This is my opening blog and hopefully one that will set the tone for forthcoming blogs as time progresses. I would like to use this blog site to promote dialogue and debate, hopefully about improving the way that we Police in the UK. I am open to others posting on here, preferably using the theme of improved Policing through partnerships and research. I would personally really like to see more relationships forming between academia and cops on the frontline. Drop me an email or a tweet if you want to get in touch.
How many things in your daily routine are there because they always have been?
*Knock *Knock. “This is your early morning target visit.”
Shortly after morning team briefing one of your intrepid cops has been requested to visit one of your more undesirable clients. There are lots of things that can happen at these visits, but usually they fall into several brackets:
- Officer met with a very disgruntled target who bemoans being awoken at this ungodly hour to check if he is in – especially if he is on tagged curfew.
- No answer at the door, many neighbours/tenants awoken at said ungodly hour.
- Officer speaks with target at window who tells them to get lost, having just got out of bed in his boxers.
- Officer actually gets to speak to a target who welcomes them in. Officer gets sight of what he is wearing, what goods he has in his flat, what make of phone is on the coffee table, and gets a closer look at his physical state.
Any Response Cop who works on the frontline would have been involved in these target visits, even if it is to cover for those others doing them. Once completed, a record is made on the target profile so Police know if they were in or not, what they were wearing etc. This record is then used to monitor compliance by the bosses, so who has been doing the visits and when have they happened? Why has the profile not been updated etc.?
This is ‘daily business,’ a phrase I will grow to discuss over the coming series of blogs. What is ‘daily business’? Well, it is a kind of activity that is completed because we have always done it and probably always will. It ‘feels’ right, as a cop you sometimes feel that you are getting under the target’s skin, possibly affecting their behaviour.
But here’s the rub. Most targets laugh when you visit them. Many targets will say things like, ‘I was waiting for you to come round, now I can go out.’ Or, they will greet you with, ‘I can go and get changed now,’ or similar. They are using target checks and visits against the cops who are trying to disrupt them. Not only has it been daily business for Police, it appears that it may have become daily business for criminals too…
If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.
So, how do we buck this trend? How do we move on from the ‘daily business’ of target checks, into something more meaningful? The key lies in research. Now there is an automatic assumption that those that do not work within Policing, are not qualified to comment upon it. I witness this daily on Twitter and not only is it defensive, it borders on aggressive. In the current political climate, protectionism is fairly natural, but there is a standard of behaviour on the street that Police aspire to, and that standard should be consistent no matter the environment.
There are already strong partnerships in some areas of the UK, but it is important that the bunker mentality in the Police – completely understandable after all the recent changes/cuts – does not affect the use of good research on the frontline. If evidence exists that is contrary to what police ‘feel’ does or doesn’t work, then the correct response is to explore it. If we ignore it, the ramifications on officer time and ultimately public safety, could be serious.
How could research help in this instance of targeting? Well, we could start with finding out what actually works when it comes to altering target’s behaviour…
- Does 3-4 visits a day change their pattern of offending or heighten deterrence?
- Would the Police be better visiting at a particular time of day?
- Would it be better to allow our targets to go about their daily business but record sightings and associations?
- What happens to the information that we currently record? Is there any value?
- Is it worth the cop’s time when there are so many other competing priorities?
- Would cop’s time be better spent on hotspot policing?
The questions go on and on, but they could be partially answered with a good quality, single study. It could be done by cops or by academics, as long as there is some rigour around the quality of the data and methods. It would give Police some answers as to where the value sits with target visits and what may and what may not work. This would direct activity far better and ensure that tax payer’s money is actually helping to prevent crime or put prisoners behind bars.
Just as a representative sample: around 10 hours a day of cop time is spent on targets visits in my current station. That’s an extra cop, for an extra tour of duty, per day, and around 1.5 Police officers per year… Over the size of a force this could mean the equivalent of 20+ more officers per year. Are those officers (or their equivalent time) actually offering value for money by doing something meaningful?
The real answer is that we don’t know.
We won’t know until the research has been completed. And once it has, those results need looking at with experienced Police eyes with a view to either reinforcing/narrowing current practice, or changing it altogether into something more meaningful.
I shall leave you with a couple of things. Here is the YouTube link for the Center of Evidence Based Policing https://www.youtube.com/user/clsMason Some of the videos on here can get a little academic, but the introduction and most of the practitioner lectures are really easy to watch. The inputs on Hotspot Policing show the kind of rigour you can apply to simple principles to prove that they work.
