At odds and evens.

I don’t often get riled by media coverage, as it is subjective and the agenda of the writer has a big part to play in the content of the article. As long as you are aware of the stance that the writer takes, you can pretty much decipher the bias and add some decent internal critique yourself. The awful criticism that has reared its head over this Leicester experiment tipped me over the my usually horizontal edge, and I had a small rant to myself and a few colleagues about it 😐😐😐

There are a few certainties that we have to work from when looking at this:

  1. Cops have far fewer resources than they had 5 years ago.
  2. Until now, the service has squeezed more from its dropping numbers to maintain service levels.
  3. Cops haven’t – as of yet – ‘stopped’ providing service in particular areas.
  4. Sickness of officers is rising and let’s face it, the track record of the cops looking after their staff is poor within the contemporary context. 

You might call the moment that we are experiencing as a switch in the Zeitgeist, or a paradigm shift. Before I get major pain for using silly words, bear with me, they basically describe a shift in the major current of thinking; a shift in the foundations of perception, or the underlying rules that govern day-to-day decisions. 

It really wasn’t that long ago that Geographic Inspectors were rushing round in March for ways to spend their annual operation budget so it got renewed to the same level (or raised). If the cops wanted an operation sorting, they would dip into reserves or do some internal financial shuffleboard to create a new squad or silo team. There was huge cultural fall out from this, and big performance behaviours that hugely disengaged the staff, but let’s face it, if anyone raised critique, they were often greeted with the, ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’ It didn’t matter that those officers were the vessel for thousands of pounds of training, or that they took with them years of experience. It was essentially, ‘Do it my way, or not at all.’

All this has to change. And we are talking about big-style, majorino surgery. We aren’t talking about cosmetic liposuction, we are talking major limb removal with no available aftercare. All of the behaviours above? Redundant. 

I think it’s fair to say that the leaders that flourished in one culture, won’t fit into the next easily. In fact the cosmetic surgeons who were dealing with Botox are now being called upon for cardiac arrest. This means that something has to happen:

  1. Current leaders must change, and quickly.
  2. Or, new leaders must be found and injected into positions of authority/influence.

In private industry, whenever the bottom line becomes seriously threatened, they will normally bring someone in to take every spare penny out of the running costs as possible, whilst maintaining service/production at previous levels. The Cops are at this point now. If that person can’t bring about the difference needed, money will be quickly shifted into innovation inside the business to open up new avenues of income. Usually this is too late, and companies like Blockbuster just go out of business.

  
They go out of business because other markets have usually overtaken them, and fast. The pace of life and change is crazy and technology is running rampant. If you aren’t innovating with the other innovators you are quickly left behind and the markets crush you.

I can feel the pulses raising as people read this. ‘Policing is NOT a business!!!’ You’re right. It’s not, but in the same way that new technology is putting businesses out of relevancy, cybercrime and the Internet is challenging the police’s relevance and efficacy every day. We are playing catch up with the markets, we are way behind, and we have no centres of innovation and very little creativity. Catching up is going to be painful.

Some people will say, ‘Hey, we don’t need to catch up, leave that stuff to other guys! They can do it better.’ Some will say, ‘That stuff isn’t crime like we usually deal with, leave it over there.’ Some will say, ‘Keep the resources where they have always been, the public have expectations around them and we can’t let them down.’ And finally, some will say, ‘I like kicking in doors and gripping crooks, that stuff isn’t like anything I have ever dealt with and therefore I will ignore it.’

All of these comments are essentially versions of that Blockbuster graphic above. As the pace of life changes, and the cops don’t keep pace, our relevance drops daily. And with lack of relevance comes a lack of funding, and with a lack of funding comes a drop in numbers… Until you have groups of cops, performing formulaic duties as robots embodying their warranted powers. Society is changing now, the cops are doing what they have always done, there is no room for innovation as it stands and there are more cuts to come…

What must happen? (List is not exhaustive 😁)

1. Change must happen, and not change that is forced upon the constantly groaning police. It must come from within the service, and officers and staff must grasp the reins and do their own steering. This applies from the least paid to the most paid. We must find ways of innovating properly, and it must come from risk, not despite it. Bold decisions have to be made about opening a Pandora’s Box and finally grasping the technological aspects of crime – that fall consistently into every crime category. It can not be the usual turn of events to wait 3 years for a Whatsapp report… It just can’t.

2. We also can’t treat our cops like we have done for many years. They can’t be numbers that are shuffled around without challenge as their outside lives are systematically degraded to that of permanent ‘cop’ mindset. If police are suffering mental ill health, it isn’t the fault of the cuts (although they will have contributed), it is the fault of poor management (lots of research on this). Internal functions like refs, occupational health, progression, promotion, professional development, and recruitment must be fair and of high quality. Looking after cop wellbeing is not optional. The environment has changed, we are asking our staff to work at levels of stress far higher than other professions. If you want officers to function, care needs to be a fundamental consideration, not an after-thought.

3. We must also get rid of those activities that add little value – to the victim and the police. The Leicester study is a classic example of good evidence based practice. It selected random houses via odd and even house numbers to test a new deployment system. You can’t discuss you are doing it beforehand, as that completely removes the point of those things being random… The results of the study proved that there was a lot of expensive waste in the system. Some will say, well that 3 hours where that Crime Scene Examiner (CSE) found nothing gave the victim added comfort… It probably did. In that way it has lots of value, but that comfort may be far better provided via a PCSO trained in spotting evidence left by offenders, whilst the CSE is utilised at cases where we know their presence has a good chance of identifying offenders, and cops are dealing with incidents that require their powers. It might be the case that phone contact replaces this altogether, but ask any cop, that is not a step that they wish to take or desire in any way.

This incident is an example of taking the first steps towards a plethora of very difficult decisions that will change the face of policing. This step – although unpopular – will be part of a process that saves jobs, and therefore lives in the future. The cops have not chosen austerity, but if they have to make really tough decisions because of it, wouldn’t you rather have them based on researched evidence? Or, you could always have them do the same old judgement based process on partial data that does not tell the whole story..? We aren’t talking about decisions on where to place your resources, we are talking about not having any (that’s the paradigm shift stuff – shoot me for the terminology if you wish 😕🔫).

Finally, we must deal with the ethical issues around this study. Some will discuss the ‘fairness’ of using odds and evens as a sampling criteria. This happens in medical/psychological and sociological studies every day. It is the equivalent of setting a placebo, and giving the new drugs to one half of the study participants. ‘But this feels wrong in policing,’ I hear. It does, doesn’t it… We have never done this EBP stuff properly before; we haven’t used sampling in this way before; but, we haven’t needed to do major service based heart surgery before.
  

