Unfolding some rumours about the EQF…

So, I have finally – after vowing I wouldn’t – decided to come and discuss the Educational Qualification Framework (EQF) for Policing. Why should I come into the debate? Good question really. I guess first, I’m a cop, so it affects me, and it affects the people that I am working with. I have also just finished working on the Leadership Review, part of which included some research on whether education was an important part of future leadership. Indeed, I also did a lot of the comparative work on the EQF, looking at how other jobs structured their professions from start to finish. It totally opened my eyes.

The reason I’ve decided to blog, is that the info that is out there is sparse. I can’t comment on other’s communications, or indeed other people’s opinion, as it is theirs. I also don’t contend how people ‘feel’ about this. It is their prerogative and totally individual. I can shine a light on some of the research that I found and why a lot of the myths/concerns around at the minute don’t stack up. It may help paint some foreground and some background into the debate, and context is always so important.

Brace yourself, it’s a long one…

Current research evidence and making an evidence based decision

The current research around this in the UK is very, very sparse. There have not been many studies on whether being a graduate increases the quality of the officer. People have assumed that this is a major driver for its introduction, and this is just untrue. Cops up and down the country are making difficult decisions in complicated circumstances all the time, and doing so with great compassion and skill. Indeed, within environments where we work with partners, cops are often the only ones without a qualification, yet their performance still causes them to become leaders in those fields.

So, if there’s no evidence in the UK that suggests cops need to be graduates, why should we consider it?

Research elsewhere does indicate that certain things do happen. There’s good evidence from the US (in research terms) that puts together many studies, that shows that graduate officers use less force than non-graduate officers – and before you say that’s because they avoid confrontation, that was ‘controlled for’ in the studies, and there is no difference in arrest rates. There is also good evidence that graduate officers receive less public complaints.

There is weaker evidence across a number of studies that only hit low levels on the Maryland Scale of Evidence (this means that they aren’t as rigorous). These indicate higher levels of empathy/emotional intelligence and higher uses of alternate disposals. I would be loath to rely on these, but it is an interesting area for further research.

And on that note, some commentators have mentioned that there is a lack of an evidence base to make this decision in the UK to move to a graduate only profession and that there should be further research before doing it. I think this would be totally the right thing to do, but right now, the cops are on a burning platform, and we need to move quickly before things start collapsing. A systematic review would take many years, and right now we do not have anything like the time needed to conduct it. If austerity carries on at the same rate as it is forecast to; by 2021 the overall level of officers will fall by half what it was 5 years ago. Half the amount of officers…

What does this mean? Well you may have caught commentators from the NPCC talking about how this will affect their basic ability to answer 999 calls, and if we can’t answer 999 calls, how are we going to train our cops properly? This is a serious consideration… As training becomes more complex and specialist, how are we to deliver it? In many forces the L&D function will almost cease to exist entirely, with only space for mandatory training sessions based on legislative change. The cops are currently one of the only professions that pay their recruits a full wage to train, without – in turn – asking them to work. This is an amazing thing and something that has been of immense value in the past, but when we can’t answer 999 calls, can we ethically keep this function? Keeping people safe has to be our priority, and if that means taking our training out of that ‘fully paid’ role, that is what may have to happen. Am I happy about this? No. Would I like for this not to be the case? Yes. Is it something that I think should be preserved? In principle, yes, but if it means less cop cars or less frontline officers when things are stretched – I’m sorry, the public come first.

People have seen the ‘shifting the burden of paying onto the individual’ comment and assumed that this decision is about saving money, but it isn’t, it’s about preserving core function. We are a public service, and we need to conduct our core duties that allow us to remain viable – this may mean that a lot of things that we hold dear may disappear. It’s a travesty, but saying or feeling that it is a travesty doesn’t stop it from happening. As a side note, if we begin to fail at core function like 999 Response, this paves the way for privatisation at a frightening rate – please bear this in mind…

So, in summary, there is some evidence that being a graduate changes the behaviour of officers. Is it enough to conduct wholesale change? No. Have we got time to conduct a proper research review of graduate officers in comparison to non-graduate officers? No – austerity is forcing change at a far faster rate than would allow it. And the final chunk of ‘evidence,’ based on current profiles and projections, the cuts are at a level that would remove most – if not all – of the internal learning and development function, how would we train our officers?