As we lose cops and support staff hand over fist, increasing efficacy and adding meaning to their daily duties becomes more and more important. As a frontline cop myself, I like to be trusted, and to know that what I am doing makes a difference. Conducting daily business, simply because it is ‘daily business’ is not enough. I want to know that I am doing something positive, and finding out what works is an integral part of that.
Police shouldn’t be afraid of research; they should welcome it, because it often answers questions that may never have been asked. It challenges entrenched thinking and can come to conclusions that just ‘feel’ wrong. Well those feelings have been built up over a long time in the workplace until they form grooves of practice. They continue because it feels normal to follow them. Some of those grooves just may be heading in the wrong direction.
With less cops, finding out the right direction has to be important, doesn’t it?
12 thoughts on “Daily Business…”
Love point 4 in the bullet points….where does the forms,the intelligence reports etc end up? Providing cops with the Evidence and responsibility to make a tangible difference will in my opinion lead to a greater ‘officer buy in’ and the potential for a feeling of value and that the tasks undertaken have real meaning.
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As a cop who now flies a desk but whose career has seen a time before this type of activity took over AND has embarked upon a second marriage to a psychotherapist (every cop should have one!) I’ve got some views on the ideas posted here. First off, thank god you are questioning it. As you say we don’t stop to ask the most important question enough – why?. Secondly , research. Yes i agree academia can add lots of value to this but gathering evidence of what works in this area can be challenging – not least because there are so many variables with chaotic lifestyles. My obs would be we could do ok looking nearer to home and instead of tasking academics in isolation ask the offenders and those who work with them. I know research does this but I’ve yet to see any that grasps tactical interventions adequately. I’ve got hold of Natalie Atkinson, bright girl with 70+ convictions now with a degree in criminology. Met her for a coffee , patched this up with my wife’s take on our tactical options and you get a pretty simple response – ‘crackers’.
More likely to hack them off so they go out and do even more damage to pay us back for waking them up, if the disruption tactic is supposed to change behaviour at best it’s short-lived as behaviours are driven by other far deeper influences and maybe substance misuse etc.
Of course some offenders need tough policing but this stick must be combined with a carrot for the type of volume crime offenders we are talking about. Dealing with offenders from a therapists perspective would be a good experience for a cop, understanding what they think and how they react to our activity is a fascinating insight.
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I think that the suggestions you make are exactly what would generate the best results from a qualitative perspective! Involving the practitioners/public/offenders in pulling something together that has meaning would be a completely new way of approaching some of the problems we have. Pretty exciting to be fair!
I think we work in a black and white, legal/illegal, guilty/not-guilty landscape in the cops and we automatically want to count our ‘successes.’ I also think we have a world view created by our work and that shapes our problem solving. The real world operates in many, many shades of grey, where binary yes/no solutions are just rubbish in my humble opinion. Plus, what many offenders need will be individual to them, and that would mean that professional discretion (and not just cops involved either) is fundamental to actually making a difference.
Would it not be really useful to prove that current targeting practices don’t work as we think they may do? Or do you think that is unnecessary? Awesome comment, thanks a lot!
This is why I think we need to re humanise policing. Regardless of what we think of burglars and thieves etc on a personal level, we are working towards a nicer safer society, and whilst I don’t ever foresee utopia, I do think we need to remove the them and us attitude and encourage more restorative thinking, and that includes changing a police culture of goodies catching baddies and begin to try and solve the reasons why baddies are bad in the first place.
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You’re exactly right. Much of the discontent amongst pc’s comes from the blind leading the blind. In regards to offender visits, doing things because we need to know what “johnny” is up to is entirely a fishing trip. Where I work much of the offender managing at middle to low level is pointless as there is never any help or support just a box ticked. Johnny gets annoyed and wants to engage less. Then we wonder why we didn’t see johnny a crime spree coming. They play their game and we play ours. Sometimes they meet.
Efficiency is crucial in policing but we don’t need targets to be efficient. Competent supervisors with vision and clarity asking someone “what is your job and what are you trying to achieve” will quickly identify whether that person is spending their time wisely.
Great blog and look forward to more. @alecwallace01
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Greatly agree in the point that targets are counter-productive. Also, thanks a lot for adding some perspective from the offender management side too 🙂 Feel free to comment whenever! Thanks for the feedback.