One of the major strands to creating a profession is creating a knowledge base that the whole body of that profession can access and rely on. You can’t do this without utilising research. It might leave a bad taste in your mouth, it might feel like it’s supplanting professional judgement, it might even ‘feel’ unethical… But it’s just a different way of approaching policing that allows really good decisions to be made for the greater good in the future. It will never supplant professional judgement, it will only compliment and strengthen it – that is, if your mind is open enough to consider something new…

The Future of Diversity – it’s not about numbers 

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This is a Red Button Project blog and I make no apologies for it being challenging and – I hope – radical. This is not intended as an ‘attack’ on any person or structure, just an analysis on the situation as it sits now, and a selection of possible ways forward. The premise of this blog is one in which the current rank structures and historical context has been wiped out, it therefore makes a great deal of assumptions. Please, take the assumptions into account with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek, as the blog is not a manifesto for change, but an aspirational manifesto of principle instead. I’m not saying it will all work or indeed that it is even possible. See it as a collection of extremes, discussed so that they can create some debate.

Representation

The concept of representation is a complicated one, not least of which because it relies on one of many assumptions – who, is being represented? If one were to accept that the police were an instrument of the state, then the service represents those that are in elected power at any one time. There are a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that this representation is not subject to wholesale party sway, these being the Rule of Law, and the complicated democratic functions that are intended to ‘self check’ at various points throughout the legislative process. If I was to simplify this concept, you could say that the police as they sit, are very representative of the political establishment, in that those in possession of the decision making processes are predominantly male, white and middle class – a rule which holds true for a large percentage of Parliament.

This has been slowly changing, with increasing numbers of women slowly making it up the policing ladder, and really small improvements in BME numbers too. These trends are positive, but let’s be stark about this, they are too slow and there have been no significant step changes for many years.

Now what if the police are there to be representative of the people? What if there is a seismic shift in ownership taking place, rapidly advanced by global technology? What if the huge rise in transparency and the need for public accountability actually masks a bigger change behind the scenes?

What if the people are taking ownership of the police?

If this is taking place, we are witnessing a removal of power from centrally influenced home office boardrooms filled with middle class white males, to groups comprised of a diverse public, socially enabled by technology rife with networking capability. That mistake that PC 489 made on Central Street? It doesn’t belong to groups of middle-aged white males in boardrooms anymore. It’s the possession of every person that is able to see the incident on CCTV and comment, and it will go viral.

What does policing look like on a stage that is managed by the public? It is a stage managed by the crowd. A stage that lives or dies by the audience that it keeps. Trust is built on public performance, with the crowd taking ownership of the choice of production and all of the ramifications thereof. In an age where secrecy is nigh on impossible due to the free sharing of information, how does a profession that has closed its doors to scrutiny manage under the spotlight of constant media stardom?

There will never be a time again when information of officer wrongdoing is not centre stage. This is the environment that the cops operate in now, and they will live, or indeed die by it.

Decision making

So, the Red Button has been pressed and all existing structures are gone. What if we were to take this current social environment and build something that looked different to what it does now? What base do we work from? The Police as an instrument of the state, or the police as a publicly owned body under constant scrutiny and request? If it were the latter, representation becomes a principle around which a new police force is forged.

Who makes the decisions around deployment, communications and tactics currently? The answer is predominantly middle class white males. The decisions are made in a hierarchical structure that reveres command and control. Control lies with those who hold rank, and as time served is intrinsically liked with rank, those young in service have little to no hand in the decisions made in force. The public also hold little sway, with no mechanism to be involved in the decision making, or the way in which those decisions are realised. The PCC was an aspirational position designed to improve this locally held democratic influence, but if you look at the demographics of the PCCs, you quickly realise that they are again, predominantly middle aged, white males. If this holds true, and you rewind to the recruitment practices of 25 years ago, the senior police roles will now be held by a cohort of people who were significantly restricted by harsh fitness tests and home recruitment visits. There was little difference in the demography of candidates then, and the decision makers as they stand now represent little difference in demography as a result today.

Numbers alone are not sufficient to sideline representation though, as decision makers today can stand for inclusivity and bring those younger in service, the public, and those of rank together to partake in decision making. The results of these decisions will of course represent the public far better because of the inclusive nature of the decision making, but without this inclusivity, the narrative is cursed to remain that of those holding current higher ranks. The outcome of these decisions, naturally falls upon many people, who of course are clearly not comprised of solely middle aged white males.

You would be forgiven for thinking this was a diatribe against tyranny of the middle aged, middle class white male, but it is not, as the issue is not the middle agedness, the middle classness, the whiteness, or the maleness. The issue is that of their dominance, both in number and the positions of control. It stands to reason that there are of course middle aged, middle class white males in the community, and that the decisions made should offer service to this demographic as it should to any other. When a particular demographic holds sway over all decisions made however, without an inclusive process and a conscious relinquishing of their power, the inevitable result is a decision that is profoundly unrepresentative, and the level of scrutiny now being applied constantly will light this up with floodlights – and record it whilst it is at it.

I could give examples of this in action, such as the demonising of youths during the ASB years, the ignorance around policy governing the use of social media, the uptake on new technology, and the willingness to collaborate, most of which are generationally influenced. Had those younger in service been involved in social media policy design, both in cop use and during deployment at incidents, would it look the same as it does now? And I say this with the greatest respect, many of the policies around issues such as these have happened because a particular generation is in control of the development of policy – even if that policy directly affects another totally different generation.

A blueprint?

So a new blueprint for diversity… Is it needed? After the Red Button, the answer is no. There are no problems with diversity as there is no police force, we are building from the ground up, and where do you start? You start with recruitment. Recruitment is a professional process, but it is based upon many years of a dominant cultural control. Instead of asking the police officers currently in post about how they would deal with a job and using that as a base for designing selection exercises, maybe it is time to start asking the public how they would expect officers to deal with it – as those are the questions that will need to be answered when the spotlight is shone. Designing any process needs an aim, and that aim then shapes the process, if total scrutiny is coming, designing recruitment and selection with this in mind must be incredibly important. Officers run the risk of totally scrutiny at any job they attend, resilience as a recruitment competency may be therefore, essential.

What would an inclusive decision making process look like and how do we select leaders who facilitate that environment? Good question. I do know that the current leaders hold the reins of recruitment and that the talent needed for the future will look nothing like the talent that has previously been encouraged. Acting in a constantly shifting, hugely accountable, far more transparent world will require someone comfortable with uncertainty and open to constant challenge. Holding control tight and wielding compliance measures doesn’t sit well with Generation Y, and with the forthcoming development of specialist practitioners, accountability is more likely to be pushed down than sucked up. The future environment won’t require increased numbers of those different from middle aged, middle class, white males, it will require those that recognise their dominance and consciously work against it.

Finally, democratic ownership of the policing budgets is something currently unthinkable. I’ve heard many arguments against it, and the truth is that difficult decisions around budgeting cannot be made without the background information and the complex context that revolves around policing. If you were to throw random members of the public into complicated police decision making they would inevitably falter. This does not however, mean it is not the right thing to do. If scrutiny and accountability is the end result, it can be mitigated through transparency and accessibility in the first instance. Figuring out a way to do this, is absolutely intrinsic to getting representation right.

