In my last blog I referred to the challenges that the changing world, especially the ubiquity of the internet, is presenting to the police service. Forces around the country are all looking at ways of adapting not just to working with far less resources but also to the changing face of crime what Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands, refers to as the shift from the public to the private sphere – and other demands made on the police service, particularly for safeguarding and other protective services. Some seek solutions by collaborating more closely with other forces, local authorities or other emergency services. Others are working more closely with the private sector. Transformation is the buzz word that unites them all.
At the core of forces’ transformational efforts are attempts to establish just what the scale and nature of the police workload is, how it is changing and therefore how many and what kind of resources are needed to meet what kind of demand.Last month, the College of Policing published a brief analysis of the demand on the police service,which makes for interesting reading. In brief, it shows that not only is recorded crime falling, but the total number of calls to the service is falling too, including 999 calls and non-crime incidents (although on this they only have data for the last two years). This is contrasted with the only area of real growth, which is public safety/welfare incidents.
The big areas of growth are in domestic abuse, child protection (including child sex abuse), managing serious and persistent sexual and violent offenders and dealing with vulnerable adults (including those trafficked for the purposes of exploitation and those with mental ill health). In other words the demand on the police service far from being to tackle more and more crime, which is what the Home Secretary says should be the sole focus of policing – is increasingly on dealing with complex, public protection problems, that often occur in private rather than public places, and which require a sophisticated, resource-intensive, multi-agency response. All of this points to and supports the principle that the police service will increasingly be required to focus on harm and risk and this without even mentioning the increasing impact on demand from the shift from the physical to the virtual world. Little wonder the police are talking about wholesale transformation. But I think this leaves the police service with some real headaches. Firstly, how will they manage public expectations which confuse means and ends as they are built around the idea that their safety equates with seeing bobbies patrolling their street rather than employing highly skilled, office-based problem solvers to protect them from harm. Secondly, given the much greater role that health must play in pursuing a public protection agenda, how will the police service overcome the really difficult barriers – both legal and practical – to effective information sharing with the health service? Thirdly, if the aim is to reduce harm, what does success look like and how can it be demonstrated? Measuring harm is much more difficult than counting recorded crimes. And last but by no means least, how will PCCs and HMIC hold the police to account when so much of what they will be doing will depend increasingly on working effectively with other agencies, including the health service, over which (understandably) they have no mandate? If ever there was a time when central government should take responsibility for providing leadership and strategic direction it is now just when it’s decided to devolve everything to forces.