Published by Andrew Haldenby on 20 May 2015
- Our Work
- The Reformer Blog
19 June 2015
Speaking to the Police Federation last month Home Secretary, Theresa May stated:
“it is not going to be enough to shave off a bit of excess here, and reduce some bureaucracy there. That is good, but reform needs to go much deeper than that.”
In a paper out today, Reform argues that the continuing fall in crime, despite a 12 per cent drop in officer numbers, has proven that the police can do more with less. However, with new complex crime types emerging, a continued focus on streamlining back-office functions and workforce reductions will not be sufficient. Instead, a focus on high harm and reform of the police operating model and workforce is needed.
Increased accountability and professionalism of the police service were central to the Coalition Government reforms. In particular, elected Police and Crime Commissioners aimed to make policing accountable to the people and a review by Sir Tom Winsor reshaped the way in which officer terms and conditions were structured.
At force level, organic partnerships formed driven by the burning platform of austerity. These included cross-border collaboration and emergency service partnerships, both of which have realised sizeable savings.
However, whilst the past five years saw significant change, more fundamental reform lies ahead.
Although the Crime Survey for England and Wales clearly shows that the total volume of crime continues to fall, serious and complex crimes are making up an increasing proportion of police demand. Reform argues that high harm individuals and locations must be the overriding focus for policing, and the service model must be designed with this in mind. Policing must also develop improved capability to address ‘new’ crime types such as cybercrime, which is itself enabling serious offending.
To ensure a police service fit for current and future demand, today’s report argues that policing should focus on four key areas of reform:
A modern workforce
As with any service, policing requires a workforce that is fit for purpose. The complexity of new crime types is likely to not only increase, but also diversify demand. Within this context, a new model of policing is needed: calls to “protect the frontline” must cease. Chief constables need to be able to assess the appropriate balance of staff and act accordingly. To enable this, Reform calls for the implementation of compulsory severance, as recommended by Sir Tom Winsor.
Significant geographical variation in the need for specialist units also makes necessary a review of the level at which specific policing functions should sit. Some functions such as counter-terrorism already sit at a national level. Evaluating where other crime types, such as cybercrime, should sit must be a priority for the National Police Chiefs’ Council over the coming months.
Building an effective workforce also means harnessing technology better. Mobile technology such as reporting apps offer an opportunity to reduce unnecessary trips to stations, maximising ‘visible’ officer time. However to fully realise the potential offered by technology the burden of legacy IT systems must be addressed. Systems must have better interoperability with other public services, for example the Crown Prosecution Service.
Most forces simply don’t understand demand. This makes it virtually impossible to improve police productivity, identify inefficiencies and, most importantly, improve outcomes. Rectifying this must be a priority.
The demands of preventing crime must also not fall on forces alone. Citizens can have an important role to play in making themselves and their property safe. For example better use of privacy settings or installing anti-virus protection has the potential to reduce cybercrime. However, currently these simple measures remain underused.
Nationally, the viability of a 43 force structure has been questioned. Many have criticised the current model, yet consensus about the right number of forces has been absent. Reform argues that the focus should not be on reducing force numbers but on designing a model that meets modern demand. This means a structure that enables better integration with other services. The mayoral model being rolled out in Greater Manchester may prove instructive.
A more integrated approach will also help reduce demand. Individuals within the justice system have often been in touch with health or social services, and are often concentrated in small geographical areas. This means high harm micro-locations require a multi-agency response. Data must be shared more effectively to enhance understanding of the risk posed by an individual. The College of Policing should do more to identify examples of “what works” in collaboration to support forces integrate effectively with other services.
In summary, the report finds that whilst considerable progress has been made, much more radical reform is needed over the next five years. Further reductions in spending are possible, but forces must take a more transformative approach to meeting changing demand.
Elizabeth Crowhurst, Researcher, Reform