Representation is not about numbers, it’s not about characteristics, and it is not something that can be solved through policy and control. Representation is about displaying the right kind of behaviour; a behaviour that is not representative of a dominant demographic, but instead inclusive and cognisant of a wider fairness. Achieving this change within the current cultural and structural framework is immensely difficult, as it requires the challenging of dominant and entrenched mindsets, supported by systems designed by those mindsets.

Designing it from scratch would be far easier.

Re-thinking Peel… Or should we?


As you can see, ^^^^^^ this is one of the ‘scene-setting’ blogs for the forthcoming Big Red Button project that aims to source the thoughts and feelings of the frontline, and those that the frontline interact with, for the purposes of generating a new vision about how policing could look in the future. The scenario is thus: The Red Button has been pressed and policing – as we know it – has been wiped out. You have been charged with the re-building of the cops and those that work with them (including the public). What would a police force designed from scratch, built for purpose, actually look like?

So, to start, where to start? Well, let’s start at the beginning… Here are the the Peelian Principles:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Many officers today haven’t heard of these principles, and for a long time they were an afterthought in training, as they gave way to long sessions on legislation and its application. Just reading them provokes significant thought for any cop, as they constantly reinforce cooperation as the mainstay of preventing crime and disorder. Are these principles out of date? Do they reflect a less complex time when crime was far more straightforward? There are many areas that are food for thought, but I will focus on two that got my cogs whirring as I though about this blog.
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

This really twisted my usual train of thought… If as a police officer, you are no different from the public in your duties, you just apply them in a full time role, then the purpose of this principle was to maintain a very active community ownership of crime and its dealings. There’s an expectation here within the principle that the public will ‘get involved’ in the application of legislation and the civil policing of their communities. I guess the most cited example of this would be the ‘citizens’ arrest’.

I think it’s fair to say, that community involvement is decreasing at a rate of knots, as the neo-liberal agenda of individualism persists as the main supporter of capitalist economies. The question on people’s lips is often ‘What’s in it for me?’ Not, ‘How does this help us?’ Neighbourhood policing is being visibly withdrawn, and its function is being changed to resemble response policing via the back door in many forces. An unfortunate symptom of cuts via the application of salami slicing: maintain the functions we have, prioritise, deliver the same in a different way.

Peel seems to argue with this principle, that maybe, it shouldn’t be about keeping what we do and doing more with less, it should maybe instead be about giving more of what we do back to communities. Have we spent the last 50 years sucking tight control of policing functions upwards, instead of cultivating their ownership by the public?

‘Neighbourhood watch’ I hear you say! But look at the way it functions. It ‘watches’, and then devolves that info to the police. It doesn’t design out crime, it doesn’t work on bringing people not-of-like-mind together, it doesn’t function to create glue and cohesion within communities. It watches, reports, gathers info, passes it upwards to the police, who then deal with the problem. If anything, it reinforces separation and divide. Is this a Peelian function? Does it fit with the ethos as it was designed?

Of course, this conversation is far larger than a few paragraphs. I do know that units like the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland are taking an asset based approach to crime, ( http://www.scdc.org.uk/what/assets-scotland/ ) where doing things ‘to‘ the community is redesigned instead to doing things ‘with‘ the community.

Are the police such a separate entity to the public? Where the policing function is sucked up and held and controlled within tight restrictions and policies, or is it just like Peel said, officers are only ‘members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence?’


1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

I hear this discussed a lot, but the two key areas I want to discuss centre around the interpretation of the word, ‘prevent.’ What does this word actually mean and how does it represent itself? How do we as the police interpret that word and what ramifications does that generate in the workplace?

Preventative work is often twinned with the word: ‘pro-active’. An example would be the use of stop and search as a means to prevent further stabbings. ‘Common sense!’ Is the shout. Well, let’s dig into this. What are you preventing when you find that knife? The answer would of course be an immediate stabbing. Does it stop them carrying a knife in the future? Research evidence would suggest not. It may also stop them carrying knives on their person, whilst instead causing knives to be hidden nearby in public spaces, where far more people may access them. Evidence also suggests that the knives are being carried for defence, but defence of what? And the ever important question is why the knives are being carried by anyone in the first place?

The conversation around the use of the word ‘prevent’ in this case is in this case in the ‘immediate.’ The knife has already gone into the pocket, it’s already in their waistband, or strapped to an ankle. The decision to carry was the tipping point in that crime, so in reality the police haven’t prevented any crime when they find the knife, they have just discovered one in progress. Granted, this may escalate had the knife not been found, and that is why finding them is immensely important, but can the function of stop and search be called truly preventative? I would argue not.

So, if the current discussion around preventative methods lies around the immediate, with much preventative work actually taking place after a crime has been committed, are we fulfilling Peel’s vision of this principle?

The tongue-in-cheek comments around getting ‘upstream’ of crime may represent a cultural balking at the change of mindset involved in this. Preventing crime in later life is big cultural change. It represents a complete step away from the ‘here and now’ and into work that may be 10 years ahead in the future. Research suggests that intervention before the age of 4 (new stuff says even earlier) is the key time to bring about changes in future behaviours. How are we addressing this? And before people say it isn’t crime related, it is. It’s just 10 years before the crime takes place. Early Action is a part of long term crime prevention, and prevention is part (if not the fundamental foundation) of the function for which the police were designed. Just because the work is different and doesn’t ‘feel right,’ doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do.

It won’t be a surprise for many to find that the sort of prevention work in Early Action is soft skill based. This is in stark contrast to the ‘hard skill’ base required for the sort of preventative work that cops do now. Which is more culturally acceptable? I shall leave that conclusion to you, the reader.
As I come to the end of this blog, having discussed two of the Peelian Principles, I reflect on what I thought I would find as I thought about this blog. I thought I would find some of the principles outdated and in need of refreshment, but I am asking myself if that is really the case… Is it the case that if we used the principles to design a brand new service, it wouldn’t look like the one we have now? Because if that is the case, it suggests that not only have we departed from Peel over the previous years, but it is possible that we have switched focus entirely.

Policing does not happen in a vacuum, the political environment has a huge influence on policing function. New Labour targets and the counting regime imposed by central govt. has left a lasting and pernicious effect on the landscape of policing. Maybe reverting to Peel as the base for future redesign is not only necessary, but also – in a distinctly retro way – radical.

It’s strange that we can look backwards to look forwards…

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?

Difference, and why it’s hard in the cops today.

I have been studying diversity in the police now for quite a while, and done a lot of reading around research that aims to put the nail on the head as to why there are issues in the police. Before you read any further, this isn’t a blog about protected characteristics like race, gender, religion etc., so don’t expect talk of percentages. Diversity is about difference, but not just bits of difference, all of it.