The Knowledge Base

People will have heard these terms being thrown around over the last few years: ‘The Knowledge Base,’ ‘the Evidence Base,’ or the ‘Profession’s Body of Knowledge.’ They all mean the same thing, but let me run them through with you, so this next bit makes sense.

When training to be a doctor or a lawyer, students will look at the great body of knowledge that the profession has built up over many years. They will leaf through books, journals, magazines, commentaries, and lecture notes. They will read about the failures of the past, the successes, the near-misses, and more importantly, they will learn about how more knowledge is generated. In medicine it is research, in law it is statute and case law (in the main), and they know that they will need to stay up to date with this knowledge throughout their career.

Where is the Policing Knowledge base? Good question, I wasn’t taught any policing history during initial training, there was no identified body of knowledge, and mainly I spent 5 months learning various bits of legislation rote. In fact, most transactional training since has been very similar. Many will be saying: So What? Good question, well here is what happens when you don’t have a knowledge base:

The profession makes the same mistakes again and again as learning from past mistakes does not take place. As a physical example, it takes huge mistakes like those that happened at Soham for system change to take place, but personally, I haven’t seen anything about Soham or what it meant for policing (in other words, we change the system and not the people).

Many wheels are re-invented. This means that pilot after pilot in new technology/practice takes place all over the country, and that knowledge is not shared. I remember testing body worn cameras over ten years ago. Ten years! The profession is only just now conducting research into whether they offer benefit. Even if we decide that they are amazing, it will probably take another 5-10 years before we have a uniform system in place, and even then officers won’t be able to access the lessons learned, because the Knowledge Base is currently so sparse. This is being developed now by the College of Policing, but think of the waste that has taken place over the preceding ten years – just on bodycams… Establishing a Knowledge Base makes policing a whole lot less expensive to the tax payer, because it stops us repeating the same problems repeatedly.

Lack of consistency. People mix stuff up around this bit. This isn’t about training clones, or even about training everyone in the same way. Localism and individual preference is really important, and quashing that is bad for a healthy profession. This is about getting core understanding out there, in a way that allows for basic decisions to be made in the right way. An example: If you are burgled, research has shown that you are far more likely to be burgled again within the next few weeks/months. It also shows that your neighbours are at far higher risk. I have personally seen many officers advise the opposite. Why? Because there is a lack of structured continued learning in the cops, and the Knowledge that we have was never taught during training.

What does extending the training towards a degree actually do? Well it compliments the transactional training (statute and legal requirement), and the craft that is learned from peers in the workplace. Let’s face it, most useful learning is done ‘in the job’ almost via campfire stories or visibly seeing others do the job. This is great if you think that the job is totally the same as it was a hundred years ago, but it has carried on changing over that time and many things have strayed behind – technology being only one example. It’s about introducing the ‘science’ to the ‘art’ and the ‘craft.’ It is the main difference between a trade, and a profession.

If you don’t make the move to make this a requirement, what happens? Well, you have people making decisions using common sense, plus the science and enhanced understanding, and you have people making decisions using common sense. Advising your burglary victim that it is highly unlikely they will be targeted again – common sense. Advising them to strengthen their security and pulling in crime prevention and providing extra awareness – common sense and science with enhanced understanding. Which would you want as a victim?

I need to add as a caveat here, that it has nothing to do with the quality of the person in the above scenario, indeed there is nothing that says a graduate does the second better than the first. What it does say though, is that the Knowledge Base will not make an impact unless it goes out as widely as possible.

