systems are so poor. Some great teams being swamped by silly bureaucracy.
At the other end we see claims, as in the Askew case, that all that could be done was, and that this was clearly inadequate.
All cops coming up to retirement I worked with or my partner met on IPCC work say the old Blocks are much thinner, less local and response officers more or less never see anything through these days. We see some of this in the blogs.
My research tendencies would be towards sampling crime victims and doing case progression in terms of the responses of police and other agencies, court time and so on - intensive process analysis if you like - in order to be able to map this against real demand and outcomes.

archytas said...

The number of reported crimes per officer is very low at around 32 and even if we double that from BCS and then double that to include 'antisocial behaviour' (most of which I suspect is really crime), the number of incidents per officer is still around 120. I think the arrest rate per officer is still around 4. All this suggests officers could be spending a lot of time per incident.
If we had 200 days at 8 hours per officer, one can see a potential calculation on how much time could be available per incident. If we knew more about 'incidents' we could also see a lot about how the time is being spent.
It's pretty obvious about half of the incidents are being written off or rationed out of the system.
My view a long way down this argument is that proper and quick computerised recording for management information purposes is not being done. The responses you've had seem to support this current academic conclusion.

Hogday said...

My last outfit would never accept that they were losing the response numbers war. If a call could not be dealt with by the appropriate response crew, Control room (copping megastress from us and the public alike) would farm it to a traffic unit, a dog unit or a neighbouring division and if no one answered would sit there watching it on their screen, unanswered, and feeling desparate. What counted, for them, was that the incident log had a callsign attached to it and someone, anyone, was shown as dealing. The reality on the ground was that loads of jobs were going unanswered by the team that should have done so and with control room trying to plug the gaps by whoever else they could get hold of from wherever. For most of my time as a patrol sgt, on an average late/night shift, all it would take for me to be out of `gap-pluggers` would be one serious RTA, because I knew that would be the one traffic unit tied up - our traffic people were excellent and would take domestics etc if we were stuffed. It was pretty much a daily occurrance. My guys did damn well on what they arrived at, but the rest of `our` section of the public who also wanted the police, saw nothing but botched jobs and botched responses, because that is exactly what it was. They were getting a piss-poor response and we knew it. When the lumbering bureacracy and prisoner processing procedures put the boot in further by quadrupling the time arresting officers would be off the street, you have todays situation, anytown, anycity, anytime. The people responsible for creating queues of officers at the back doors of their stations, standing/struggling with their prisoners whilst waiting to be let in to their own custody centres for want of a swift, efficient system of management, should be hauled before an inquisition as powerful as, say, the Public Affairs Committee, and made to explain themselves.

Hogday said...

Sorry Steve, that should have read "Public Accounts Committee" - I need more cornflakes.

archytas said...

Hog is spot on. One thing we did do in the 70s was get to jobs on a local basis, though in violent incidents we were often under-manned, as we usually were at demos and such.
Back in 1992, the Tories were claiming massive reductions in crime that turned out to be as false as anything happening now. Only 57% of reported crimes were being recorded then and reductions were being recorded by the same old 'new' methods. My speciality is labour market analysis and the same methods are used there, pretty much across countries. Recent drops in the numbers claiming jobseekers' benefits are contradicted by rises in the non-employment of those of employed age figures and others. - similar to police records v BCS etc.
We might turn up something through literature review, so I'm going to have a go in the journals. Allcoppedout by the way - posting as archy as wordpress gets rejected here for some reason.

Crime Analyst said...

As we reported previously, 38 of the 43 frces have now submitted their replies to our FOI requests that now form the basis of our report on police resources.

$ of the remaining 5 are still working on their replies.

However, Dyfed Powys has refused out of hand to provide any information whatsoever.

The full catalogue of e mails and supportive clarification e mails are now posted in the FOI link to the right under Dyfed Powys.

The reason for refusal to provide information is so weak and laughable I thought you should see it in full. I have reprinted an extract of the response we received from them.

If this is the way they deal with FOI requests, we have to seriously question the quality of communication this force must have with its public.

This epitomises the bureaucratic process at its very worst within the job, and our sympathies go out to the public they serve and the frontline officers who must have to contend with this nonsense every day when trying to do the job.

Blogger from the front line frequently ask who all the 9-5'ers are that fill the station car parks during office hours (but are never there after dark), and what they actually do. If you want to see what one of them does, read on and click the Dyfed Powys FOI link. The time this person actually spent calculating the nonsense refusal could have been applied to actally answering the sodding question!

"Thank you for your email of the 8th March 2010 the contents of which are noted.

However, as outlined in my original response and the follow on email to your queries the situation remains the same.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the information you have requested is not recorded in Dyfed Powys Police in a simplified format as suggested, in
order to retrieve and collate the information you have requested would still necessitate contacting the 1193.3 Police Officers in the force for that period to collate or retrieve any information held which would take
3579.9 hours.

Therefore, as explained in the original response the cost of compliance exceeds the Fees & Appropriate limit of 18 hours or £450
cost.

As a result I am unable to progress this matter any further".

Anonymous said...

Im a response cop in an average sized conurbation and we have been told for the last 12 months that we now operate a single crewing policy 24/7 rigidly enforced to give the impression there are more police than there are and the minimum staffing is whatever we have on at the time. I have been on a core shift several times where there is 1 cop per 15,000 members of public. Its a scandal that senior (AND lower mangement who are mainly 'yes' people)are allowed to enforce this. On many occasions officer safety has been comprimised and complaints are rife as there is no one to corroborate your story. Our perception to the public must be shocking as we can never give them quality time as we are like headless chickens flying job to job, when we do arrest people we spend hours trawling through endless beurocracy in which the suspect seems to hold all the cards, their rights overide everything - its like looking after babies. The management are only interested in figures and impose extra beaurocratic work by stealth, a little here and a little there all the time, nothing is ever taken away just added on. Meanwhile there are hundreds of warranted officers in 8-4 weekday deskjobs with no pressure being paid on the whole more than response officers as they have more service in! These desk pilots (including civillians0 are great at telling you what is your responsibility to sort out but rarely offer assistance to help beleagured front line officers. Response officers see all this and have no faith in management whos sole focus is hitting targets. Many would leave but for the current climate and I for one cant blame them.

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