There’s some work by a gent called Muir from 1977. He suggests a ‘typology’ for policing. What’s a ‘typology’ I hear you ask? Well basically, it is a group of boxes or types, into which you can put groups of behaviour or people. He comes up with four ‘types’ through his research, and these are:

  1. Enforcer – Prefers to use coercive force, legal authority, quick decisions and discusses crime control.
  2. Professional – understands the Police’s role in society and attempts to do the best they can using all the tools in the box. Can use coercion, but does not prefer to.
  3. Reciprocator – Aims to be as helpful as possible. Attempts to empathise and understand everyone, including offenders. Does not like using force.
  4. Avoider – actively avoids using coercion and has little sympathy for people. Of little use to the organisation or the public.

Now, before I discuss this, let’s get the critique out of the way. The research is old, it’s been tested (as best as you can test stuff like this) and it’s been found not to be totally accurate. Fair enough. It does however really chime with me and the people that I know in policing. (You can even see it on Twitter!) More importantly, it has really provided me with a framework within which to discuss difference in the cops. This is known as a heuristic, but I will stop there with the long words as they only bring me abuse 😉

Social capital

What in the world is social capital? Good question. I haven’t totally tied it down yet, but it’s a term that I use to describe the value that is placed on particular behaviours in the workplace. Were I to rate the value on the above 4 types where I have worked, it would look like this:

 
Apologies for crap drawing 😀 

The behaviours that the enforcer show hold pride of place. Lots of enforcement and arrests and catching baddies. It was a type that was greatly encouraged by performance culture, and therefore it could be said that it has a large representation in our current leadership. The Professional also holds a solid place culturally, with lots of process to follow and value judgements to be made. As performance culture wanes, the Professional appears to be taking pride of place in the leadership battle. Reciprocators are often left on the back burner by the other two dominant cultures, and this is where our problems surface…

Avoiders are a toughey. I think that poor treatment of any of the types can create Avoiders, especially with regards to what I am about to discuss. I’m not convinced that they just need to leave the service. Some may, don’t get me wrong, but others may have been cast aside by the dominant type and thus spend their time feeling pretty worthless and shunted out. These people need empathy and support, especially with regards to bringing out their talents.

The issue with difference is a clear one. Enforcers will always want to enforce and use coercion, Reciprocators will want to do the opposite. Professionals will try and do both in some measure, but appear very measured and fence sitting as generally conservative views hold the status quo firm. Now if one of these types holds all the value (think performance culture), then down the line you will get exclusion. One or more of the types will be sidelined and forgotten about – or worse. You end up with a stark imbalance of leadership, and this just forces more exclusion and unhappiness. 

So, how do we deal with this. Well, first Enforcers must see the value in Reciprocators, and Reciprocators must see the value in Enforcers. Professionals can’t fence sit, they must see that this battle is going on and ensure that the right talent goes in the right places. Reciprocators are often awesome in Neighbourhood Policing, Enforcers are absolutely necessary on Tactical Support Units. Both of these functions hold equal value, as the public absolutely need both of them. We just struggle to recognise it in ourselves. 

Diversity is all about inclusion. It matters not if your Enforcers are black, white, Asian, pink, purple or green; they will ultimately display the same behaviours. That is not diversity. The staff might look different, but if they all behave the same there is no real difference at all. A neighbourhood policing team recognising and accepting an Enforcer onto their unit for what they are, and really making use of their talents is inclusion. A Tactical Support Unit accepting Reciprocators and allowing them to work in protest liaison is inclusion. 

Knowing who is who and ensuring a balanced opportunity for progression, in an intelligent way that doesn’t lean too far into a particular type will ensure that exclusion isn’t designed into your workplace in the future. Leaders need to be savvy about who goes where, and know that a diverse team makes far better decisions.

We have to know more about who we are as people, before we assume any right or wrong. If you asked a victim of rape who they would like to attend, they would want a Reciprocator. If you asked someone in a pub fight who they would like to attend, they would like an Enforcer. This is totally cool. If they are cool with it, why aren’t we? 

An important question to ask.

Disclaimer. I am well aware that typologies are a generalisation and lump people into big boxes that aren’t always appropriate. This is really a blog about unconscious bias, and the typology allowed me to frame it in a way that I hope makes it easier to understand. As usual, very happy to receive feedback 🙂

Evidence based policing: a debate of sorts.

This is quite a hard blog to write as the subject matter is quite complicated. Evidence based policing isn’t simple, as nothing is with regards to human behaviour. The ‘based’ bit in the title is also a little dangerous, as it assumes that we may pick up evidence from elsewhere, drop it in without a care in the world, and expect it to work in policing. My tutors up at Canterbury would argue heavily for the word ‘informed’ to replace it, as that still takes into account context, experience etc. Policing has always been seen as taking its roots in a craft, and some of that will inevitably remain solid. Formulaic approaches won’t always work, and discretion will have its rightful place in the policing milieu.

In the past we have had a profession where the craft ruled the roost. Practitioners often designed bottom up solutions, or were given top down initiatives. These were not shared often, and many ‘That wouldn’t work here’ comments were made with abandon. The NPIA were established to offer some standardisation across training and policy areas, but the relationship was strange, and they didn’t fare very well. No one was quite sure how it worked (from a practitioner perspective) and forces seemed to go off on their own regularly with new ideas and programs. Evidence bases were just absent, and often HMIC, the Home Office, or force entrepreneurship decided on programs of work. These were often conducted by favoured consultancies, such as the Quest intitiative. 

The policing landscape kinda looked like this…

(Ignore the arrow for now and pardon the handwriting, it’s hard to write on a tablet!)  

  

The ‘Profession’ was the NPIA/CENTREX and the ACPO committee membership really. The evidence base was being developed by academics on the side, and because relationships were kind of frosty, they didn’t work for the sharing of the evidence base at all. The strategic direction, as such, is now looking to change this. The College of Policing has been created to begin to set national standards and create policy that is based on evidence. Forces are exploring the evidence based stuff independently and through the College, and for the first time orgs like the SEBP (Society of Evidence Based Policing) are gaining a lot of traction. It’s kind of moving towards a model like this:

  
I am well aware that this is a simple model, but I think that you are hopefully seeing what is happening via my crap drawings. 

Now there’s a feeling around the imposition of EBP that is really negative, but it is so justifiable that it has to be explained. EBP isn’t a fad brought in by a group of consultants, nor is it purely an academic practice. Cops on the deck are involved in EBP and making trailblazing headway exploring the relationship between crime and our activity. This is then used by the force doing the work, shared locally, and good practice is then picked up via the College (CoP in the diagram) and shared nationally. This makes sense to me. I understand where it is going and establishing a working body of knowledge is a good idea in my humble opinion.

Are you still with me? Hopefully yes… 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

So… The debate. It makes sense that people see EBP in the light of the last twenty years. It looks like a fad, it looks like another Quest, or another Lean or another… It isn’t a fad. (To be fair some fads are rooted in good evidence and should stick around.) It’s more of a way of thinking rather than a particular method of working. Decisions to change things need to now be justified with evidence, and this can usually take two forms, although they are conflated all the time.

