Sunday, 30 September 2012

WHERE ARE THE POLICE? 2012 UPDATE

Two years forward from our research and article about what the Police actually do, it seems very little has been accomplished in returning frontline officers to what they would rather be doing, preventing and detecting crime. See our previous post and the PDF document "Where are all the police officers" in the link in the sidebar.




Bobbies on the beat

Sep 28th 2012, 15:14 by M.S.
REPRINTED FROM THE ECONOMIST
http://www.economist.com/blogs/blighty/2012/09/policing-britain#comments
WHAT do the police actually do? There’s an assumption by most sentient (ie, TV-watching) beings that they should be either out catching murderers or collaring hoodies who heave stones through old ladies’ windows. The police themselves will tell you they still waste far too much time ticking boxes and filling in forms.
new study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC)--whose respected head, Sir Denis O’Connor, retires on Sunday--suggests that frontline police do, in fact, spend about 80% of their time on activities related to crime, however tangentially. But they should focus more on preventing crime, it concludes, not just huffing up to the scene afterwards. That this should need saying, nearly 200 years after Robert Peel pronounced crime prevention the central task of policing, is a story in itself.
The first problem, the HMIC maintains, after sifting through 4.6m substantive incidents recorded by six forces and observing 36 shifts, is that the police don’t actually know what they are supposed to be focusing on. All six forces had different mission statements and only one referred explicitly to preventing crime. In part because the policing mission is ill defined and in part because other agencies may be slow or reluctant to respond, police resources go on looking after the elderly, the ill and the abandoned when an ambulance fails to turn up or social services proves to have closed at 5pm.
Another problem is that the training of most officers dwells more on using police powers legally than on using them to fight crime effectively (CID training is an exception). In initial training just one module out of 190 is on evidence-based approaches to crime prevention, and it is not reinforced later in practice.   
A third, the HMIC says, is that the police on the street often don’t get good information about the incidents they have to deal with, so they either deal with them poorly or take too much time doing it properly. This is partly a matter of patchy and poor kit, partly a matter of mindset--what information they do receive tends to be reactive rather than predictive. Both gaps were stunningly in evidence during the riots in August 2011.
There are certainly flickers of inventiveness. A basic command unit in one of the forces studied has pioneered a technique of “predictive mapping” on burglaries to deploy staff to high-risk areas at specific times, and along with other measures this has brought about a significant fall in that type of crime. In the run-up to the Olympic games, another force pulled together intelligence gleaned by monitoring sentiment and mood across social media and made it available to officers to deter criminal gangs and homegrown extremists. But such examples stand out. More typically the reliance on experience over knowledge encourages a “craft-based professionalism” that helps forces get by but doesn’t help them get ahead of demand.
All this matters because the police, like everyone else, are being required to improve or at least maintain their levels of service with less money, and no one doubts that more budget cuts are coming. Some of the lower-hanging fiscal fruit has been plucked; forces have started sharing facilities, outsourcing activities and laying off staff. But their most important assets are sworn police officers, and how effective they are, individually and out of the station, will be crucial in achieving more with less. With so much reform in the air—an overhaul of police pay and condtions, elected police and crime commissioners, a new College of Policing, and innovation forced on forces by fiscal necessity­—the HMIC is surely right to urge a renewed focus on defining, training and equipping frontline police officers to act effectively in the field as independent professionals.
Incidentally, the HMIC figures show that 17% of recorded incidents to do with public safety and welfare (which make up 40% of all incidents) were hoax calls or abandoned calls to emergency services. That sounds like an awful lot. Expensive, too.

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