And again, I move to the So What? There is a growing Knowledge Base that has to go out as widely as possible. Why? Because it helps us make less victims, and it helps us make better decisions. Right now, taking on this extra knowledge is optional. Some forces don’t like it, other don’t subscribe to it, and others love it and are taking it on quickly. What does this look like to the public? It looks like a service that may criminalise in one area, whilst another will not, it looks like a service that may make less victims in one area, whilst another will not, and it looks like a service that gives better victim care in one area, whilst another will not.

Core consistency is very, very important – and right now we don’t have the resources or the structure to make it happen.

Diversity

This is the rebuff that has been the most quoted. Let me ask something. There is no other public service that currently has the openness of the police. We ask for hardly any entry requirements (some forces do but they are the exception and not the rule), we train everyone and pay them whilst they train, we are currently actively seeking diversity and offer pro-active support to minorities, and we pay the same rate as other graduate professions. Right now, we are immensely attractive when you look at our barriers to entry.

And our current levels of diversity are awful. Let’s be honest, every other profession has higher levels of diversity, and they have far more barriers.

Here’s the question… Is it possible, that actually, our lack of barriers affects our status as a profession?

From personal experience, I know officers who are from a minority background who have received derision for their choice to join the police as their community holds the job in poor regard. Why? Because it isn’t a profession, and the level of structural learning is low-non-existent, and the culture is often perceived to be racist. I would hazard a guess, that tackling this status should be a priority if we are to recruit from diverse backgrounds. 23% of current under-graduates studying come from a diverse background, and they make up far less of the population as a proportion. Graduate entry could be attractive and actually help with recruitment.

Aside from that, the evidence in the EU and the US of bringing in graduate entry into policing affecting diversity indicates a slight rise in diversity following its introduction – as long as positive action and other entry schemes such as apprenticeships remain in place (which they will). Police Now (Graduate scheme) has also recruited (in its first intake) far higher levels of diversity than standard recruitment across the country…

Summary: Suggesting that it will affect diversity recruitment is an interesting suggestion, as our diversity recruitment is poor now and we are one of the most open public services. Using the available evidence, we can gain an indication that this issue won’t raise its head, in fact it may even go in the opposite direction. The truth will out in the future, if it happens, and we shall see. If it does, then it will need addressing.

Transferability

This is the one that I will likely receive most abuse for (yes, abuse, as I have seen pretty awful abuse directed at graduates across the service since this discussion started). The current structure of our job does amazing things for people. It provides security, it provides structure, and it provides stability. There are very few jobs that allow tenure, and yes we have paid for it by withdrawing our industrial rights. In the past, when the pensions were excellent, finding another job was almost seen as a compliment to your life following retirement. With the pension re-structure, and the tenure extensions, the chances of staying in the job for life are limited. I have spoken with many officers who say that they will likely move as they can’t foresee themselves on the frontline working 24 hour shifts at age 60 (and who could blame them?).

This is where the change in the ability to transfer out of the job kicks in. Because the service is well paid, and because most similar jobs (in terms of pay) are at graduate level, our cops may face a significant pay cut and cut in their quality of life when they leave. How is this fair? Cops are functioning at graduate level now. They make fast paced, high risk, complex decisions every day, in an environment filled with graduates from other services. That is one of the reasons why accredited prior learning is being introduced, to allow serving officers the option of accrediting their experience, so that they do not get trapped in a job that they would like to leave, without significantly affecting their quality of life.

Staying in a job that is affecting your health, with few alternatives available, without the option of pursuing higher level learning (such as Masters etc.) could be pretty toxic to the future workforce. And yes, this means that policing may become a 10 year profession for some,(or even shorter) but the changes from a 30 year profession to a much longer one was not of the police’s making. Ensuring that the service supports the new environment is pretty darn important for wellbeing, and for culture, and for putting our current awesome staff to the same level in the external environment that they are performing at internally.

To reiterate, this is optional. Do you want to stay the whole 38+ years and don’t want to accredit your learning? No problem. Totally your choice as a cop.

