We like evidence here, we don’t like it here…

There appears to be a gathering crescendo of force behind the wave of Evidence Based Policing, and it is slowly building corporate momentum. I first heard of Evidence Based Policing on a course run by the College of Policing several years ago, and like many things that take my fancy, I went and read up on it painstakingly. The premise is really simple; in fact, it’s so simple that some people seem to be making it far more complicated than it really is. Here’s the crux, wrapped up tightly in an operational bow:

Every day we approach cases in the criminal justice system in the same way. We attend the incident, speak with witnesses, gather evidence, apply a process to that evidence, and then present it before our decision makers. The decision makers (Sgt’s, Insp’s, and the CPS) know the rules about where the evidence needs to be before a charge is issued. There is then a rigorous process of checks and balances applied to that evidence in full view of everyone in court to ensure that it is robust. It needs to meets the threshold needed to hold up a conviction.

Are you with me? Hopefully: yes, as this is bread and butter stuff.

Evidence Based Policing is about applying the same process to decision making in the workplace. The decisions could be around Missing From Homes, Restorative Justice, response times or statement taking, but the process surrounding the decisions has the same rigour as described above. We take the evidence around lots of decisions and speak with the practitioners/experts, we then assess how good that evidence is and whether the methods used to collect it hold up to scrutiny (exactly like the CPS or the courts). Once we are happy that the evidence is sound, conclusions are drawn about what it indicates, and that knowledge is fed back into the workplace to help make decisions in the future (the verdict – or setting precedent if you like).

And that’s it.

Yes, it is that simple.

 

But people are talking about it like it’s the next ‘in thing’ and that just puts me right off.

I fully appreciate that there are lots of fads that hit the workplace, but this is not a fad. Medicine has been using evidence based methods for hundreds of years, and they have resulted in some of the best decision making in the world of work. The evidence is in place for immensely complex operations, and before anyone says that Policing is a social issue and not a science led one, doctors and nurses everywhere will tell you that professional judgement still holds a very important place in the decision making process. Every situation is different and every patient is unique. Sound familiar?

But the bosses are all going on about it and saying it in meetings and no-one knows what it is on the parade room floor.

This is a huge problem and illustrates one of the major issues with EBP. There is distinct difference between what could be called DMT (Duty Management Team) and SMT (Senior Management Team). The percentage of time spent assessing and working on real incidents on DMT, is far higher than that of SMT. The pressure of the radio and real life unfolding events is immense, and DMT often do not have time to think about developing themselves and running full debriefs when the incidents are coming in thick and fast. Is it any shock that incredibly busy front line practitioners working extended and unsocial hours don’t pick up the books when they get home?

It is this gulf between ‘real’ bobbying and strategic bobbying that causes a cultural rift. Words often used are ‘removed,’ ‘lack understanding,’ ‘they don’t know what it is like.’ (They are the polite versions.) Well the truth is that they are operating in two different spheres, and getting them to meet in the right way is very difficult. The trick is to be very cognisant of this and actively working to link the spheres daily. It’s important that ‘strategic b***ocks’ becomes operationally sound, because if it doesn’t, it will just remain in that strategic sphere for ever and a day, with it being the butt of many quips on the parade room floor.

But I’ve been using evidence in my decision making for years!

You probably have. But it’s anecdotal and based on eminence. (More strategic b***ocks there.) Basically, the evidence is based only on your own experience, it doesn’t draw on many other people’s, and despite the fact that you personally may be amazing as a cop, there are plenty of others around the world that meet that bar too. Wouldn’t it be better if we can pool all that experience, evaluate it, and then send it back out to make your decision making even better?

 

So there you have it. There are some solid benefits of EBP, and hopefully I have helped to make it slightly easier to understand. Next time you hear the words – normally from an uppity young sprog who actually has time to read outside of work – ‘What’s the evidence base for that?’ Have a think about what they are asking. They are simply saying, ‘Have you thought about the fact that this decision may have been made thousands of times elsewhere, and that we could do with that info?’

That sounds like something we do on a daily basis all the time when we gather evidence and take it to the CPS… but there’s no resistance to that is there?

 

More blogs coming with some of the drawbacks too. Nothing’s ever perfect is it? 😉

Red is the new black – Why detections aren’t all that.

