Skin Coloured Targets

What is representation

This is a personal reflection on research that I conducted whilst a part of the Paul McKeever Scholarship. I am aware that the contents of it are quite controversial, and I am also aware of the fact that the police need much, much greater diversity in their ranks. The results are not presented in a way that seeks to undermine the objective of achieving just that, they are instead there to question the methods that are used to reach them. 

My research journey began in a lecture theatre at Warwick Business School. We were receiving a lecture from Simon Guilfoyle on the use of targets in police performance measurement systems. It totally changed my view on the way that police conduct their daily activities. I highly recommend Simon’s book (Intelligent Policing), where he discussed the use of daily, weekly and monthly targets and whether they actually represent a valid way to measure police performance. I will summarise for you: they don’t.

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He also illuminated for me a whole host of ‘unintended consequences’ that come from the targets and how they are realised. This was validated shortly after by the PASC report into Police Crime Recording standards and how they just couldn’t be seen as reliable at all. This report took its casualties, and there has been a slow and (hopefully) inexorable move away from performance management systems that often do the total opposite of what they were meant to achieve.

Whilst this was ongoing, I could see that targets fell away in several areas of police performance, but that they stuck around in others… They were – and still are – used in diversity recruitment, hate crime monitoring, in complaint management, and in sickness (and other HR policies). I found this to be really strange, as we had a lot of research that indicated that targets were pretty awful, yet they were being ignored in areas of business that weren’t directly related to crime reporting. What were the unintended consequences that were taking place around these areas? How were they manifesting themselves and what were their effects?

So, this led to me deciding to research the unintended consequences of the use of targets in BME (Black, Minority and Ethnic) recruitment and selection. I’ve always been passionate about diversity, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to look deeper into how we are trying to improve it. I interviewed over twenty frontline cops in several Constabularies, transcribed seventeen of the interviews, and then coded (sorted and gathered themes together) in order to form a picture of how they were perceived. I was hoping to uncover the unseen picture of what the targets really did on the frontline.

Research map:

reserach map

The map above shows the themes and how I grouped them. I then began to dig into how the themes came about, and where they came up in the conversation. There were several significant findings.

Good news

Almost every single interviewee stressed the fact that they believed increased representation was really important. They were all sold on having more recruits from diverse parts of the community and could see the wider benefits of it. Interviewees often repeated this assertion throughout the interviews.

Opportunities: 

Questions, Questions, Questions: Interviewees repeatedly questioned the need for targets within the process, and for justification behind positive action (this is activity designed for BME candidates that improves their chances of successful recruitment or selection). It was really clear that positive action was largely misunderstood, with perceptions that it created a positive bias within the process abound. In short, positive action was conflated with positive discrimination. This damages the legitimacy of the process and results in what is called poor ‘procedural justice.’ Those people subject to the processes, do not believe that the processes are fair, and this really affects the outcome of them. Officers weren’t applying for some roles, as they believed that the processes were ‘rigged’ in minority’s favour, with some just refusing to engage at all and mistrusting the people who were recruited/promoted as a result of them.

Competence: The questions and lack of understanding above, then leads to other questions, such as, ‘Why are they not selecting for competence?’ This question worried me, because it implied that the officers did not believe that the processes were selecting for how good people were at the job, and instead selections were based on the targets that were in place. This is the first real indication that the targets were involved in causing harm. They were providing a framework for officers to challenge the validity of the process. There was a perceived uneven playing field, and at no point was there any interaction from management in an effort to explain why positive action made the process more ‘even’, instead of doing the exact opposite.

The result: A combination of a lack of information, no communication from management, and the suspicious and cynical culture (we are paid to be suspicious and cynical in many cases!) then led to the most worrying outcome. This was that officers then questioned the competence of BME candidates that were promoted or recruited, because the use of targets allowed for:

‘Has this person been promoted/recruited to fulfil a target supported by systems that I don’t understand and no-one’s explained, or are they the best person for the job?’

This is a really damaging finding, as it undermines the purpose of increasing representation in the first place. If distrust and cynicism follows BME officers because targets also follow them, they then have a higher mountain to climb upon recruitment or promotion than any other candidate, and this removes a huge amount of any procedural justice that they believe resides within the system. The BME candidates that I interviewed confirmed this tangibly, and it sits with anecdotal evidence from colleagues I know personally too.

What needs to be done?

  • Targets need removing, they rob the subject of the target of their competence.
  • Officers need to be able to understand why positive action is being used in the workplace and how it works (how this is done is an L&D issue up for debate). Ideally, processes that do disadvantage BME candidates simply need fully re-designing, nullifying the need for positive action in the first place. This requires an in-depth knowledge of bias in assessment and recruitment policies (very developed in the College of Policing, not so much in internal constabularies).
  • When managers make decisions that affect the perceptions of those subject to an internal/external process, the rationale must be communicated fully and a space for questions and debate should be created. Without this space, the prevailing culture will fill the gap with speed and ferocity.

Screenshot (24)

Screenshot (25)

 

Other questions:

The above research highlighted some issues that need addressing, but what did they do for me? As an operational officer, what did I get from conducting it? These are incredibly important questions that address a wider discussion around what educating officers may achieve in the long run.

