This is my first blog since I took over from Jon Collins as Deputy Director of the Police Foundation and in this piece and my next one I thought I would focus on two issues that are emerging as important in our Police Effectiveness in a Changing Worldproject, based in Luton and Slough (two fairly typical towns).
The first focuses on partnership working in an era of cuts, and the second on the changing dynamics of the housing market and how this is impacting on crime.
The partnership context within which the police operate, and heavily depend on to deliver crime reduction, has received scant attention in the wider debate about the impact of the cuts on efforts to tackle crime and disorder, which has focused almost exclusively on police officer numbers and maintaining the front line. Three developments are evident from our experience of working in Luton and Slough over the last couple of years.
First, swingeing local authority budget cuts are significantly reducing the capacity of key partners to work with the police. This is reflected in significant churn of personnel, with partner agency colleagues being stretched thinly as those who remain assume ever wider responsibilities, in some cases on a temporary basis. Capacity, capability and morale are inevitably suffering as a result.
Second, there is a growing tension between the cuts and an ever-increasing demand for (or at least tendency towards) specialisation in crime reduction and safeguarding efforts. This is reflected in a proliferation of priorities, working groups and meetings often attended by the same (dwindling) pool of professionals discussing, in many cases, the same papers.
The same service users (whether particular individuals, families, or communities) turn up time and again. Some difficult questions around how to rationalise and streamline local partnership working and do more with less’ are being asked but as yet going unanswered.
Perhaps in future we will see a move away from a focus on crime types towards a more holistic focus on specific individuals (repeat offenders/victims), families (troubled/troublesome) and households (multiply deprived, chaotic), leading to a greater emphasis on risk assessment and prioritisation, demand reduction and locally-based problem solving. Certainly that is what the government’s Troubled Familieswork is trying to do (incidentally, Louise Casey, who heads up this work, will be giving a keynote speech at our annual conference on October 14, which this year focuses on innovations in policing domestic abuse).
In Suffolk, for example, it was foundthat one per cent of all crime in the county could be linked to only 10 families.
Finally, in the specific case of probation reforms, police and their partners fear that privatisation will see probation providers withdraw to their statutory minimum obligations, as their service becomes increasingly defined in contractual terms.
This may eventually be overcome when the new arrangements have bedded in and the importance of partnership working to reducing reoffending is rediscovered, but in the meantime partnership working may increasingly exist on paper only. It will be interesting to see whether (or when) the new Community Rehabilitation Companies start lobbying police forces to limit their use of cautioning in order to help them demonstrate reductions in formal measures of reoffending’.
Despite the tendency in policing to disregard the contribution of partners to crime reduction performance over years of observing policing, including two years embedded in a force, I have never heard internal police meetings give away any credit for a fall in crime to any partner agencies it is clear that weakening partnerships, with some partners bearing cuts that policing will never have to confront, pose a real challenge to police forces faced with delivering the Home Secretary’s “single objective” for the police of cutting crime.
Given the likelihood of yet more cuts to the budgets of local authorities and others in future comprehensive spending reviews, there must be a real concern that the kind of longer term preventative work that depends on effective partnerships will be sacrificed, leaving an increasingly short-term tactical focus.
Gavin Hales, Deputy Director, The Police Foundation