Although slightly cryptic, the title actually says everything that I would like to say in this forthcoming blog. If a crime record remains ‘red’ on police systems, it does not mean that the investigating officers have done the wrong thing. This blog is a discussion about synecdoche, and how damaging it can be for any public service that believes that targets are the way to go. A few definitions for you first:

 

Detection: Police will gain a ‘detection’ for their statistics if an offender is identified, and one of a number of ‘sanctioned’ disposals is applied. These include a range: conviction, caution, reprimand, fine etc. When you get a ‘detection’ the crime turns from red to green on the system.

Synecdoche:
A figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in England lost by six wickets (meaning ‘the English cricket team’).
Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/synecdoche

 

So, I hadn’t heard of ‘synecdoche’ before I stumbled across it in a scholarly article by Hood and Bevan (2006). The article was around gaming practices in public services, or if you are simple like me, fudging the figures to make it appear like you are performing better than you are. This has been recently brought to light via the whole crime stats debacle, but more importantly it is not isolated to just crime stats; it is a product of New Public Management and the culture that is has created across public service. (See previous blog if you want to know about New Public Management.)

The linguistic premise centres on referring to a whole cricket team, using the single term: ‘England.’ So a large group of people, working collectively within a set of rules, competing against an opponent, and encompassing all sorts of national identity related attributes, are referred to in one word. Is that word adequate? Many would say yes, as long as the context is so well known that the single word tells a huge part of the story. i.e. Everyone knows that when you talk about cricket and the national team, the term ‘England’ will suffice as a descriptor. Everyone has grown up with it, we all know what it means, and we know what it is referring to.

England,’ when used to describe a national team – for want of a better word – works.

Are you with me so far? (Hopefully the answer is yes.)

So what has this got to do with detections? This is an important question. I would speculate that the word ‘detection’ has become the Police’s term for ‘England.’ It means success, it means satisfaction for the victim, it means the officer did their job, it means the offender was dealt with ‘justly,’ it means that there was a product. The cop delivered. The Police got a detection; that means that all the positive things police associate with crime and its investigation reached end game. It means the cops won. If you work as a cop, how many times have you heard the following:

Is there a detection in it?

Can we turn it green?

Turn out to this one, it’s an easy detection.

Not another. We’ll never detect this.

I’ve too many reds on the board this month.

These are a part of the daily narrative in many work places, and something that sets the tone for what Police on the front line believe represents ‘good’ work. It represents industriousness, commitment, quality, and the victim is always happy with a detection aren’t they?

 

Or are they? Let’s look at the perverse behaviour that may happen around detections and detection rates:

  • Turning a shoplifter green and a murder green represents a single tick in the green box. If you are looking at overall detection rates, it doesn’t take rocket science to know that if you target lots of minor offences such as shoplifting and public order, you get lots of green ticks. You will have seen the fall out of this in all the media around the criminalisation of youths for very minor offences such as stolen Mars bars etc.
  • Improving your detection rate happens by default when you lower the total number of crimes, so non-reporting or the moving of crimes into other categories raises artificial detection rates across serious categories such as Robbery or Burglary.
  • There is significant pressure around the gaining of TIC’s – or offences that are taken into consideration. These are offences that are added to a conviction, without them being run as separate offences in the courts system. They are a way to ‘clear up’ larger numbers of crimes, if you will.
  • Charging far more minor offences to detect the crime, when the harder to prove offence was in the ‘have to wait a few months and we need the stats now’ box.
  • Providing faster responses to crimes where a detection was likely to be present.
  • Manipulating shifts and resources into back end investigation to bolster detection numbers, and ignoring forward looking preventative work.
  • Creating squads and silos for particular crime categories in order to micro-manage the demand in and out.
  • Creating huge numbers of remits.
  • A disproportionate amount of resources are spent on crime. What about public value? What about community confidence? What about safeguarding? I could go on.

Now all these happen on the inside. They happen to cops working on crime and the support workers around them. The story is strong in the workplace, much like ‘England’ conjures up images of a cricket team in the right context, ‘detection’ conjures up a particular way of working. Cops want that positive result, everything is lined up to provide it, and as the police are nothing if not committed, boy did they deliver.

Detection rates have been at record levels in many forces, as the industry of providing them has flourished.

 

Now let’s look at what happens on the outside.