  • Our internal understanding of the term ‘representation’ is under-developed and dangerously simple. It rests on the premise that if a certain percentage of diverse individuals are recruited, the representation problem is ‘solved.’ This is a fallacy and incredibly dangerous as it circumvents what representation is actually about (and I believe it to be about legitimacy and trust).
  • This has illustrated to me that engagement as a manager is essential. It’s often seen as a fluffy add-on, but as a manager, if you leave information gaps, you are also responsible for the rumours that fill them. If police managers are making decisions, the communication of the rationale for those decisions is more important than the decisions themselves – and it is almost totally absent in many constabularies.
  • Speaking with frontline officers at length, with whom I had to break the taboo of speaking about BME issues (yes there’s a taboo, and it’s stifling) has shown me that many care passionately about recruitment from diverse populations. They have real concern about ‘how’ that recruitment is conducted, because they care about the quality of service that they can provide and the safety of colleagues and the public. If the targets weren’t there and the perceived playing field more understood, it would go a long way to bridging a trust divide between BME officers and non-BME officers following recruitment/promotion processes.
  • One interviewee spoke at length about the ‘hierarchy of diversity,’ and oh my goodness was she on the money. When you apply a target to a particular demographic, you consciously illustrate that they are more important within that process. She raised LGBT officers, Jewish Officers, Eastern European Officers and disabled officers as subjects that are unconsciously ‘lowered’ in their status of importance. What about thought diversity? What does this hierarchy tell us? It tells us that ‘valuing difference’ as a whole is actually a bit of a fib. If you value difference, you value everyone’s differences, and not just those for whom you have a political obligation. This is a great example of cognitive dissonance, and it reveals some hypocrisy that really needs addressing. It’s necessary to prioritise areas of severe need, but accompanying that with statements that deny prioritisation causes issues with understanding.
  • And off the back of this, reducing people to a label as simple as BME also reduces the issue at hand to three letters that can realistically be ‘achieved.’ The changing demography of London as it stands, mixed with the particular tenure of police officers, makes numerical representation a far flung target that will be forever chased. If the target is unreachable, and we don’t know what ‘achieving it’ actually does, maybe it’s time to revisit the issues identified as causal factors in community trust breakdown instead?
  • Finally, they led me to question, question, and question. It’s made me more of a pain in the backside (I imagine), but I will never accept simple solutions for complex social issues ever again.

To finish, a couple of things. Until we address what ‘Representation’ actually is for a UK police force, we are aiming at fog. When a force reaches 8% BME to match its 8% BME population, can we shelve representation as a ‘job well done?’ I would say that the answer is a very clear ‘no.’ The Scarman and Macpherson reports indicate that persistent problems with community relations and a complete breakdown of trust were significant causal factors of representation breakdown – one could argue that numbers alone won’t address either of these issues (and a systematic review that is about to land shortly will do the same). So why do they seem to be the sole focus in many forces? If behaviour of police officers has a part to play in gaining trust and legitimacy (and research says it does), why does this play second fiddle to numbers without an evidence base?

Culture change and wellbeing development, together with a developed understanding of procedural justice (internally and externally) may be partial answers to these problems. But, change in these areas is painful and complicated (and I know as I’m working on them). It is simpler to hold onto targets, because they are tangibly achievable and fit comfortably with an ingrained behavioural legacy of numerical performance management.

The police need to recognise the complexity of the issue of representation, as the targets are currently acting as a scapegoat for far more difficult conversations about broken relationships and a lack of community trust. Diversity strategies should not be about numbers, they should be about forging relationships and creating sophisticated ‘listening’ functions where forces can judge their respective trust by community and tailor their interactions to address bespoke identified issues. Broad brush solutions do not address nuance and legacy. Without addressing this complexity, we will continue to aim at numbers that don’t mean a great deal, or actually achieve a great deal either.

Numbers and percentages do not solve issues with societal/state relationships. Representation is a wicked problem, let’s start viewing it as such, scrap the targets,  and acknowledge that a complex set of behavioural solutions is the only way to realistically address it.

The EQF, Evidence and Innovation

After an interesting weekend, where the Twitter seemed to explode with a whole host of accusations towards the College of Policing, and by-proxy towards me (having previously worked there for 12 months), there are clearly some issues that need ironing out. There are many questions that need answering, some via the College, but others are about our culture and the way that we – as a collective – view and react towards change within our midst. Amongst many things, this blog will discuss what ‘evidence’ actually is in the context of change, and how it is used.  I can’t speak for the College and I won’t try, I think there is lots of work needed to connect with officers and that this weekend is a great example of why.

 

When writing these blogs I am trying to bridge a gap between academic writing and police blogging. It is no small feat and requires me to re-write and re-visit each paragraph on repeat, until I finally hit publish and await the ensuing discussion. I tread a fine line between not using purely research based writing to inform because it is dry and often difficult to read, and leaving it out and posting an opinion piece. For this reason I leave out academic referencing, and more often than not, the authors too. Within the first few paragraphs of my last blog here I actually discuss about 50+ studies. It is in shorthand and you can’t  see the individual studies, but I have written discussions on the same studies several times (including for my recent MSc). I discuss how ‘good’ the studies were, (with regards to their methods) and what they actually tell us when you gather them together. The evidence is evaluated using the Maryland Scale in terms of how reliable it is. The lowest standard of evidence is opinion, rising to RCT trials. I’m not totally sold on this model, but it provides a useful guide and is often used across Policing as way of evaluating studies.

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So, what is it about academic study that everyone is shouting about? “It’s not policing and policing is a fast paced environment., where quick decisions are made, and we deal with disorder and high risk crisis incidents etc. etc.” This is a commonly held view in policing, and to put it very shortly, it’s total tosh. I’m not usually this direct, and I know the middle road is usually the best to tread, but this needs saying: It’s anti-intellectualism, it reveals stigma, and at its basest form it evidences prejudice.  Learning from the rigorous work of others is exactly what creating a ‘knowledge base’ for the profession is all about. It stops us making the same mistakes again and again and it ensures that we as a collective remain open to new learning. There’s actually a really good article called the ‘Dialogue of the Deaf’ (I can’t post it as it is subject to copyright) and it details the issues between the Police and Academia really well. The police say that the research is not operationally useful, and the academics conversely want to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s (and Academia’s) sake. This leads to an impasse, where the cops want useful knowledge that makes a difference, and academics pursue knowledge that will get them published. This impasse is dissolving, and we are seeing some great collaborative work that hits the best of both worlds.

