Smaller, smarter, more flexible: policing for the future

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.

The Coalition years

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.

Priorities for the new Government

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:

  1. creating a smaller, smarter workforce fit for changing demand;
  2. developing a much deeper understanding of police activity to drive increased productivity;
  3. reforming the police operating model to ensure police functions are delivered efficiently and effectively; and
  4. better integration with other public services to tackle high harm and prevent offending.

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.

Understanding demand

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



Des Thomas

22 June, 2015

In my view These reforms can only be secured through effective leadership, management and supervision. Securing these attributes may depend on effective performance metrics and audit procedures - Chief Constables who fail to lead, managers who fail to manage and supervisors who fail to supervise should all be invited to find employment that more closely matches the competencies they do possess rather than those required to police effectively. Let me give you an example. Fifteen years ago a group of us attempted to introduce a call centre model in which officers would call in and the call centre would record details of reported crimes and incidents. We believed that, allowing officers to move on to the next incident without returning to the police station to manually record/input information on to a computer data base, would save time and by reducing the staffing levels needed to record crime we could increase the number of officers deployed to prevent crime . Research had revealed that with breaks for lunch, tea and chats, a round trip to and from a police station followed by recording information on the data base could take 4 hours - half a standard 4 hour shift. Success would have had a significant impact in rural areas where travelling criminals were/are a particular problem. The idea failed. Why? I was informed that staff refused to use it, supervisors refused to supervise, managers refused to managers and chief officers did not wish to press the issues - and upset staff. It seemed that a significant number of officers preferred the safe comforts of the police station to meeting the public. It seemed that these officers did not wish to be deployed on duties which would involve intercepting travelling criminals who could be tough difficult to deal with. Until there is a change in leadership philosophy nothing will change. The key agent in securing change is the HMIC. They in turn need to by backed up by a political willingness to make people who lack; The human attributes - vision, courage, energy, determination and cutting edge required to lead, manage and supervise, Training - performance management, Experience - leadership, management and supervision in a policing or similar dynamic context, redundant. If one looks at leading criminals, particularly political criminals, they are often brave, ruthless and energetic individuals who are not noted for their touchy feely how to you feel today guys attitudes. If you do not perform and you are lucky, you may get the sack, if not your severance conditions could include a good beating, being fitted it, or worse. If the competition is tough and money is short, as it always will be, police leaders at all levels need to be brave, tough and energetic enough to out match the criminals against whom they are set. All the money in the world will not compensate for the absence of leaders who can and will do - rather than those who always have an excuse not to do or to excuse failure.


19 June, 2015

For too long the police have been bullied by those that have very little knowledge of the job. A small but smart team of officers will not be able to deal with countless fights, stabbings and domestics on a Saturday night. This government can have a cheap police force or a good one. You can't have both.


19 June, 2015

Sounds great, but you've failed to factor in two key points: 1. Call outs to police (999) are rising and unsustainable. We need human officers to attend each of these calls. This makes your, "crime is falling" meaningless. 2. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Come to court one days and see the fruits of your cuts. Victims are routinely let down. Even when police have properly disclosed evidence, rarely do officers have time to prepare a case worth fighting. This is an example of doing less with less. DCs have overwhelming workloads. Because of this guilty people walk free. This is not "crime reduction" by any sane analyis. You kids make me weep. 2.


19 June, 2015

Reducing crime - as well as understanding its causation - has to be a priority. Looking at social mobility policies - for example, looking at how employment policies are connecting with job seekers and whether they are seeking to reach aspirational goals or just simply force someone into a job - are important to understanding not just a challenge groups achieving goals, but also sustaining and developing them into fulfilling roles so that crime becomes a distant memory rather than an opportunity. Also, working closely with all sectors in the community - improving these collaborative partnerships that can provide links to opportunities that, again, fulfil aspirations - are key achievements for service providers. Big-thinking and social innovation has to also be a fundamental resource to partner with - as we under whether young people are failing to be positively influenced by seeing a lack of local business achievers that stem from there own background, could be one influence that can tip them into negative thinking... and entering into the criminal justice system. After all, if one cannot see their ethnic groups achieving goals locally, how are they to believe that such goals can be achieved by themselves? Ivor