  1. Evidence of the problem – not necessarily evidence of the solution.
  2. Evidence that a solution works/doesn’t work and is/isn’t transferable.
  3. X Factor. (Extra one to be discussed later)

There may be more, but these seem to be the most prevalent. 

With number 1, we may have a problem such as a new version of cybercrime. We do the evidential research to establish what the problem really looks like before designing a solution, but because the problem is new, there may not be any evidence of a solution that works on it. This is where creativity and innovation lie. I have heard people identify problems properly, and then ask for evidence based solutions for them. That can’t happen because we haven’t tried to solve it properly yet. But we have to measure anything we do do to see if it works, which eventually moves us to number 2…

Number 2 is when we know something works because we have tested it. It gets tested properly in many different places, and when we know it works it goes into the body of national work and we know we can draw on it when we need to.
I could discuss context and social class and income and the fact that we are human forever, but if a number of Randomised Control Trials (RCT’s) are completed properly they are really good at showing something works. So, if an alternative disposal initiative is trialled for young offenders and we know it works all over the country, because they are coming into the criminal systems less afterwards, then let’s share that and get it out there properly. In the past this has taken years, and years, and years… 

We mustn’t forget that EBP is not all about crime. People will talk about it incessantly, but do you know what, we are missing a huge trick if we take that stance. The work around wellbeing, recruitment, selection, promotion, and a whole host of other functions is already out there. There’s lots of evidence around employee motivation that we could learn a lot from, and if we take it into account it influences what leadership looks like (see the Leadership Review stuff). If supervision look after our staff and treat them like adults, they work harder and enjoy being at work far more. Complete no-brainer in my opinion.

The X Factor

A) This is the danger area and we need to be all over this. Instead of ‘what works’ it may be far more important to understand ‘why it works.’ That is where true transferability lies. So if we know that letting people work from home in particular circumstances ups their wellbeing and productivity (it does), then why does this happen? Well, it insinuates that when you give employees more control of their lives and give them some autonomy, they enjoy life more and work harder. This is a pretty good principle to explore…

B) whilst we concentrate on ‘what works’, we forget about the people making it work. In other words, does ‘what works’ have a load of unseen cultural issues that may be far more painful than the result. I look at hotspot policing as a great example of this. Enforce it in a draconian fashion and the work becomes mind numbing. It reinforces process led policing, removes human skill and experience, and leads to auditing and compliance. Now that doesn’t sound like fun at all, is there a pain/pleasure debate to be had here? Absolutely. In this instance, making fewer victims in the short term, may lead to major retention and motivation issues, and therefore more victims in the future. 

Eyes wide open.

I really hope that this helps to paint the picture of the landscape a little bit better. Please drop me any feedback in the comments or on Twitter. Please remember that anything critical in here is because I’m trying to add to the debate 😀 The more we approach this stuff without rose tinted glasses, the better the outcome we will get. 

Stubbsy

Crime is falling? No, no and no.

Before I write this blog, I need to put out a few disclaimers. This is NOT a political blog and it is not a tool that should be wielded for political purposes. It is written from my experience and knowledge gained as a police officer in large UK force, and has not been generated as a result of dislike. This is a blog about education and increasing awareness about an argument that is used hastily and without due consideration by many people both inside and outside the public facing world. I’m writing this to help increase understanding, nothing more, and nothing less.

Let me tell you about crime recording…

The first no: Complexity

The statistics that are used on the news and in the papers are generated from two primary sources. One is the British Crime Survey, the other is generated from crime that is reported by police officers in one of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. I was initially trained as a cop for around 5 months, during which time I learned most of the definitions used in everyday crime, verbatim. I can still quote the definitions over ten years later, and use them daily when on the frontline. You would think that the recording systems follow this legislation, but they don’t. The rules around recording are completely different to the classification and charging rules inherent within legislation. 

Why?

This is a good question. I could go through a load of examples around arguments I have had with our crime recorders in force, not because we don’t like each other, but because the rules don’t fit with daily work. The recording of assaults are completely out of kilter with the charging standards. What the CPS would say was Actual Bodily Harm, is nothing like what the recording rules say. What is said in the heat of an emergency 999 phone call isn’t always exactly what happened, but crimes are recorded on the back of these comments despite independent investigation strongly indicating events to the contrary. I can see the rationale for this, as it empowers the victim, but the opposite is true as a result; it disempowers the cops.

I could talk about this all day. Because of these empowerment rules and tight classifications the system is massively complex. This means mistakes are made every day. It also means that there are times when crimes are recorded when independent evidence from witnesses at scene indicate the victim’s account is not all as it should be. There are lots of reasons for this, not least the effect of memory recall after a stressful event. The cops have 3 days to record it or it is recorded automatically. The numbers of recorded crimes therefore sometimes contain huge errors, without any intent on the part of those doing the recording. Why? The system is old, it’s hugely bureaucratic, it doesn’t fit with the organisations that use it, and people are doing the inputs – and they make mistakes. 

At this point I could go into gaming caused by target culture, but this argument has been put across on many occasions by persons more worthy than I. It’s why the crime statistics have recently been downgraded in terms of reliability, and this tells its own story. It doesn’t happen in some forces as all targets have been removed, but targets exist in other forces and there is repeated research proving perverse behaviour around them. Targets skew data; where they exist, a true picture is very difficult to find. When a target is created, the number becomes the focus, and not the victim. Changing the objective like this causes all sorts of unforeseen problems that have been discussed by a PASC enquiry. The activity however around these problems skews our view of crime and crime mapping. If the data is messed with in the first place, how can we rely on it?

The second no: The systems are exclusive

Things are excluded from the British Crime Survey, just like things are excluded from police crime recording. Hey, neither of these reporting systems address cyber crime… I’m going to say that again. Neither of the statistical recording methods that are used to generate the phrase, ‘crime is falling,’ include cyber crime. I’m going to hammer this home. The biggest and fastest growing industry, housing some of the highest value crime, providing the most dangerous systems for exploiting vulnerability, and facilitating connections between very dangerous people, is bereft of crime recording. There is no comprehensive and reliable reporting system that properly captures what is ongoing on the web.

With regards to this, we need to readdress the subject of this blog and make the salient point again. If the picture is incomplete, you can’t draw solid conclusions from the picture. If it’s half the picture, you can guess at what is shows. If the picture is missing one of the main subject matters, you can only speculate. Crime is falling? How does anyone actually know? We don’t record it all…

Aside from cyber crime, there are a number of offences that are also unrecorded. These include traffic offences, some theft offences, offences such as drunk and disorderly etc.. A large proportion of fraud is now dealt with via Action Fraud, and can you guess at whether that stuff is recorded in the official reports? Nope. All of these contribute to the overall picture of what the public would consider as crime, but none are recorded on the systems that matter, so they aren’t subject to comment. 

Crime is down? No. ‘Recorded’ crime is down, and this only represents a portion of the picture.

The third no: The system is reactive

Crimes are recorded when one of two things happen:

  1. The police witness the offence
  2. The victim or a credible 3rd party reports the offence

I think I’m going to do some hammering again. If the victim chooses not to contact the police, and neither do the witnesses, then the crime ‘officially’ hasn’t happened. The implications around this are complicated, because I need to now discuss legitimacy.