The scientific method

I don’t want to go into too much detail as I can hear the snores already kicking in, but the methodology of academic study is the bit that creates its value. What do I mean by methodology? It is the rigorous questioning of the way that the data is gathered and assessed, that ensures its value later down the line. It isn’t about quick snapshot study, it’s about planning and executing, and then testing and re-testing, and then questioning your findings. This is a reflective cycle – this means that you are constantly checking and self-checking, and then peer checking your analysis. It means that you are testing out ideas (hypothesis) against data that actually means something, instead of collecting data that holds huge inherited bias. This is the difference between real study, and pseudoscience. Here’s a quick graphic that compares the two:

scivspseudosci3

I heard – during many exchanges on Twitter yesterday – that academic study has no place in policing. Well, it doesn’t if you want to be locked in the column on the right? If you were to take a selection of the way that we used to view police ‘performance’ during performance culture, you will see that the methods that the police used were firmly sat in the right column. But as Simon Guilfoyle has been discussing recently, that’s what happens when you don’t provide training in the methods used to manage properly (discussed in his latest blog here). There are huge risks if we carry on sitting in the right column, like a lack of institutional/personal learning, doing harm when we think we are doing good, and making decisions based on misunderstood data that ultimately harm our staff.

In shorthand, if you view ‘evidence’ as belonging in the right column, there are big issues with drawing meaningful conclusions. It doesn’t mean that the info isn’t useful, especially with regards to quick and dirty opinion polls. They are great for examining opinion, but opinion isn’t evidence of anything other than opinion, and not liking something isn’t evidence that it does/doesn’t work… This is really common in any workplace, and leads to Semelweiss type problems, where new things that work are rejected by professional communities because they are counter-culture. Some changes that are really positive can be rejected by the workforce because of the way that they are perceived/implemented – not because of whether they actually work (read anything on Change Mgmt. by Leandro Herrero/Peter Senge if you want studies on this).

Evidencing Innovation

This is the most common issue I have seen, and it is really dangerous. The misunderstanding around evidence based practice is causing a questioning of innovative changes. It’s right to question – and it should be encouraged at all times, but using the call for evidence to stifle new practice is totally counter-productive. Here is a break down of what Innovation can look like in the police, (follow the link) but if you want it shorthand, if you don’t take risks or have a supporting culture behind you, it makes it ridiculously difficult. I think the risk taking is happening more often now, but the supportive culture is absent. This is a result of many things and cannot be ‘blamed’ on anyone. It’s something we should all take ownership for though, and work to develop if we are ever going to see any positive change take place.

What is happening now in the policing community is interesting to see, as ‘Evidence Based Practice’ – previously debunked by the community as ‘academic interference’, has been taken on, bastardised, and it is now being used as a weapon against change.

‘Where is the evidence that Direct Entry at Inspector works?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that police need degrees?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that Police Now works?

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

I could go on. The above questions lead to speculation at best. If you were to take Direct Entry as a great example, I could tell you that it works in many, many places around the world. But I can’t tell you if it will work here. But that’s ok. Let’s be comfy with that and try it out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll evaluate it properly and we will see if it was worth trying. There will always be risk in trying something new, but there are enough checks and balances in place to mitigate that risk (like lots of other people to learn from and keep an eye/develop them in the workplace etc.).

Another discussion point: “Why are we rolling it out if we haven’t evaluated it properly?” Well, forces have asked to be part of the trial. This makes the trial bigger, and in turn this allows for a better evaluation to take place. Basing a country-wide full roll out on the experience of a small amount of people is pretty thin, so let’s widen that base out and make the evaluation more robust. The better the evaluation, the more learning we all take from it. This is essentially growing the sample that you use to draw conclusions from, and the greater the sample, the more representative the results.

And it could be that the schemes fail – and many people will love that (clearly), but early indications are that they aren’t the apocalyptic disgrace heralded by the doomsayers. Let’s wait on the full evaluations before we jump all over something that may be very positive for staff in the workplace.

The real evidence for change

By all accounts (and many staff surveys), workplace wellbeing in the police is pretty poor in many places in the UK, and we have just seen the largest proportion of senior officers ever under investigation for potential misconduct. On these issues alone, I would say that we have a solid evidence base for the reasons for some change to take place in the way that we see leadership.

Having just conducted a study myself on promotion and selection within the cops (specifically with relation to BME candidates and frontline perceptions), I can say that some officers’ trust in current police promotion systems in the UK is appalling. They do not believe that the systems select the best candidates consistently, they believe they are often unfair, and that they suffer lowered morale because of them. The information around the systems and the way that they are used can promote an environment where nepotism and networking are perceived to hold higher value than competence. This research will land shortly hopefully and it is currently changing practice in individual forces in the UK.

Finally: culture. There are many positive aspects to our culture, but there are many repeatedly evidenced issues with our culture (discussed here) that we really need to sort out. We are an internal looking beast, and the scepticism and cynicism with which we view ‘outsiders’, the suspicious and socially removed behaviours that we evidence every day on twitter, and the – let’s face it – downright nastiness (that verges on bullying) shown towards those with contrary views to the masses are evidence within themselves. They have been studied repeatedly by ethnographers and they are enduring behaviours that are just toxic. They don’t make for a healthy work environment, and they don’t make for an environment conducive to real and actual debate. I shall continue to bang this drum – and I don’t care if I get pilloried – as ‘openness’ is important for the police to develop a better relationship with the public, and we have to try and ‘open’ our views and test our assumptions as much as possible if we are ever to improve on this.

I suspect, that the way we view these changes has much to do with our own personal circumstances. During change, we have a tendency to immediately ask: “How does this affect me?” There are some great books on this by John Kotter that deal with coping with change in life/organisations, and this is an enduring (and researched) trait. It leads us to make assumptions like:

Direct Entry is bad because it affects my promotion chances.
Direct Entry is bad because I have had to work my way up there.
Direct Entry is bad because my knowledge is special and outsiders don’t have it.
Direct Entry is bad because they will be relatively poor decision makers.

Now these may all be personally held beliefs reinforced by experience. I can’t question them, they are the beholders’ and totally sacrosanct. I would however question the way that others’ views are seen. Do their contrary opinions hold equal weight? Are contrary ideas seen to be accepted and debated? Or are they attacked and seen as some sort of virus?

Are these questions above the right ones to be asking at all? Should they not be – and we are a public service – about the service we provide:

Does direct entry create different leaders that benefit the service?
Is it possible to do these jobs without the lengthy experience beforehand?
Is the knowledge really that special? Or are there lots of other ‘knowledges’ we can learn from?
Is it possible that new types of decision making are a good thing?