  • Victims are told that their crime is detected. ‘But what is a detection?’ they ask. Well as a Police Officer you explain it, but they seem more interested in why you haven’t rung for 2 weeks and what they have been sending them over Facebook whilst you investigated it. You try and explain that you have been busy, but you knew that a detection was coming, so you waited to ring them and give them the final result. It’s not final for them though. They now have an impending court appearance. They have a load of stress on the horizon, but you’ve done your job. You detected the crime. It’s green now. Pass the job onto witness care and your work is done.
  • Victim is told that their crime is detected. ‘But why did you do that? I only wanted him talking to,’ they say. Well again, as a Police Officer you explain it. You wanted that positive result, to turn it green, and the disposal was only a caution because they admitted it. It’s off your screen now and the boss has stopped bugging you about the job. You did have that chat, but you went the extra mile and added that disposal as well. The outcome here is an unnecessary criminal record and a dissatisfied victim, not to mention higher levels of fallout afterwards.
  • Victim is told that their crime is detected. ‘Does that mean I have to go to Court now? I don’t want to go to court. I told the officer that at scene,’ they say. As a Police Officer you describe why it is in their best interests to go to court and finalise this issue. You tell them it’s also in the public interest, and that they will only do it again if there is no deterrent. The victim now feels like the Police are telling them how to feel and what they as a victim, want. The Police are imposing the detection upon the person that asked for them to come and help; they didn’t ask for a 6 month debacle with cancelled court dates and travelling expenses.
  • Can’t detect it?
    Not interested. The better service is rolled out for those crime classes that see the higher number of detections. Unfortunately, victims don’t know about crime classes. They are interested in feeling reassured and informed. An evidence base around this can help, and there are no easy choices in this department.
  • CPS receive file following a Police charging decision.
    ‘Why has this been charged? It’s not in the public interest to pursue this,’ they say. Thus kicks in the mighty wheels of justice and thousands of pounds of expenditure organising a case file and court appearance. Well, at least it’s green, say the cops.

 

So what is going on with all this? There’s a few things going on. The Police narrative, or story, has overpowered the fact that they are part of a wider system. Performance has become the bible and detections have become the holy grail. The mission to deliver has meant that the Police have concentrated on only a small part of the service, and used it to represent the whole of it. I should refer you to the definition of Synecdoche above, but I reckon that you have the gist by now.

There’s a couple of things that I need to mention. Detections are very important. They represent the bringing of an offender before the justice system, in one way or another, and often they are aligned with what the victim wants. They are absolutely necessary and should be the subject of a huge amount of Police effort (especially in certain cases and categories). However, they should not be the subject of all of the effort. That would suggest – as has been incorrectly stated on more than one occasion – that the Police only dealt with crime. The Police do not just deal with crime, but when they do, the narrative around the detection should be a collaborative one. What does that mean? It means working on the case with the victim and other parties, and not working on the case as a simple opportunity to turn a red; green. It would be nice to start to see non-court related options like Restorative Justice used more in these areas, too.

And what’s up with red anyway? What if the victim wants it to be red? What if they just want it recording, despite the fact that they know who did it? What if they don’t want the court appearance? What if the offender apologised and they are perfectly happy with that? Why is that seen as ‘bad’? Why is it seen as something negative? This month, several victims weren’t bothered about convictions for minor criminal damage because the offenders were the neighbour’s kids. This meant the detection rates are lower this month. OK, ask the question: ‘So what?’ What does that actually mean? Well actually, it means that the victims didn’t want the police to detect the crimes, so they didn’t. That sounds like providing a bespoke service to me…

But wait, if that is the case, and victims have some sway over the detections, then detection rates actually represent something that the Police do not have sole control over… And that might mean, that the Police can only use them as a measure, rather than using them to set targets… And that might mean, that it will go up and down naturally no matter how hard the police work… And that might mean, that detection rates are simply part of a system of interdependent factors that often change their minds and shift their needs… And that might mean, that regular fluctuations in them don’t really mean anything…

 

So, detection rates may not be a very valuable indicator of how ‘good’ the Police are, if they are seen/used correctly? Yes, indeed.

 

Get rid of that synecdoche in your workplace. The Police and detections are part of a much wider system, of which detection rates play a part, but not the whole. Crush that story if you can, release officers from the context of internal led process that means little to the victim and see each crime as a standalone. Acknowledge the complexity of the police’s job as what it is. Stop managing numbers that represent a small part of the function and start managing people instead, because:

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make… And you only get one chance to play it out.”

Charlie Kaufmann

 

 

Refs:

Bevan, G. Hood, C. (2006) What’s measured is what matters: Targets and Gaming in the English Public Health Care System. In: Public Administration Vol. 84, No. 3, 2006 (517–538)

For more info on the crime stats enquiry, visit here: PASC enquiry

For info: My force is moving very steadily in the direction discussed in this article. If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to drop me an email.

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?