When a person trusts in the police and what they do (approx. two thirds on the latest data), then they may be more likely to contact the police if they become a victim. Speculating, if one in three don’t trust the police, will they even report a crime if they fall victim to one? If someone doesn’t believe it’s possible to locate the offender, or they don’t want to go through the stress of going to court, they may never ring the cops. If they don’t ring, it hasn’t happened.

So, legitimacy. If the police do a good job, engage with communities, get good results, help the vulnerable, and are fair in their behaviour, then the trust from the public may be high. This means they may contact the police more, and consequently, crime will appear to rise. When there is higher confidence in the cops, victims could be more likely to use them. What does this mean? Well it could mean the exact opposite of a narrative that is often used, and that is that the cops are responsible for falling crime through great work…

Falling crime may simply be representative of a falling number of reports. It doesn’t necessarily mean that crime is falling. This has been written about extensively, as people within communities think crime is rising, but the official stats say they are falling. Could it be that after almost two decades of target based performance culture, victims feel less confident about calling the cops, and therefore less crime is being recorded? Could it be that the less officers we have on the beat, the less we find offences that get recorded?

The BCS says that it gets around this legitimacy issue by randomly surveying the population. This apparently gets around the issue of confidence in reporting. I’ve just done the sums on the representative nature of the BCS. It too is exclusive in its choices of what is counted as crime. It also surveys approximately 0.06% of the population to generate it’s picture on crime. I shall leave you to consider the effectiveness of this sample in terms of generating a more comprehensive picture…

Far more insidious than any of the issues I’ve discussed above, is the attachment of causality to police. What does this phrase mean? It means that crime goes up or down because of police activity. This is a very dangerous game to play as it provides a narrative to cut police numbers whenever crime falls. I talk about this a lot, but it’s a gross over simplification. Crime is a social product, something created out of a myriad of previous experiences. Think about it, putting out 8 police officers into a city centre or suburban area housing tens of thousands of people, and then expecting them to affect individual’s behaviours inside premises is highly presumptious… at best. I’m not being defeatist, I’m just being a realist. Crime has fallen in many areas because it has been designed out, or because someone has gone to jail, or because a family has moved away or, or, or… Crime does not belong to police, and police are not responsible for causing it.

I don’t want this blog to end on a negative note. The stats state that confidence in the cops is high in comparison to many other public professions and that is something to be proud of. The issue with legitimacy is just discussed because it highlights a significant weakness in the way that crime is recorded. There are other elements at work too, like only the primary (or most important) crime being recorded, public order offence ambiguity, complex and long winded offences like harassment being reported in one single report, and the list goes on.

This blog isn’t here to offer any answers, it’s just there to assist with clearing the waters. Black and white arguments are rarely thus. In this case it’s far more gray than many even comprehend. Next time you hear the comment that crime is falling, recall the issues discussed here and have a think. And while you’re at it, have a look over what’s been discussed and ask a few more questions too:

  • Are police really responsible for instances of crime, or are the causes of crime far more complicated than the numbers of cops on patrol? Societal issues like cohesion, poverty and culture may be far more influential than how many cops are on patrol at any given time.
  • If we wish to use the phrase and give it some credence, what needs to be included and who would be responsible for recording it?
  • If cops aren’t responsible for the causes of crime, what are the causes and how do we really influence them?

I’ll leave it there. Is crime falling? 

No, no, and no. It’s changing, and the systems we use to record it are not keeping pace.

Ask the audience?

Sorry to steal mercilessly from a very well known TV quiz show, but I think the time is coming when the cop’s lifelines are running out. We’ve phoned a friend and consulted mgmt experts in other fields, gone 50/50 and removed some of our ‘luxury’ services (which were anything but) and now we are left with turning to those that we serve. 

There’s a tipping point coming, and if you can’t feel it, then have a look around and listen to what is being said at the top of the service and by those in government. Thee are more cuts in the pipeline no matter who gets elected, and the cops have trimmed to a buzz cut, there’s not much left to go. 

And so, difficult questions are on the horizon. These questions are around what the cops do, what they are seen to do, and what the public can expect. There has already been several talks this week from the Commissioner of the Met and the head of the Superintendent’s association, where there have been frank – but still positive – discussions about what the public can expect from the future. I think that although we can discuss this in a positive way – as there are ways we can innovate and become more efficient – there is a stark reality underneath, that all you get for less, is less.

So what does this ‘less’ look like? Well, for me it looks like change. The salami slicing is over, the overall structures that have remained in place for many years are reaching ultimate stretch. They will break if cut anymore, so it is likely that the structures will shift and the functions will change. Many will discuss refusal of attendance in some instances, and this may be appropriate due to the ‘mission creep’ that has beset the service, but be under no illusion, there’s a lot of risk in that there creep. Those decisions are not easy. Others may discuss emergency services amalgamation, and in places this may work, but the ill-fated Fambulice as it was dubbed, just won’t work. If people bemoan a lack of training for frontline practitioners now (and they do, justifiably), how can you expect them to take on further responsibility?

Whoever makes these decisions has to be incredibly brave, and they then bear the brunt of the risk associated with it. Leadership is hard won and hard to maintain, so although some may make the leap at the head of the service because they are brave people, should they be the ones giving Chris Tarrant the answer to the million pound question?

Several years ago the PCC function was introduced as a means of affecting accountability and increasing democratic participation. We could discuss the efficacy of such a measure for some time, with detractors and supporters putting forward equally valid views. Currently, they are in place for the foreseeable and are responsible for scrutinising the policing function and providing a conduit from those that call the cops, to the cops themselves. Similarly, Scotland is working on developing their democratic accountability and participation, and are operating under the belief that the public are far brighter than they are given credit for. I think that this is a valid view, so is it possible to expect more real engagement from the PCC’s to help with this million pound question? The function is there, so why not?

The cops, like many public/private services, are still wrestling with command and control leadership. And it is the misunderstanding around the ‘control’ of information and policy that may be the sticking point for this shift towards participation. “Surely, we must know better, when it comes to deploying police resources? We know our business and we know what works,” may be the rebuttal. What does this assume? It assumes that the people that use and feel the benefit of the service don’t know what they ‘really’ want, and that the cops are far better placed to make that choice.

This may be true. But why? Is it true because the information the public need to make an informed choice isn’t there? Is it true because the democratic representation from PCC’s resembles more broadcast than engagement?  Is it there because the structures have always assumed ‘control’ of info exists within the cops, and that having control is a good thing?