These can be explored during a pilot, but they can only be explored during a pilot. We can’t evidence them. Is it possible that direct entry may change the service for the better? Of course it is! Is it therefore something that can explored? Again, of course it is! The ‘openness’ I am discussing in the blog above isn’t about agreeing with the idea, it’s about having the mindset to explore new things with a critical – but tolerant – eye. Acceptance of difference (including difference of thought) is a choice.

I’m not sure the tolerance is there yet. Maybe we can all work on it some more?

 

Disclaimer: a) I never worked on Direct Entry (although many assumed I did), and I’m not totally sold on it operationally at Insp level. I think a lot of work has to go into designing the right learning prior to it happening, but I have faith and as an idea it is well worth a try. I think the reservations can be overcome. b) The EQF was not my idea and I am not ‘driving’ anything. I did some of the background research and I believe that improving education is always a positive thing. I don’t believe in total graduate entry – which is good, as the College is also looking at non-graduate apprenticeships. And I also believe the service is full of awesome people without any transferable qualifications – and that is wrong, we should be accrediting those skills. 

So what are the consequences?

You may have read about the #cutshaveconsequences campaign. If you haven’t, where have you been? It has been well publicised on social media and many are now using it to illustrate the effect upon daily business at all levels of the police and other public services. The message is a stark one: cut the funding, and these cuts will be reciprocated in the service that is provided. This isn’t through malice, or laziness, or spite, it is a simple equation of supply and demand. Cutting the ‘low hanging fruit’ from police budgets have supposedly resulted in ‘efficiency savings’, but savings in which bit of ‘efficiency’ are we talking about?

Well, it transpires that the ‘low hanging fruit’ was often back office function. Frontline cops will tell you that these people are rarely seen, but that is – of course – not surprising. It isn’t their job to attend calls, and the vast majority of their work deals with invisible demands like file preparation, community engagement, HR processes, communications and training. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but ask any business how they would feel to lose a portion of their training/PR/Admin staff and they will tell you that they play an intrinsic role in making the business run properly. What happens to the work that they were doing, when they aren’t doing it anymore?

Well some of it will just be lost, other parts of it will be passed on, and a classic example of this would be back office case file preparation. Maintain the numbers on the frontline, yet move work previously placed in back office function on to their toes. Remove some call handlers and the response time/call answered time rises. Train cops face-to-face less, pile up the NCALT packages in their place, and you will have officers making more mistakes. Add the extra paperwork on top of the mistake, the higher level of injuries caused through increased response time, and the lack of reassurance function and it all starts to look a little more complex.

Calls to the police haven’t fallen, and failure demand from similarly cut other public services is on the rise. Failure demand is where the problems raised can not be dealt with properly via the system that is in place, and it continues to create often worsening calls to service as the problem is compounded. A classic is mental health, where police are feeling the brunt of another system which is really struggling. As local authorities can’t finance anti-social behaviour interventions or problem tenancies the police again often catch the fall out. This risk grows through a very stretched social services, who are attempting to deal with complex family problems with similarly reduced resources. Fallout? The cops again. 

But crime is falling!!! You will hear the cry shouted from the rooftops. Not everywhere it’s not. And let’s be honest, the problem here isn’t that simple either. The recording structure is archaic and immensely complicated, new crime profiles (cybercrime) are not even included (!!!), and there are still target based performance cultures in place up and down the country. Where there are targets, there will be perverse behaviours, and right now in the current climate, cops certainly don’t need them (and never should they). The word ‘crime’ is becoming synecdoche (long word roughly meaning it’s far too simple to describe what it represents). Policing is not all about crime anymore (and it never was), and the recent work from the College of Policing proves this.

The next possible policing change is the amalgamation of neighbourhood policing into response teams, or reductions in the numbers of officers working in communities. It has always been described as the jewel in the crown of British policing, and rightly so. It increases legitimacy, forges relationships, creates trust, solves problems, and represents someone to talk to face-to-face. It is heavily linked with preventative work and engagement, the kind of work you can’t measure. Some people may cynically state that it is very hard to ‘prove’ it’s value. It’s actually very easy, go and speak to the communities about the value their beat bobby brings. Other options include workforce modernisation or very risky refusal of response in particular circumstances (which I personally think could be awful).

So, further cuts have been announced, what may happen now? Frontline cops have already fallen, and make no mistake, they are now stretched. Police operate in a high stress environment and the physical effects of the job can be debilitating at the best of times. Because of this high stress level, the resultant recovery needed is higher than most professions. If you want to read about this, check out ‘Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement Officers,’ it’s a great read and it changed the way I understood my job and the effect it had on me. It talks about a syndrome called ‘Magic Chair,’ where a cop finishes work and sits in a particular chair. They can sit for hours and stare, not really taking in or interacting with others, not even really watching the TV. Sleep is physiologically difficult because of the speed that their mind reaches processing what has happened that day. It’s a biological reaction, in answer to the high stress environment that they work in. It causes problems in relationships, and health will often suffer because alcohol is often used to self medicate. It’s a dangerous spiral to get into and it can lead to mental health issues down the line if not checked. (Read the book if this chimes with you!)

The interesting part of the book deals with those people that are experienced cops. It details the first domestic violence incident attended, and discusses the biological reaction of adrenalin release, high heart rate, perspiration, and that anxiety feeling. Older cops will tell you that this lessens with experience, but the research has proven that it still happens… The officers just get much better at dealing with it. It still takes its biological toll, it still causes the anxiety and higher heart rate, and as such your body will need to hit a comparative ‘low’ to balance this out and let you recover. It’s called the ‘Emotional Rollercoaster,’ and if you’re a cop, you are never off it.

