I was recently asked to reflect on the main strategic challenges faced by policing in the UK today: this is that paper.
The biggest challenges facing the (British) Police Service going forward can be summarised under the following five headings:
1. CRIMES: their changing nature
2. FINANCIAL: trading cutbacks for efficiency; dealing with bottlenecks
3. RECRUITING: for representativeness and consensual policing
4. COMMUNICATION: for lobbying within democratic processes
5. TRAINING: talent development, leadership and staff retention
Of these the two most significant are the changing nature of crime and the financial cut backs to the organisation. Many of the other major issues facing the Police service have both their root cause and their solutions outside the sphere of influence of the Police. These include issues such as a reduction in availability of prison places; a delay in finding suitable hospital or mental health care places; a lack of social service provision to cover weekends and evenings; a reduction in firefighters and paramedic staff available; and an increased reliance on volunteers or outsourcing to commercial organisations for specialist services such as dive teams; - all of these will directly impact the day to day operations of the Police but lie outside their immediate remit of change.
There are also five national threats highlighted by the Home Secretary in the Strategic Policing Requirement (2012). These are:
1. PUBLIC ORDER
2. COUNTER TERRORISM
3. CIVIL CONTINGENCIES
4. SERIOUS AND ORGANISED CRIME
5. CYBER INCIDENTS
These five threats are supra-regional, and are characterised by posing a high public risk, having high media interest, and requiring preventative action based on highly uncertain data.
The biggest challenges specifically facing Thames Valley Police seem to be issues that are common to British Policing rather than regionally specific issues. However the size, connectivity and geographical location of the Thames Valley does bring to the fore some issues related to counter-terrorism, especially in relation to transport links towards the capital. The rest of this paper will seek to explore the challenges further, with specific focus on the top two.
HOW THE MANDATE OF BRITISH POLICING IMPACTS THESE CHALLENGES
The overall mission of British policing is twofold:
(1) to prevent crime and
(2) to protect the public.
To protect the public, offenders and criminals may have to be removed from the wider community and incarcerated. Policing is therefore a profession where the power and discretion to remove a person's liberty is integral to its purpose. The power to remove a person’s liberty needs to be divested with great responsibility, and policing is therefore historically highly regulated to ensure that policing is transparent, consistent and replicable.
The Police also keeps the peace - an extension of the mandate to prevent crime. Policing in Britain is based on consent, and British Police officers are unarmed, present and visible within the local area, and in an ongoing relationship with the local community. To achieve this they must represent within their own ranks the communities they are charged with patrolling: the Police are the public and the public are the Police. As the British demographic changes so must the police force.
The British justice system is historically based on the precept of innocence until proven guilty, which puts the onus of evidence gathering to support an arrest almost entirely onto the police investigation. Juxtaposed onto this are the firmly established British principles of personal liberty and freedom from control and surveillance: The British public are very against things that other nations take for granted like ID cards. The data available to the police are therefore tightly circumscribed and regulated.
THE MAIN CHALLENGES TO FACE THE POLICE SERVICE TODAY EMERGE FROM THIS HISTORY:
1. CRIMES: their changing nature
Modern crimes tend to be indirect, global and hard to detect. Modern Policing often has to establish whether a crime has in fact taken place at all, as what constitutes a crime is changing and evolving, especially in the areas of hate-crimes, sexual-crimes, domestic- crimes, and cyber-crimes. The media drives the popular perception of high crime rates, and their accompanying demands for safety in the form of visible foot patrols- but modern crimes will probably not be solved by police on patrol, but by technically expert backroom staff that are largely invisible to the public. The mandate to police by consensus means responding to public concerns, while cut backs mean resourcing to effectively tackle crime.
2. FINANCIAL: trading cutbacks for efficiency
The Police is a front line public service body, that relies on good cooperation and handovers with other front line services. As there is less funding available for most of these national services and public institutions, and the main recipients of front line Police work are in various degrees of crisis, this can lead to bottlenecks, and can put at risk the essential mandate of the Police - to protect the public. Police effectiveness and performance that is hampered by cut-backs elsewhere in the system poses a great challenge. The police are also themselves subject to cutbacks even as the UK population grows.
3. RECRUITING: for representativeness and consensual policing
The very communities that need good relationship building may be the ones that are most conservative with respect to gender, ethnicity and culture. Recruitment may therefore be difficult and recruits may need to be grown in-house.
4. COMMUNICATION: proactivity within democratic processes
In the short to mid-term a pragmatic and acceptable workable policing strategy may be needed to deal with complex modern crimes, and then communicating this to ensure growing trust, credibility and legitimacy for the work of the Police. To secure financial, political and popular support for the work of the Police service means communication also through representation at democratic processes, including key parliamentary debates and consultations. Brexit will probably impact the police force, so communication in the form of engaging with the democratic process as well as communicating with the public will play a key role in dealing with these changes.
5. TRAINING: Talent development, leadership and retention
The complexity of community policing and dealing with ever more non-localised and high profile issues, means putting emphasis on leadership and talent development at all levels going forward; as well as support to promote consistently good decision making, and team work. Retaining high ability staff may help to future-proof the organisation and maximise its chances of meeting new demands, and major incidents. However in parallel there may also be a need to replace, and not retain staff that don’t have the flexibility or aptitude to embrace the changing demands of modern policing. Efforts and expenses on these human resources and personnel issues may not bear fruit in the short to mid-term, but will be key for future proofing the police service in the long term
ISSUES SPECIFIC TO THAMES VALLEY POLICE The current strategic objectives for Thames Valley Police generally fall out of the generic and historical mandate for UK policing - there are no overarching area-specific objectives.
1. Cut crimes of most concern to the public and reduce re-offending
2. Protecting vulnerable people
3. Work with partner agencies to put victims and witnesses at the heart of the Criminal Justice System
4. Ensure Police and partners are visible, act with integrity and foster the trust and confidence of communities
5. Communicate with the public to learn of their concerns, help to prevent crime and reduce their fear of crime.
6. Protect the public from serious organised crime, terrorism and internet based crime
IMPLICATIONS OF MODERN CRIMES AND CUTBACKS
The two main challenges nationwide- modern crimes and financial cutbacks- will interact and drilling down further highlights some emerging issues for consideration:
Political – Being seen to successfully counter crime and terrorism are important vote-winners. Police performance and efficiency figures are therefore of political interest. In a Post-Brexit world international counter terrorism and intelligence gathering may need to be arranged bilaterally, and may need to be subject to greater legal and political debate and scrutiny. This may affect performance and the efficiency of day-to-day policing.
Economic – Cutbacks may mean trade-offs between community policing and intelligence gathering. A post-Brexit economic dip may affect policing both directly in the form of cutbacks but also as social disquiet, and increases in cyber-crimes and cyber fraud, if the gap between high and low earners widens.
Social – Social isolation, weak community and family structures and lone operators make crimes harder to detect and prevent.
Technological – More people have access to technology at home making fighting cyber-crime tougher, while cutbacks mean attracting and retaining expert technological staff more difficult.
Legal – Post-Brexit, extensive changes to legislation may cause bottlenecks to occur that can affect day-to-day policing.
Environmental – greater emphasis on technical backroom staff will mean more reliance on larger regional HQs – and more commuting and travel out to surrounding areas. Growing technology usage also means more consideration of how to deal with end of lifecycle waste securely.
IN CONCLUSION: Focussing effort and resources also on tackling some of these longer-term aspects will ensure the Police remains well-positioned and flexible enough to deal with future demands.