Change fatigue: tired for all the wrong reasons

This blog is about change, and why we need it. 

People in the police talk about change in the police all the time, making reference to the fact that they are suffering from change fatigue. This is a totally valid point, but the type of change that the cops have gone through have been particular to some key areas. Terms and Conditions changes have hit hard, with cops and staff feeling the pinch on their wages. During a recession this is tough as hell and people are understandably struggling. Was change needed in this area? Well the book keepers would say a hearty yes, as the cost of pensions was becoming so high that it was outstripping contributions exponentially. In reality, I have moved from an awesome pension, to a very good one, I need to keep this in perspective and not allow the doomsayers to claw me down. Other changes like the removal of CRTP and SPP dissolving, whilst being replaced by a 24hr shift allowance was a good move. The cops feeling the impact on their lives and health the most, should be paid slightly more in my humble opinion.

Whilst I wax lyrical about my perceptions on the changing terms and conditions, there has also been a lot of centralisation and salami slicing across policing. The changes have been driven by austerity, and it is fair to say that the frontline and many other departments are really feeling the brunt of the cuts. What is the cause of this? Is it a rise in demand? Is it a drop in numbers? Is it high expectations? Is it more accountability? The answer to all those questions is: yes. But questions remain about whether ‘deep change’ has occurred. The Home Secretary has spoken about more change coming, deeper cuts, more efficient working, and has emphatically warned against #cryingwolf . Whether this warning will be correct will only play out in the fullness of time, but the record given by the Home Secretary at the Fed Conference on the doom saying nature of #cutshaveconsequences was stark. She was saying, ‘We have heard these warning before and they did not play out. Why is now any different?’

This is actually a very fair question. Why is ‘now‘ any different? Well, I personally think that now is different. We have never seen crime changing like it is now. Cyber crime and accompanying fraud is growing at speed, child sex exploitation is rising, and police numbers are falling. Increasingly higher amounts of time are also being spent on mental health and missing persons. What do all these categories have in common? The offenders are preying on the vulnerable and the victims are often victims of a broken system. These crime classes aren’t about shops losing stock, they are about people losing long term quality of life, and in extreme cases, life itself. 

If we are seeing changing crime classes like we have never seen before, why does our service still resemble the same one it did decades ago?

Now that crime change is nasty stuff, yet I look at the structure of the cops that I joined, and I look at it now… By and large we are doing much the same thing, in much the same way, allocating resources to visible demand and maintaining the functions that we have. This is a service that was designed around performance. The current silos and ways of working are deeply entrenched in their own businesses, and communication between departments is still severely limited. Crimes get lost in complex recording systems and category of crime recording is still a huge issue in some forces. 

I shall ask a question. If we were to design the current police system around risk and vulnerability, would it look like the one that we have now?

What if we were to address the current function of the police and prioritise things that have never been prioritised before? What if resources were allocated not on the amount of logs or crimes, but on the impact upon the victims of them? Detectives in some high vulnerability risk areas are carrying upwards of 40 cases… 40 cases..! This is not about cuts, this is about the way we address and place value within particular areas of policing. There are still burglary units in plain clothes doing – what is considered in the cops to be – ‘Gucci’ work. It’s pro-active, it’s exciting, it’s plain clothes, it’s usually high in officer driven activity (as in cops have some good freedom in there), and officers enjoy it. These units are working in an area that has seen crime drop exponentially over recent years – meanwhile, officers dealing with their life-changing 40 cases drop off with understandable issues with stress.

Policing is changing. It should be, because society is changing. The minute that policing becomes locked into a dominant culture for any length of time (think performance), then there will be victims of that culture. The Rotherham Enquiry is a great example. How ‘on our toes’ are we? Are we there to react to things after they have happened, or should we be planning for the future and far more flexible in the way that we shift and use resources? Is it possible to run a service full of silos whilst dealing predominantly with complex social issues? I would argue the answer is a resounding no.

More change,” I hear the lament. Yes indeed, yet why is change fatigue present? Fatigue is present, because change has come in consistent increments, and existing functions have been whittled down yet expected to still deal with the same or rising volumes of crime. Where has the bottom up change been seen in policing? Where has predictive change been seen in policing? Where has the function re-design been seen in policing? 

In pockets, this is happening, but bottom up change has to be empowered by high up leadership. Predictive change has to be based on stats that we don’t have yet. And function re-design means saying no to traditional aspects of crime, to which we have always said yes. All of these things are based around risk and risk taking, there is no easy way forward. 

There are several things that I am sure of. The answers to the above questions do not lie in think tanks. Their contribution is valuable and assists with perspective (something the cops are notoriously bad with). The answers equally do not lie with the Home Office. The answers also do not lie with commentators. 

The answers lie with the victims, and from within the service as it sits now. Frontline officers are fully aware of these issues and espouse them regularly, and evidence lies strewn around the cops about the atrocious things happening to our most vulnerable in society. The choice to change comes from the cops, it is our choice to make, and the evidence is there to make it. Make no bones about it, in ten years the service will not look like it does now, and for good reason.

What would a service designed around the needs of our most vulnerable, look like today?

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