So why have I started with cuts and ended up discussing stress? Easy, whilst people speak about increasing legitimacy of the cops, gaining greater trust, making them more accountable, and forging better partnerships, austerity is causing the functions that support these things to be reduced. The reactive policing function is fast becoming the last bastion of the frontline. Stress rises accordingly with reduced support, frontline cops suffer higher workloads and ever more scrutiny. Backup is always that bit further away. That stress ‘high’ causes more and more biological damage, causing mistakes to be made and lower rates of physical health. This results in higher sickness levels, and subsequently a cycle of more stress on colleagues that are already strung out. I don’t think that I need to explain anymore…

So what are the consequences of the cuts? Well, they are human consequences. Strung out officers starting to turn in and roll into tight defensive balls as they feel attacked from all sides. Families of officers who feel the Rollercoaster lows at every end of shift. Victims feel them acutely as preventative work wanes and response times rise. Mistakes are made and otherwise great people are put under huge pressure as their decision making is called into question. And slowly, but ever so surely, a dialogue of ‘us and them’ emerges. Cops have to fight this like hell, because there is only ‘us’, grasp the nettle, and deliver as best they can in spite of these cuts, because that is what cops do. The public rely on them. Head held high, support colleagues as if they were family – because they are family. 

Cuts do have consequences, and they aren’t rooted in response times, log to attendance ratios, or detections. They are rooted in people’s wellbeing. Looking after officers and treating them properly has never been so important as it is now.

Climbing (and falling from) the greasy pole…

How do we measure a good leader?

This must have been debated at every level of the service at length. I have been party to some interesting conversation on garage forecourts at 4am around who has been promoted and who hasn’t, as many cops probably have. Everyone has an opinion, but the consensus often falls onto a ‘good/bad’ footing at some point. The promotion system is often discussed in a very derogatory way by officers at the sharp end. Many have little faith in it and will almost always state that it is one of the reasons they will never try for a leadership position.

So what do good and bad look like? What does a competent leader look like? Well this is a tough question and one that is very open to subjectivity. There are some really contemporary thoughts on this in current literature, looking at concepts like ‘Stewardship’ and ‘Followership,’ with older theories espousing various forms of Heroic Leadership and grip/control. Theory aside, many will state, ‘I know a leader when I see one,’ and perhaps this is the best way to define it, as a good leader is often defined by how those they are leading see them. This -of course- means that there will be many different kinds of leaders in many different walks of life.

The below is a very quick image from Kotter (who is a pretty well known guy in mgmt theory).

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It may not be a surprise to think that most of the supervision that cops experience fall on the Mgmt side. There are other graphics that exchange the words ‘Mgmt.’ for ‘Boss.’ Either way, if you think that the biggest influence on Police Leadership has been New Public ‘Management‘ for the last 15-20 years, it stands to reason that Mgmt. as a leadership style has won out. This does not mean that there are not charismatic managers and managers that inspire and support their staff. I know of several who do and are excellent from an anecdotal perspective. It does however indicate that a strong weighting may be present due to the 30 year police employment tenure. If all you have known is Mgmt., and all the bosses want from prospective leaders is to display ‘strong’ Mgmt., then all you will end up with is more managers. This presents an interesting conundrum, and one that I discussed in my last blog around a reactive policing style favouring a command style of leadership. Does a heavy Mgmt. structure favour only managers? What if you are a great leader? You certainly represent more risk than usual.

This can be referred to as Prototype Leadership, or a situation within an organisation where those higher in the hierarchy will select those that they feel most affinity with. In short, bosses will promote bosses who look and act like them. This ensures safety, consistency of delivery, and absolutely no rocking of the proverbial boat. It is by no means particular to policing and happens in many careers on a regular basis.

Now where people stumble, is that criticism of such a process often relies on an assumption that the bosses do this consciously. ‘They only choose people that are like them.’ Although this may actually be true in terms of outcome, in that self-selection does occur, it is often completely unconscious and very difficult to ‘self check.’ Those funny generalisations start to come out to explain it when discussing promotion, like, ‘I think they are ready,’ or ‘I feel safe with him/her in charge.’ It is those generalisations that begin to hint at unconscious bias, and not being aware of it can be hazardous to the future of the organisation, because self selection drastically limits the propensity to change…

I don’t want to drag this part of the conversation out, but research of candidates during promotion processes showed that those candidates who displayed creativity in problem solving were AUTOMATICALLY thought of by selectors as having less leadership potential. What is happening here? The selectors are selecting ‘safe.’ What are the long term implications of this? Well, unless this particular unconscious bias is addressed, creativity is filtered out of candidates or the creative candidates are filtered out themselves.

What are the implications for the future of any organisation who has large amounts of prototype leadership? If you were in private industry the market would overtake the business and it would die. In the public sector? Stability and consistency, whilst the world accelerates on passed it. It could be said that attempts to address the changing profile of crime (i.e. huge increase in use of technology) have fallen victim to ‘safe hands’ management, augmented by archaic procurement bureaucracy and an unwillingness to utilise external skills. This is however complete speculation…

How do we address this problem? It’s unconscious, it results in stability, it’s consistent for the public… Should we change it? Is it a bad thing for a public service? The answer again lies in diversity. The same research as discussed above, showed that activating the ‘Creative Leader’ prototype addressed the problem. This basically means saying, ‘Hey, selector people, creative candidates can make really good leaders, can we have some of them too?’ This means that the current Leaders asking for creative candidates from selectors may actually result in a large shift in the kind of leaders selected.

It’s kind of like giving permission or empowering selectors to look for difference in candidates…

This is where the benefits start to kick in, balancing risk taking leaders who inspire, with managers who help keep them grounded and ensure that checks and balances are in place, sounds like a good combination for the public doesn’t it? So change is there, but it isn’t too crazy…

Putting people in the boardroom who aren’t always ‘safe’ is a good way to grow, not just in the organisation, but personally too. Difference in our leader profiles is therefore necessary for healthy challenge and change. All that is left then, is to organise/develop a system of selection that allows flexibility, where individuals are selected for role, and not for rank. This in turn, may make that pole a little – just a little – less greasy.

That however, is a whole new blog.

The cultural rabbit hole…

As part of my current role I had the opportunity to look into the cultural challenges that may face the cops in the coming years. I won’t lie, it was immersive and fascinating stuff, and if you work in the police and have access to academia, a quick search and you will be off down the rabbit hole.

And a rabbit hole it is. Some of the things that I read made my stomach turn, not least because it was so insightful that I had experienced half of them myself. The worst thing was, it was probably the first authentic experience of reading and finally understanding a really good analysis of cop behaviour by an ‘outsider’…

You know all those little behaviours cops do every day that are normal? Well, they aren’t normal.