***

I recently read, ‘PR is Dead’ by Robert Phillips. It’s a great book, but many will say that it’s content is not applicable to the police. On the contrary. It discusses a paradigm shift from companies being in control of their information and spinning it accordingly, to the control falling to the citizen. Social media is forever changing the landscape that we live in. The debate is public, bad news is aired immediately, and it is taken and distributed with abandon. You can’t control that, and trying is futile. Companies that are developing better ways to allow customers control of their choices, and constantly learning from them, are performing far better than those that still believe in spinning the truth. Honesty is the best policy, because then the decisions are collective, and not a futile attempt at control over something that is well and truly alive. I have heard on many occasions, ‘We don’t want to set hares running.’ Unfortunately, there’s an organised sports event in the meadow and they are running the marathons and sprints as we speak…

***

Why the deviation? It’s simple. Is it time to ‘Ask the Audience?’ The PCC’s may be just the people to do it… If the police lay out the information about what they do, how they divide up their service, and the demand they receive, it just might be possible that the public – being brighter than they are often given credit for – may help inform the tougher decisions. This does two things:

  1. It gives the public a greater understanding around what the cops do and the difficult choices they have to take.
  2. It manages the expectations about when they should/shouldn’t call for assistance because their decision is better informed.

How does this happen? It happens with the Internet, and social media, and it happens through real conversation. Broadcasting stuff is a one way street, and it implies that the function of social media is one way. Well, it’s not, it’s about networks, and conversations, and empathy and debate. Embracing it and using it to offer real and honest debate with the public may just be the beginning of a shift in leadership. Heroic leadership and the all-knowing super human is not a model that chimes with a vibrant platform like Facebook or Twitter. The public want a voice in this discussion and it is possible to actually go looking for it…

Asking the Audience may just result in that million pound jackpot where unnecessary demand falls and the public have realistic expectations about what it is the cops can really do in an age of austerity. Let’s ask Chris, we did pretty well to get this far without running out of lifelines, didn’t we?

Looking up and looking down. Police promotion and cultural influencers…

Writing about police promotion is such a dangerous pastime. It is possible for readers to think that you are discussing the quality of those promoted, or be personally criticising those that work within the police promotion system. Neither of these is true. To use a well known quote from the best TV series ever (The Wire), ‘It’s all in the game.’ If you want to be promoted it stands to reason that you play the game that is requested of you, by those that will ultimately decide whether you are promoted or not. There are lots of ways to look at this, but the fact that this phenomena exists tells us nothing about the people that manage it successfully.

You will often hear – both on the parade room floor and on Twitter – “They are all the same,” “They take the corporate pill and change,” “They used to be one of us, but now they want promotion they are becoming one of them.” This is normally associated with lashings of the rumour mill around who plays golf with who, and speculation on Masonic membership etc. What is the story that lies behind these mutterings? What is happening here? Why is there an ‘us and them’ dialogue that requires change in behaviour for the candidates to be promoted? What does this change look like in people and why is it happening?

I have researched around this extensively, reading from many different walks of life. But, this learning is supplemented by real life experiences and many discussions with some pretty experienced people. If there is a problem here, what does it actually look like?

The Corporate Pill.

Hearing this phrase regularly, I didn’t give it much thought. It’s normally accompanied by, “It’s what you have to do,” or similar. Is there a change that is required between team member and team supervisor? Why is it described in this way?

I’m going to write this as if I was the example for illustration purposes, but what follows isn’t a ‘real life’ example, so to speak.

Well, of course there is a change. Moving from someone who does the daily work, to someone who leads whilst doing it requires a change in behaviour. That’s fair. There’s new responsibility attached to the role, and your team are now your charges. In my opinion, it is your sole job to make their life easier. As a leader, you work harder so they don’t have to. It’s not about putting layers of bureaucracy or tick boxes in their way, it’s about removing them so that they can do their job much easier. Making your team happier brings the team together and they are proven to work harder, the happier they get. Officers joined the police to help people, work hard, and go home safe, if you enable that, then as first line supervisor I reckon you are hitting it about right. Oh, and buying cakes. Very important.

But wait, I would like to lead like this, but would my bosses want the same thing? I want to look down and focus my efforts on my team, what if my bosses don’t agree? What if my bosses want numbers? What if they see looking after the troops as a fad? What if their career is their priority, and me spending my time looking down at the troops isn’t helping? What if my style of leadership doesn’t gel with theirs?

Well, it’s simple. If I wish to progress, I have to swallow the pill, and give the bosses what they want. If I forego what I want to do, in favour of what they want from me, I am far more likely to get promoted. If I deliver what the bosses want, and make myself more visible to them, then I’m assisting my own chances of promotion. What is happening here? Well, I am starting to look up…

The problem is, you only have so much time in the day. So when I start looking up, one of two things happens… I am less able to look down as much as I would like, so my support for my own team suffers, or I put in extra time to do both. If I put the extra hours in, it’s possible to get the bits done for the bosses, but also really support my team. Well it is, but not if you want a life outside of policing. If you want a family, and a home life, and to protect your fitness and wellbeing, then you simply can’t do both. So what many really good supervisors do, is carry on looking after their team and just forget about promotion. That pill is too bitter to swallow and the price is too high.

But there are others who will really look up. It’s here that the issues with cop culture start to rear their heads. You can only get so much visibility in the cops because of the hierarchical nature of the organisation, so looking up and ‘delivering’ can be tough. It requires a lot of effort, and as such the looking down can really suffer. These are the people that receive the label ‘Careerist’ as most of their focus is on securing the support for the next rank or promotion.

The issue here however, is not the people involved in this practice, it’s the culture and system that supports it. If culturally the police require visibility at the upper ranks for promotion, and you hear feedback such as, “We don’t know you up here. You need to get yourself known.” Then problems are afoot, because the value of your career lies in looking up. If we were to look at that interaction through the eyes of values based promotion, then two things happen:

1) Those people who serve their bosses best get promoted as they are most visible and accessible to them through looking up.
2) Those people with the strongest values around supporting their staff are overlooked because they spend too much time looking down.

So what is really happening here? We can see the balance issue around what is required of candidates. It’s clear, and there are issues around team support etc. But there is an underlying problem, and one which really needs addressing. The priorities of the people selecting for promotion, automatically exclude a large cadre of great leaders who are really working hard for their staff. I don’t need to discuss what this may do to the talent pool’s diversity… Needless to say, there is a group of great and valuable talent, with strong ethical values, who may be simply unknown to senior members of staff. The hierarchical culture creates the distance that makes them invisible, the difference in value placed on looking up makes them inaccessible, and them wanting some semblance of home life makes them appear uncommitted.

How do we find this group of people? It’s really simple, we go looking.

To solve a problem, you can’t use the same thinking that you used when it was created. We can’t expect hierarchy to support a new kind of candidate. The culture won’t let that happen. So, how do we step outside of the current structure and make it work? Well, there are many different ways to look at it, but the simplest is to stop placing value on those that continually make themselves most visible to senior mgmt, and go looking for those that you can’t see… There’s latent, good quality leadership going on day-in, day-out, but because their values don’t sit well with looking up, many bosses won’t even know they are there. When have the police ever practiced pro-active talent mgmt? It happens very rarely, it’s always reactive. The candidate always strives and pushes, and puts themselves forwards for projects, and does extra over and above. The important question isn’t how much work they are doing, it’s how is that work distributed? Is the candidate playing the game, at the cost of looking down, because if they are it may be worth questioning their attitude towards their team. And as usual, the more important question isn’t around the individual, it’s around whether the organisation is demanding it from them and enabling that switch in values from a team based focus, to a focus on looking up. If the culture wants it/demands it, ambitious candidates will always deliver it.