Finally

I have talked extensively about the risks above. What happens if we don’t do this? Here’s a pretty big one… The future of policing does not look like the policing of ten years ago. It will be fast, highly scrutinised, highly visible, and decision making will be far more complex. Making a decision to arrest a DV offender won’t be as simple as ‘positive action,’ it will require knowledge of the accepted professional practice, exposure to the changing Knowledge Base, common sense, and the ability to communicate.

Example: When you go to a doctor, they will know the drugs that they can prescribe through their exposure to the medical Knowledge Base, they will know their current area policy for prescription, and they will need common sense and communication to make that person comfortable and understand what is happening.

If those doctors were just using their common sense and their communication, and had no knowledge of the available research and made the wrong decision, there would be some pretty tough questions to be answered. And they aren’t under the microscope all the time, and verbally challenged constantly, and dealing with highly drunk/drugged people (in most cases), and probably being recorded via mobile phone.

The cop environment is tough now. As the research grows around What Works, officers and constabularies will have to keep up to speed with it. I’m not talking about reading academic journals, I’m talking about continuing professional development. We can’t train in two years, and then do defensive tactics/fitness test/public order until we retire. The world is changing faster than that, and as such so will our accountability.

If you know more, you are accountable for more, and having just seen millions of pounds go into developing the Knowledge Base, I would say that getting our future cops up to speed with it isn’t optional, because it protects them as much as possible.

There’s a perfect storm coming if we don’t get ahead of it, and protecting our cops in the midst of it requires the introduction of science/research understanding. This isn’t a slight on any serving cops, it’s not a barrier designed to keep people out, and it’s certainly not an attack on the level of service we provide now (which is exceptional in most cases). It’s about improving the levels of learning, whilst having no money to do so, and protecting the wellbeing of our cops with regards to future scrutiny and visibility, and their desire to leave the cops should they so wish (there are other reasons that I won’t touch as this is too long already).

As a final note, the slating of graduates as police officers has just been shocking. I have met some cops who have been poor who have been graduates, I’ve also met some cops who weren’t graduates, who were also poor. That is a recruitment/development issue and not an educational one. Tarring educated cops as ‘bag carriers’ is nothing but anti-intellectualism and serves no other purpose than to divide. Gone are the days when graduates entering the profession was rare, it’s just a pity that the same attitudes have stuck around despite the world moving on. This is a debate that we need to have, at least keep it civil and respectful – as befits the service which we represent.

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.

The Paul McKeever Scholarship and Diversity…

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

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

The subjects that the students are studying are:

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

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

Evidence Based Policing

Retention

Morale

The impact of cuts on specialist roles within policing

Fairness (gender issues)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The process of improving process…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples would be:

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

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

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

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

It’s no use being a big secret is it?

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

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

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

Daily Business…

This is my opening blog and hopefully one that will set the tone for forthcoming blogs as time progresses. I would like to use this blog site to promote dialogue and debate, hopefully about improving the way that we Police in the UK. I am open to others posting on here, preferably using the theme of improved Policing through partnerships and research. I would personally really like to see more relationships forming between academia and cops on the frontline. Drop me an email or a tweet if you want to get in touch.

 

How many things in your daily routine are there because they always have been?

 

*Knock *Knock. “This is your early morning target visit.”

Shortly after morning team briefing one of your intrepid cops has been requested to visit one of your more undesirable clients. There are lots of things that can happen at these visits, but usually they fall into several brackets:

  • Officer met with a very disgruntled target who bemoans being awoken at this ungodly hour to check if he is in – especially if he is on tagged curfew.
  • No answer at the door, many neighbours/tenants awoken at said ungodly hour.
  • Officer speaks with target at window who tells them to get lost, having just got out of bed in his boxers.
  • Officer actually gets to speak to a target who welcomes them in. Officer gets sight of what he is wearing, what goods he has in his flat, what make of phone is on the coffee table, and gets a closer look at his physical state.

