Supra-force specialist policing capabilities: new research by the Police Foundation

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Supra-force specialist policing capabilities: new research by the Police Foundation

A review of the governance of supra-force specialist policing capabilities: new research by the Police Foundation.

Today the Police Foundation is publishingnew research on the governance of specialist policing capabilities delivered above the level of individual police forces, with a particular emphasis on collaboration.


In early 2006 the Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced a programme of mandated police force mergers in England and Wales that would have seen the number of police forces reduced by about half. Clarke envisaged a police service “close, responsive and accountable to the communities it serves, supported by larger forces with the capacity and specialist expertise to protect the public from wider threats such as serious and organised crime”.

In May 2006 Clarke was sacked, and by July his plans had been scrapped in favour of an emphasis, in the wordsof Prime Minister Tony Blair, on areas where there is the scope for “far greater strategic co-operation across force lines”.

The advent of a new government in 2010 was followed by the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners and the 43 force structure seems here to stay. Instead, the growing emphasis in recent years has been on increased collaboration between police forces as a means of delivering an improved service for the public while also responding to the demands of austerity and fundamental changes to the nature of crime and police demand. This has been underpinned by the statutory ‘duty to collaborate’ introduced by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, but also financial incentives in the form of the Innovation Fund and Transformation Fund.

A key challenge has been to reconcile force-level statutory accountability arrangements with the need to provide effective governance of collaborated arrangements across multiple forces. A range of approaches have been adopted across what is quite a mixed economy of largely ad-hoc and in some cases multi-layered collaborations.

A focus on specialist capabilities

In July 2014, HMIC called for a national debate regarding police reform and in June 2015 an influential group of policing leaders published Reshaping Policing for the Public, which set out a ‘possible new approach’ that would see ‘specialist capabilities… consolidated into cross-force functions, strategically located and operating to national standards’ with ‘the most highly specialised capabilities (such as counter-terrorism)… delivered nationally’.

In early 2016 the PCC chaired Police Reform and Transformation Board was established, with a specific programme focused on specialist capabilities such as armed policing and surveillance. As part of that work, a governance sub group was established, chaired by PCC Paddy Tipping, which commissioned the Police Foundation to undertake a review of the governance of police services delivered above force level. The objectives of the review were three-fold:

1. To review the existing secondary literature on collaboration.

2. To give all PCCs and chief constables the opportunity to feed in their views about the governance of collaboration arrangements, which we did by way of a questionnaire and the offer of follow-up telephone interviews.

3. To apply the learning from (1) and (2) to the Networked Policing Model proposed (after the consultation had closed) in the Specialist Capabilities Programme Phase One Report, in the form of a governance proposition to form the basis for further discussion.

Networked Policing Model

By adopting a ‘mutual mindset’ in policing, the proposed Networked Policing Model encompasses three things:

1. A strategic understanding of specialist capability supply and demand across all forces.

2. A more strategic approach to the development of specialist capabilities, including their leadership, tactics and standards.

3. A brokerage service that would link police forces to capabilities beyond current force and collaborative boundaries.

Consultation findings

Questionnaire responses were received from 14 PCCs and 19 chief constables, and with additional telephone interviews a total of 37 respondents informed our consultation. Although only a minority of PCCs and chief constables, their responses nevertheless provide a window on the balance of views regarding the governance of existing and future collaborative models.

Û¢ Collaboration is believed to have delivered efficiencies and resilience, but there are concerns that governance arrangements are often complex, which can produce bureaucracy and weaken accountability.

Û¢ Confidence in collaborative arrangements is contingent on personal trust, on geographical constraints, on historical relations between forces and on similarities in their size, outlook and character. There is opposition to any centrally organised brigading of capabilities that might ignore local nuances and undermine efforts already invested in collaboration.

Û¢ There is some support for more specialist capabilities being delivered through regional clusters. Nonetheless there are concerns about whether shared capabilities will be available when required and will arrive in a form sympathetic to the character of local policing.

In light of this it is clear to see why a model for the future that leaves existing and emerging regional structures intact as the Networked Policing Model does is a pragmatic approach. That said, it is likely that the transition to a Networked Policing Model will present governance challenges. Our consultation responses suggest a lack of consensus on basic principles, including around lines of accountability and Direction and Control. Collective agreement on these basic principles would seem to be a prerequisite for the kind of Networked Policing Model envisaged by the Specialist Capabilities Programme.

Governance of the Networked Policing Model

In order for a Networked Policing Model to be successfully developed, we identify a set of preconditions, most importantly the need for consensus on a number of rules, mechanisms and principles for example, how these capabilities should be funded and priced. Doing so highlights, in turn, a number of fundamental but unresolved systemic questions for policing, most notably whether policing has a strategic centre that is strong enough to ensure that it can function as more than the sum of its parts.

We conclude that ‘good governance’ of the Networked Policing Model requires four things:

1. ‘Good governance’ at the level of forces and regional collaborations.

2. Stronger mechanisms for collective decision making and a more robust ‘strategic centre’ in policing. Here we propose a democratic approach with PCCs and chief constables having voting rights as corporations sole, with decisions passed by a majority of both PCCs and chief constables, perhaps aligned to a Strategic Policing AGM.

3. Clarity on the accountability principles for specialist capabilities provided and procured through the Network, standardised where possible.

4. The need for representative governance of any Network Broker and Specialist Capability Strategic Leads, in the form of a Networked Policing Board.

The Networked Policing Model offers the prospect of a new paradigm for accessing and providing specialist capabilities, but in doing so highlights current weaknesses and makes new demands of police forces and their political counterparts. A governance architecture established to provide stronger local accountability must now be challenged to step up to a wider and more strategic role. The recommendations contained in our report are intended to provoke discussion as to how this might be achieved.

Read the report.