There are a number of themes around the behaviours that pop up again and again, these mainly being:

Hierarchical – power and decision making/control originates from the top – lower levels provide the function, info passes down but not often up – people connect with the levels they are closest to and often distrust those furthest away.

Insular – cops retreat into their teams and create close bubbles – inherent suspicion of outsiders and a protected feeling of the job being completely unique – struggle to integrate with other agencies properly, – through entrenchment, opinions become completely different to those outside the profession – institutionalised cynicism.

Command centric Ritualistic status in policing – Heroic Leadership revered – command applied to all situations instead of appropriately when needed – problems solved in the ‘now’ rather than where they begin to originate – disempowers lower ranks but makes life easier for them – incompatible with culture of challenge/candour.

Reactive – significant status attached to a good thieftaker – catching bad guys, carrying tech/weapons also seen as higher status – use of force and ability to fight also seen as higher status – low status attached to soft skills/problem solving/collaborative practice/emotional intelligence.

Culture of numbers – heavy reliance on numerical data – low weighing on evaluation of qualitative information – success/failure culture, large area of grey often ignored – utilise very simple outlooks upon complex problems.

Mgmt Culture/Street culture – Large separation between what is discussed in meetings and what happens on the streets – cops think mgmt don’t understand their job and vice versa – often difference in method between command centric lower ranks and slower burning problem solving upper ranks.

Now all these facets are pretty ingrained. It was amazing how similar some of the problems encountered in 1970’s America have hardly changed over time, and persist in a slightly altered state. Some would say, ‘Well, that’s common sense, we do almost the same job, but a few years on.’ That’s true actually, we aren’t far off doing the same job, but think about that for a second… The reactive status of policing, the insular nature of the teams, and suspicion and cynical nature of the staff has tempered slightly, but it’s still there. The Gene Hunt characters immortalised by Life on Mars enjoy popular acclaim even now as people discuss the ‘Golden Age’ of policing in fond terms, before the bureaucratic ‘evil’ of PACE hitting the profession in 1984.

So what do these cultural facets mean? They mean lots. You will read many commentators discussing the fact that the Police are the last unreformed public service. Reform for what? Reform how? What’s so bad about the cops now, that needs to change? I talk about this stuff a lot, because although it is aspirational to be future facing, how long is that journey ahead? We may know where we want to go, but how far away is it? More importantly, plotting way markers in any period of change is difficult if you don’t even know where you are starting.

I think the truth is that there is no ‘crisis’ in leadership. It’s a word that’s misapplied, and funnily enough it is turning one of the worst facets of cop culture on its head, and throwing it straight back at them.

The reactive/command centric/hierarchical nature of the culture means that there is a tendency to apply command behaviours and leadership, to problems that require anything but. Everything is treated like a crisis and action needs to happen now, and we need to address immediate safeguarding, and we need to make an arrest, and we need to gather the evidence, and we need…

And the list goes on. The supervision apply the basic command led process and ensure that ‘minimum standards’ are met, and if there’s risk, the cavalry comes out. But they come out for the ‘then.’ They come out when the incident rears its head, when it all gets too much. When the tipping point has come and the parties involve reach a point of no return and contact the police. And then, well it’s a crisis isn’t it, and command leadership sits well with crisis. It’s how the police get through them. Pats on the back ensue now everyone is immediately safe, and we’ve done a fantastic job etc. but what happens next?

Well this is where the culture balks. Prevention needed soft skills and community awareness, it needed boots on the ground listening to people and hearing the neighbours and friends. It needed multi agency information sharing and slow-burning problem solving that may be time intensive. And do you know what is the worst thing about all this? You can’t measure what doesn’t happen. You can’t measure the quality of relationships between the police and the community, and you can’t measure the differences that the police are making to other people’s lives. You can’t measure the person that leaves their violent partner before they get murdered, and you can’t measure that smile that you put on child’s face when they needed it most.

So what happens when the purse strings tighten? Well the reactive side remains, because it’s what we do. The culture has to maintain the reactive side and protect it like a hallowed ground of infallibility. We have to ‘keep people safe.’ But there’s the rub, when the emergency calls come in, you probably have around 30 minutes to utilise command based behaviour and resolve the there and then. You safeguard the victim for the there and then and probably never see them again. What happens afterwards, and for the next victim who is waiting?

Command based behaviour is the bit that the culture likes and supports. It is 100% necessary and a vital part of policing. It’s also the part that is needed when the wheel comes off. We do however spend the vast majority of our time with the wheel on, wobbly maybe, but still in place. It is the activity during the time of ‘wheel on,’ that prevents ‘wheel off’, but it doesn’t carry the cultural capital of a good ‘thief-taker.’ You know those cups of tea and ‘feet up’ home visits of victims, that is where the smart money lies, because it makes less victims in the future. It changes lives and pulls in other vital services to offer much needed support. It is the time in the run up to crisis, that prevents crisis.

The smart money goes into prevention, because that means less victims.

So where does the cultural rabbit hole lead? Well, the cops still retain a function of command, so it must stay. But what about the other bits? A leader good at command holds good status thanks to our culture, but they use that skill appropriately sparingly. When they start applying command behaviours to far more complex (wicked) problems, all sorts of perverse outcomes begin to rear their head. It stand to reason therefore, that commanders need to be in roles where they use command a lot. What about the other roles? Well here’s a conundrum, because the other styles of leadership don’t quite gel with the culture. The collective leader, the distributive leader, the transformational leader, the participative leader… I could go on. The culture doesn’t quite like them as much, they don’t hold the same status and times can be tough, especially when reactive policing is slowly becoming the only ‘safe’ place left. As the preventative funding drops away and troops are reallocated to frontline policing, where command culture is at its strongest, how does that bode well for the future of a diverse leadership?

It may just be the case that austerity keeps the leaders best suited to a complex future culture, away from positions of leadership.