To sum up, the culture is creating an environment where looking up has always held great value for career progression. How much value for the public or the staff is there in that decision? How can that value be tipped on its head? How can we find the shut-down talent? Is it about values realignment? If it is, what does that look like and how do we create a system that helps with this? Is it time to find the balance between those that work hard for their team, and those that have the potential to work at higher levels in the organisation? Why do we always demand extra work that creates rifts in home life from the candidates? Why can’t the organisation and the Mgmt. put some real effort into speaking with the staff and finding this latent talent? Where are the candidates that care so much about looking down, that they are simply invisible?

All very valid questions…

Are you looking down, or up?

Evidence based policing: some concerns…

Evidence Based Policing: the bad bits…

 

I’ve already blogged about the benefits of bringing EBP into the workplace, and I could write another three entries on why it is so important, but balance in this area is absolutely necessary. There will be plenty of people who see some real threat from Evidence Based Decision making:

  • Will it affect my discretion on the frontline?
  • It’s very inhuman?
  • It’s very slow.
  • I don’t understand this stuff. I’ve had no training and it’s just another fad that will go away.

Will it affect my discretion on the frontline?

In a technical way there is no possibility that Evidence Based Policing can affect your discretion. If you are a sworn constable then your decision making is your own, and I would urge you to exercise that independence, especially when confronted with requests/situations that you dislike. Constructive dissent, or to put it another way, constructive challenge, is absolutely necessary to a healthy working environment. Work it through with your supervision and see if you can reach consensus, but if you can’t, don’t be afraid to say no and justify that appropriately.

Evidence Based Policing fits into this very nicely, it’s a bolt-on to your current knowledge. So, for instance: if you knew that arresting 14-16yr olds for criminal damage was actually strongly linked to further damage offences from them, when RJ was proven to reduce them, it stands to reason that when presented with a 14-16 year old who had committed damage, your decision making has now been made more informed. It does not preclude you making an arrest, in fact, far from it. It just advises you that if the aim is to reduce further offending, then RJ may be the way to go.

Your discretion is always there and will not be removed by the provision of better information.

It’s very inhuman?

Do you know what? It is. It can be clinical, it can be numbers centric, it can be complicated, and you need to be trained in it to fully understand it. All of this is true. But as a frontline practitioner, you don’t need to fully understand it, you just need to be able to use it.

I personally think that getting the frontline practitioner involved in research is the way forward. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between academia and policing. It also develops your staff, aids understanding, and adds to the evidence base that the College of Police is collating. The more evidence we collect, the better the decision making for the practitioner.

“So what about the human bit? Coppering is a craft.” Yes, you’re right if you are thinking this. Every situation that presents itself is different. The people are different, the places are different, the relationships are different etc. That’s actually why policing is so special. The police are experts in unpicking societal ills on the hoof, what happens when numbers take over?

I could wax lyrical about performance culture for many hours, and discuss how crime recording brought a public service to its metaphorical knees. It would however, only be a repetition of a subject that has now been brought out into the open. You would be right to mistrust numbers, or perhaps more correctly, you would be right to mistrust the behaviours that sit around the use of numbers. Is there a danger that further use of evidence (in numerical form) may bring about abuse? The short answer is yes. Take the above example for instance. As a line supervisor, if I know that 14-16 year olds are less prone to repeat offending if an RJ disposal is used, I could always sell it as the right thing to do when one of my cops attends such an incident. I could therefore make that a requirement, and begin to utilise compliance behaviours, underpinned by the evidence based policing stick – and I could make that stick as big as I wanted.

Is this a risk?

Yep.

So, how do we address this issue? Bringing evidence based policing into policing requires leadership. Not the sort of leadership that is assisted via the use of sanction, but leadership assisted with knowledge and empowerment. It must be accompanied by trust of the frontline, a bolstering (not an erosion) of discretion, and constant reminders that cops are professional people selected for their decision making ability. Don’t use the numbers for enforcement, mandating change via compliance and sanction. The numbers should be used to enable cops to make better decisions, decisions that will ultimately fit their purpose far better than those we already have.

Evidence based policing is about helping cops to confidently stand alone. It is not about ‘making them comply.’

It’s very slow.

Yes, yes it is. In fact systematic studies can take years and years. The product from them however is far more reliable, than doing any sort of quick and dirty study. A good study may take a year or so, but inform on practice for twenty years ahead. The return on them is good value, don’t write them off. Doing it right is worth far more than anything that ultimately happens quickly but provides nothing. Fast-time decision making is for command based critical incidents, slow paced, informed decision making is for making a difference.

I don’t understand this stuff. I’ve had no training and it’s just another fad that will go away.

I could be mistaken, but if this is a fad then we have got policing very, very wrong. Learning about our profession, our behaviours, and how they affect each other is never a futile exercise. If you are relying on experience and experience alone to inform your views, then it is well worth remembering that your personal experience is a truth visible only to you. No one else has been through those experiences and their best application is in your own world, using your own behaviours. Kicking those opinions out into everyone else’s space may not be the best path to tread, as everyone else’s truth will be very different.

I know that sounds like mumbo jumbo, but it basically says that your experience is yours, it’s not everyone else’s. Collecting, gathering and sifting your experiences, together with many other people’s, is likely to turn up some common themes. It is these themes that can inform on future decision making so effectively. If this is a ‘fad’, then we might as well stop using most of the world’s medicine and medical treatment, as these came from methodical and painstaking study – mixed with tinges of brilliance. I would like to know that if I am involved in an initiative that is unique and truly works, I can prove that it works and the policing can start using it – instead of it going into the pocket of a future leader as a board example (I think those days are gone, but it’s worth remembering them).

I shall finish on the, ‘I don’t know anything about this stuff…’ bit.

Really? If you want to read about it it’s all over the web. Just take some time and learn about it. It will help. Battling from a position of ignorance is a certified waste of time. If you choose not to trust evidence based policing, then that’s cool, just go and learn about it so that you understand your position a little better. The times of spoon-fed training are over, simply because the police can’t afford it. Police and staff can take control of their own development and learn hard every day. The info is out there and it is easy to access.

Evidence based policing may bring up some not-so-distant feelings of mistrust. Before jumping to any conclusions about it, go and find out some more. It’s going to affect every police officer/staff’s job so we might as well know as much as we can about it.

Leadership and evidence based policing go hand in hand in the future. One will simply not survive without the other. The bad bits are mainly there through existing culture in the police, and as a part of that culture, any cop can begin to bring about a change, however small. Change is ours, it’s no one else’s. It’s up to us to make it happen.