100% agree that we all too easily ‘work hard doing the wring things better’ in policing and in my view this is driven by the command and control default and a fear that if we loosen up and distribute discretion through leadership the world will end. Untrue. What we need are leaders who can handle discretion and create trust both ways, personal qualities that we can develop. There is nothing worse than doing tasks that have no apparent purpose , additionally having some burglar laughing at you in his boxers just makes things worse. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t target / disrupt, early in my career I saw cops who wouldn’t even stop a car unless told to. To hit targets we brought in processes and IT to increase accountability and control of the staff time. I think ‘for that generation’ it was necessary to do something but we have overcooked it ………are we in danger of applying low discretion processes to generation Y who want high discretion and they can handle it? Take a trip to PSD and you’ll see plenty of cases where staff have abused the system BUT they are in the minority. ”The seduction of safety is often more dangerous that the perception of uncertainty”! You’ll always get the status quo saying ‘what if?’.
Quick story, friend of mine who used to be a Super was once getting lambasted for low appraisal completion, not enough numbers . He offered to run a pilot saying he’d scarp them for a year and they could come back and see what difference it had made! Needless to say he wasn’t taken up on the offer!
Bottom line is we just want less houses burgled, offenders who burgle houses need to stop. What makes one stop won’t make another stop , as one post says ……it’s personal. We need an individualised approach to every human we come into contact with , including our own people.
Once you know the story you can start to work out what works.
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This is an excellent debate to start. I think it was said that ‘Routine stifles creativity and innovation’. Evidence based policing is certainly not looking to do that. As a supporter of EBP I think we all know why we want to utilise it more effectively than ever has been done previously. As many as there are repeat offenders, there are victims and repeat victims, many vulnerable people for whom we want to make a difference and provide a quality service. You start thinking is there a different and creative response for different offenders and victims. Well there are lots of psychological and sociological factors to start to understand and address, such complexity. But at a time of austerity this creativity should be driving us; which services make a difference, which interventions are impactive and where is our money commissioning best spent. Disruption visits may form part of that menu but they must be done ‘intelligently’ and on an individual basis. Yes EBP can help and has a huge role to play in developing policing of the future but focussed on policing questions to assist our decision making, develop practices, increase public confidence, develop our people and make a difference.
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What really struck me about your blog was its transferability to other sectors and other workplaces. You’re referencing policing but you’re discussing transformation.
These are the conversations I have every day: Why do we do this? Why do we do it like this? Is there an outcome? If so, what value does that outcome have? To whom is the outcome beneficial? Are we doing this because our clients will benefit or because we will benefit? Or are we doing it for the purposes of an audit trail alone, so that if something goes wrong we can say “we carried out process X” with no-one asking what the purpose, outcome or benefit of that historic process was. Is there a better way of achieving the outcome? Or is this “activity” in fact the modern-day equivalent of picking oakum or turning the screw?
Reduction of resource can’t be allowed to result in cuts to services alone: it must also result in a complete re-imagining of why we do what we do and what better use we might be able to make of that capacity.
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Process will be in the next blog Rach, thanks for the comment. I love the idea of re-imagining what we do 🙂 I think it needs creativity and a healthy does of Keats’ ‘Negative Capability.’ This is the ability of those within a system, to step outside of it and look at what is happening from the outside in. Inwards looking public services have been created and encouraged through New Public Management, now we need a way to look at the processes created by New Public Management with what many call a ‘fresh set of eyes.’
Ultimately this means many senior bosses who have been present during NPM, refusing to look at problems using NPM methods – and that is a tough sell. It’s happening though! Believe me, it’s happening!
Here comes more ! We are actively researching PUBLIC VALUE as a concept we can apply to the changing police mission, applying this to the whole system not just one aspect i.e. policing. Why ? Well to re-imagine as Rachel urges us to do, the ludicrous notion that measuring inputs and outputs of related activities separately at best adds NO VALUE to the public and at worst creates system failure. To do this we need to understand exactly what the public believe adds value thus answering the ‘why?’ question . Also looking at sustainable system change that is politics-proof, future oriented etc. So, using the disruption tactic one has to look at what outcome we are trying to achieve and then we could test this against an assessment of public value. Loads of what we do can’t be measured, policing is high discretion work and no amount of targets and measures can capture it all. So instead of moaning about whose job it is to sort out mental health we would look at the system response to mental health and work with partners to integrate our responses. The public surely don’t care who does the work as long as it’s done well?
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