I’m not sure I like this rabbit hole…

The Paul McKeever Scholarship and Diversity…

Having spent the last few blogs talking about how research may be used in the day to day business of policing, I thought I would digress slightly and discuss  the Paul McKeever Scholarship and provide some detail of the subjects being studied by the successful students. I myself will be studying the sleeping giant that is diversity, so I would like to have a walk through the issues there and impart to you some of my thoughts. As usual, I would welcome any comment or feedback.

This is the inaugural year of the Paul McKeever Scholarship, and one which will hopefully set some precedent for the coming years. There are 7 students on the scholarship, which is organised and run by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU). CCCU has a long history of collaboration with the Police both in relation to teaching and research. CCCU were recently successful in gaining funding from the College of Policing to research crime analysis and the links with academia, they are currently involved in the evaluation of predictive policing options being trialled in the MPS and have also been a key player for many years in the police and HE (Higher Education) forum, which has strong links with the College of Policing. The University also offers a BSc Policing programme (in service for anyone interested) specifically aimed at serving officers and members of police staff. It is because of all this work in the Policing realm, that the Metropolitan Police Federation decided to develop the Paul McKeever scholarship to fund relevant research projects. The findings of these projects will hopefully assist them in providing an evidence base on issues affecting their members.

The subjects that the students are studying are:

Training within the Police – specifically the efficacy/value of NCALT.

Diversity – With reference to the use of quotas to solve the ‘problem’ of representation.

Evidence Based Policing

Retention

Morale

The impact of cuts on specialist roles within policing

Fairness (gender issues)

The research will be used to assist and inform decision making in the MPS and additionally it is hoped that the research will also facilitate discussion at a national level both around issues impacting policing and more generally across the country.

With regards to my subject of diversity, the specific area being explored concerns whether recruitment quotas of BAME (Black, Asian, MInority, Ethnic) candidates actually help to solve the problems of representation within the Police. The default position always is – and has been for some time – that higher numbers of BAME candidates will assist with a cultural change within the organisation and lead to greater trust in the BAME communities. I will be investigating this presumed link, as there are some serious questions around the assumption that higher numbers of BAME candidates will go some way to help solve the larger problem of trust within communities.

On the face of the numbers, the current statistics from the last census indicate that approximately 80% of the UK population is classed as ‘White British’ (link here),whilst 95% of the UK Police force is ‘White British.’ (link here) This 15% gap is the focus of the use of recruitment quotas (read ‘targets’), with a discerned move towards removing it. It has been presumed that closing this gap will solve the problem of ‘representation.’

There are cultural questions around this assumption that can be very painful to ask. Diversity has always been a ‘touchy’ subject around rank and file, and the use of quotas can be discussed with absolute derision. The usual comments revolve around recruiting the ‘best candidates’ regardless of sex/age/ethnicity/religion/sexuality etc. apply. Many will say that this is fair comment, but the issue is far more complicated than any numbers can illustrate. This may also be a symptom of the problem. If the majority of successful candidates originate from one dominant demographic, then there has to be some reason for that.

One of my supervisors was having a discussion with a HR professional from IBM around the issue of representation. The discussion was interesting, as they stated that representation was not an issue for them as a company as they had a very diverse workforce by default. Their working baseline was to always take the best candidates as discussed above. The best candidates were diverse anyway, so positive action was not necessary. The default position in the Police is however, very different. The amount of applications from BAME candidates is low by comparison, and for whatever reason, the eventual recruitment of BAME candidates is also relatively low following the recruitment process.

This throws up many questions around the attractiveness of the Police as a profession, the reasons around this attractiveness, the suitability of the Police selection process, and the cultural inhibitors that may pre-exist any application to join the Police. These however, are all part of a wider picture around representation. What does that look like to communities? Is it desirable? If so, why? How does a diverse force act and how does it behave? Are the larger questions about openness to difference, rather than around ethnic background?

These questions are very large and they don’t preclude the fact that quotas may in fact be a great way of addressing the problem within our communities. The problem is – as I have mentioned in previous blogs – we actually don’t know. We don’t know enough about what ‘representation’ looks like to design solutions that go some way to actually achieve it.

The current method of using recruitment quotas could actually be viewed as a certified effort of Ready – Fire – Aim.

On a larger scale, this could all be part of a bigger picture of a binary way of viewing issues in the Police. There are many binary relationships in the Police, including guilty/innocent, red/green, detected/undetected, convicted/no-trace, goody/baddy, legal/illegal, and the biggy – problem solved/problem fixed. These relationships all form part of the social norms that create a copper’s daily business, so they can’t help but form the way that problems are solved. Simple and quick solutions have an extraordinary attraction in a busy environment, yet fixing a problem – read sticky plaster, is no way to solve an arterial bleed. That requires intricate and complex surgery that is based on years of evidence based medicine. Sociological problems cannot be examined in a binary way; they exist in kaleidoscope containing an impressive array of shades of grey.

It is my aim as a student on the scholarship, to go out into the communities that the Police Force serve and ask these questions, with a view to collating themes and experiences. These will form the basis for a qualitative study into how the Police can better service the problem of representation and ultimately, help with justifying – or indeed the opposite – the use of recruitment quotas as a means to improve. I would also like to explore other research methods and ally the real experiences of people that I speak with, with the quantitative data that the Police use every day. Do they match up? Or is there a gap between what the numbers look like, and what they actually say?

I would really like your views on this, as it can only help for me to canvas feelings on what can be quite a sensitive subject. Comment here, or drop me an email on garethlstubbs@gmail.com if you would like to discuss it without the full weight of the internet watching.

I shall – of course – be keeping you updated as the research kicks in!

The process of improving process…

“A perfection of means, and a confusion of aims seems to be our main problem.” Einstein

Process has been a special beau of the Police since I joined over 10 years ago. It has been conjoined in matrimony with the ever-present spectre of New Public Management since I can remember. What is New Public Management (NPM) I hear you ask? Well it may be better to have a look here for the scholarly run down: http://www.christopherhood.net/pdfs/npm_encyclopedia_entry.pdf or here if you are a Wikipedia lover: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_public_management The basic features involve separating departments/functions into silos and introducing competition, measurement, and performance to improve ‘efficiency.’

