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?