Any Response Cop who works on the frontline would have been involved in these target visits, even if it is to cover for those others doing them. Once completed, a record is made on the target profile so Police know if they were in or not, what they were wearing etc. This record is then used to monitor compliance by the bosses, so who has been doing the visits and when have they happened? Why has the profile not been updated etc.?

This is ‘daily business,’ a phrase I will grow to discuss over the coming series of blogs. What is ‘daily business’? Well, it is a kind of activity that is completed because we have always done it and probably always will. It ‘feels’ right, as a cop you sometimes feel that you are getting under the target’s skin, possibly affecting their behaviour.

But here’s the rub. Most targets laugh when you visit them. Many targets will say things like, ‘I was waiting for you to come round, now I can go out.’ Or, they will greet you with, ‘I can go and get changed now,’ or similar. They are using target checks and visits against the cops who are trying to disrupt them. Not only has it been daily business for Police, it appears that it may have become daily business for criminals too…

If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.

So, how do we buck this trend? How do we move on from the ‘daily business’ of target checks, into something more meaningful? The key lies in research. Now there is an automatic assumption that those that do not work within Policing, are not qualified to comment upon it. I witness this daily on Twitter and not only is it defensive, it borders on aggressive. In the current political climate, protectionism is fairly natural, but there is a standard of behaviour on the street that Police aspire to, and that standard should be consistent no matter the environment.

There are already strong partnerships in some areas of the UK, but it is important that the bunker mentality in the Police – completely understandable after all the recent changes/cuts – does not affect the use of good research on the frontline. If evidence exists that is contrary to what police ‘feel’ does or doesn’t work, then the correct response is to explore it. If we ignore it, the ramifications on officer time and ultimately public safety, could be serious.

How could research help in this instance of targeting? Well, we could start with finding out what actually works when it comes to altering target’s behaviour…

  • Does 3-4 visits a day change their pattern of offending or heighten deterrence?
  • Would the Police be better visiting at a particular time of day?
  • Would it be better to allow our targets to go about their daily business but record sightings and associations?
  • What happens to the information that we currently record? Is there any value?
  • Is it worth the cop’s time when there are so many other competing priorities?
  • Would cop’s time be better spent on hotspot policing?

The questions go on and on, but they could be partially answered with a good quality, single study. It could be done by cops or by academics, as long as there is some rigour around the quality of the data and methods. It would give Police some answers as to where the value sits with target visits and what may and what may not work. This would direct activity far better and ensure that tax payer’s money is actually helping to prevent crime or put prisoners behind bars.

Just as a representative sample: around 10 hours a day of cop time is spent on targets visits in my current station. That’s an extra cop, for an extra tour of duty, per day, and around 1.5 Police officers per year… Over the size of a force this could mean the equivalent of 20+ more officers per year. Are those officers (or their equivalent time) actually offering value for money by doing something meaningful?

The real answer is that we don’t know.

We won’t know until the research has been completed. And once it has, those results need looking at with experienced Police eyes with a view to either reinforcing/narrowing current practice, or changing it altogether into something more meaningful.

I shall leave you with a couple of things. Here is the YouTube link for the Center of Evidence Based Policing https://www.youtube.com/user/clsMason Some of the videos on here can get a little academic, but the introduction and most of the practitioner lectures are really easy to watch. The inputs on Hotspot Policing show the kind of rigour you can apply to simple principles to prove that they work.

As we lose cops and support staff hand over fist, increasing efficacy and adding meaning to their daily duties becomes more and more important. As a frontline cop myself, I like to be trusted, and to know that what I am doing makes a difference. Conducting daily business, simply because it is ‘daily business’ is not enough. I want to know that I am doing something positive, and finding out what works is an integral part of that.

Police shouldn’t be afraid of research; they should welcome it, because it often answers questions that may never have been asked. It challenges entrenched thinking and can come to conclusions that just ‘feel’ wrong. Well those feelings have been built up over a long time in the workplace until they form grooves of practice. They continue because it feels normal to follow them. Some of those grooves just may be heading in the wrong direction.

With less cops, finding out the right direction has to be important, doesn’t it?