Sounds familiar? It should. You will have seen NPM in the benefits sector, healthcare, policing, education… the list goes on. Do you ever wonder why departments don’t speak to each other within the public services? It is because they haven’t been designed to… Luckily, things are on-the-up in this area and there are signs of improvement.

So, it would stand to reason wouldn’t it, that a lot of the processes that we have are based on small areas of public service, measuring small areas of public service. These processes are often insular; they are focused inwards and work to improve micro areas within the department or to further the purpose of only that department.

That was a mouthful wasn’t it? Let me put into some context…

A particular area of the service becomes a priority. This can happen because of public pressure, a review, a change process, or because someone wants it to become one. So if home burglaries became a priority, what would NPM do about it?

Well, the first thing that would usually happen is a target would be introduced. This target would be put in place to bring about ‘efficiency,’ drive activity, and allow staff to aspire towards achievement in the workplace, or that is how it would be sold. The next thing would be introduction of tight processes, with a catalogue of checks and balances. This will mean rigorous monitoring of data, and lots of compliance.

Skip a step in the process and you will likely be spoken to at the very least, make a mistake by missing a step and usually – over time – there would be issues around discipline. This means that error/anomaly/difference will be ironed out and staff will maintain ‘high’ levels of investigatory standards at all times. Managers think that they are doing the right thing by observing their silos, gateway checks, and process, and believe that efficiency comes as a result of it.

Except it doesn’t work like that. Why? Because burglars do not just burgle houses. Burglaries are all different. Cops are not robots. And somewhere amidst all this, is the victim.

Following steps 1-10 will not produce a high quality of investigation. A well trained Police Officer with good training and empathy will provide a high quality of investigation. Will all those steps be appropriate for every investigation? Obviously not. But will cops have to do them anyway to maintain ‘quality?’ Absolutely. What does this produce? Well it produces waste, and lots of it.

It produces waste for the victim, waste for the cop, and lots of waste for the organisation.

From a narrative perspective, what story does it tell the people involved in the process?

  • Cop: You are not capable of conducting a high quality investigation yourself, we have to tell you how to do it, and if you screw up we will be having words. Followers of the process know their job is done when the steps are complete. Numbers and ticks are VERY important, but my individual skill/opinion is not.
  • Organisation: We highly value the correct administration and compliance of our investigations because we believe that if you follow this process, it will assist us to hit our targets. Targets are good because hitting them means we are providing a better service for our victims. There is an emphasis on conformance, and there is a belief that this brings performance.
  • Victims: The police officer that attended seemed to know what they are doing, they had certain steps to go through but they didn’t listen when I told them about how I was feeling. I’m having issues with neighbours across the road and I needed time and reassurance. They said they would ring me in a week, and then again in a month, I wanted them to ring me tomorrow…
  • Supervision: Your Police Officers are good if they can follow process and administrate properly. They are great with their victims as I know they contact them when the process tells them to. The charts say performance is improving so my staff must be doing a good job.

Although simplified, there are so many problems discussed in these last four points that I can’t do justice to them all. Putting people in process related boxes does nothing for bespoke policing and it dumbs down the officer’s creativity and autonomy. It manages people through numbers and tick boxes, and as we all know, people are not – and never have been – numbers or tick boxes.

Now this discussion is missing one very large point. The processes and targets were brought in because overall, the efficiency of the police and other public services was very poor. They were seen as expensive dinosaurs in desperate need of an overhaul. NPM did just that, and process and practices were brought in that did make the profession tighter, more focussed, and it certainly got people working harder.

Now however, is the time to work smarter. The austerity is biting, and resources are becoming scarce. The steps in those processes that represent waste must be cut out from the bottom up and the top down. The only important question here is which steps are waste, and which steps have lots of value?

How do we answer that question? You guessed it; research. Which of those steps that we do daily generate waste, and which locate offenders? Let’s stop focussing on those reactive steps that follow a burglary, and instead look at the ones that follow a successful detection. Where did that detection come from? What methods are we using that are catching and convicting offenders? Can we improve and focus these steps?

Examples would be:

  • Do a large number of detections happen following House to House enquiries?
  • Do a large number of detections happen through CCTV enquiries?
  • Are fingerprints bringing about successful convictions? Where were they found and who lifted them?
  • Is entry and exit route research a contributing factor to conviction?
  • And the real big questions, is convicting a burglar really the way forward? Are there better ways of dealing with them? What is a success for the victim, and is it different to what the cops would say was a success?

I could hazard guesses at the answers to these questions, but I don’t want to do that as that is how many of the processes were brought into being in the first place. Evaluation of work flow, processes, and ‘successful’ outcomes should happen regularly as a matter of course. This means a solid partnership and connection with academia. Society is changing all the time, and as a result, continual improvement should not be a department that drops in and out of particular areas in the service, it needs to be a pillar of a public service’s operations.

Once the data has been collected, evaluated and conclusions have been drawn, this needs to be merged and connected with professional opinion. It would be nice if it was discussed with victims and offenders too. Being transparent is something that public services often do badly, why not open the whole process from the start? Invite opinion, discuss progress with the workforce and the public through social media? There could be a far greater understanding at the end when conclusions are drawn. Down the line, this could result in Policing being something that police do with the public, instead of doing it to them…

So, there you have it, a whistle stop tour through NPM in public services. In a nutshell, let’s look for some meaning in our process. If it isn’t there, don’t do it. Let’s find the meaning with good research and evidence our decisions when we make them with good professional judgement. Lastly, let’s talk about it.

It’s no use being a big secret is it?

If you want to read a little more on NPM, check out Christopher Hood’s writings on it. They are pretty scathing. Also, a lot of the methods I discuss here are actually rooted in Systems Thinking theory. Read up on a man named Deming, and if you are a cop and interested in dialogue like this, check out @SimonJGuilfoyle ‘s book; Intelligent Policing. The link is here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Intelligent-Policing-Thinking-Conventional-Management-ebook/dp/B00C1JUN5A

I work in a force where Evidence Based Policing is becoming daily business. I hope to bring a few examples through as case studies in forthcoming blogs; watch this space.

Thanks to my ever-helpful proof readers – you are all awesome. 🙂

Daily Business…

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?