Monday, 25 March 2013

Policing & Crime Plans and frontline discretion

We are nearing the time when all 41 PCCs will have published their Police and Crime Plans. In the months running up to the election of the PCCs, many people expressed concerns that their introduction would lead to political control of what the police services and police officers do. Despite clear statements in the legislation that operational leadership would still rest with the Chief Constable, many people were and probably still remain concerned.

The worry, I assume in part, comes from a belief that the objectives framed by the PCCs for their areas in these forthcoming plans will inevitably affect what police officers and staff do on the ground. There will be many of course, who will believe that such lofty strategic plans are a long way from the 'sharp end' and will make little difference.

With all this in mind, I dug out an extract from a proposal I submitted over a year ago to a police service which wanted to commission some research into how their officers and staff perceived their operational discretion and independence when balanced against their relationship with constabulary  policy, procedures and performance management regime. It looked to be a fascinating piece of work and I was fed up that I did not win it! But such is life!

As part of my submission, I devised a set of questions that could be asked of front line officers to get inside how much their felt their professional discretion and responsibility was compromised and/or supported and/or unaffected by wider policies, objectives and plans etc. Here are those questions:
  1. How much individual responsibility do you consider you currently have on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “I only do what I am instructed to do” and 10 means “I am 100% in control of what decisions I take at work”?
  2. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  3. How much accountability do you consider you currently have on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “I am not held to account for anything that I do or achieve” and 10 means “I am held to account for everything that I do or achieve”?
  4. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  5. In your view, how is the fit between what you are responsible for and what you are held to account for? For this the scale is 1 “no fit at all, I am often held to account for that which I am not responsible” through to 10 “I am only held to account for that which I am responsible for”?
  6. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  7. Given all of these questions above, what would you say that would add depth and colour to your answers? What evidence, examples or stories do you have to illustrate your views?
  8. One summary interpretation of the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ is that you have (within its scope) total independence to do all that you consider necessary to support and maintain the Queen’s Peace. If you think the reality is somewhat different, please tell me how it is different? 
  9. Do you have any examples of where you acted in accord with the Oath but independently of force policy and procedures? What are those examples?
  10. Are there other examples where you acted dependently upon force procedures but in your view, not in accord with the Oath? What are those examples?
  11. What is the difference that makes the difference between those two extremes? How do you determine how much independence (of policy and procedures) you can exercise?
  12. On the basis that it is the job of everyone working for the Police to make effective and efficient decisions, what helps you make those kind of decisions?
  13. And what gets in the way of making decisions that serve greater effectiveness and efficiency?
  14. In your view, what needs to happen so that you can be more confident in your own decision making – and that of your colleagues as well?
So if anyone wants to some more research now - especially into how the new Police and Crime Plans may impact frontline decision making - you are welcome to use these questions as a starter for ten (although an attribution would be lovely).

And if you are a frontline officer / member of staff - and you would like to answer these questions anonymously - please do get in touch. ( I would be interested in your answers!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The shape of things to come?

Some people are getting in a froth about the expanding teams supporting the Police & Crime Commissioners around the country:
New police chiefs (who you didn't vote for) pay cronies thousands: Crime tsars give friends and allies jobs worth up to £73,000
Apart from the fact that this should be 'whom you didn't vote for'... I am wondering what people honestly expected? Certainly, the suggestion that cronyism is alive and well in some offices of the PCC is an accusation that might stick in some places. (A subject I have blogged about before.) However the idea that a single individual could ever really cover the job of PCC without some significant and close support is laughable.

By means of comparison, I am merely a lowly town councillor. I get about 200 emails a month and just yesterday I despatched a stack of one year's worth of council agendas and other papers 18 inches high to the recycling bin. I am one of 17 councillors and between us, with half a dozen staff, we just about manage to stay on top of all the issues. We hope. I spend about a day per week on council related business. And I admit, I do not read every document in depth that comes my way. But we are a team, and I know that my councillor colleagues will read some of the pieces I miss and together we cover all the bases.

Now transpose this to a PCC. My local PCC has a population of 2.3 million people to cover with 17 local authorities. The budget of course is much bigger than my town council. The buck stops with him and therefore he must stay on top of a very wide range of issues. As I mentioned before, even if only 1% of the people resident in the Thames Valley Police Area write to their PCC once every year, that equates to over 400 letters and emails every week which require investigation and a response.

So I am none too surprised that many PCCs are creating bigger teams. Frankly, in my opinion, they have little choice unless they want to treat the job as something of a part time jolly.

So please read more about one example: the team that Bob Jones is creating in West Midlands. I know Bob and he is not sort of man to spend taxpayers' money without very good cause. Given the size of his 'constituency' and the need to liaise with a significant set of local authorities & other partners, he is creating a Board that has the capability and capacity to do the job.

I would also suggest that Bob is creating the shape of things to come. I am guessing here, but I would imagine that he would favour having an elected board of assistant commissioners as one way of spreading accountability and democracy.

Could this be the model for a policing governance structure that a future government might install? 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Association of PCCs

Yesterday it was announced "Police Commissioners agree to form national representative body" along with details of the new Board that will be steering the APCC from here onwards. Here they are:

New APCC board of Directors
  • Tony Lloyd PCC (Labour - Greater Manchester) and Chairman of the APCC and Directors:
  • Sir Graham Bright PCC (Conservative - Cambridgeshire)
  • Anthony Stansfeld PCC (Conservative - Thames Valley)
  • Vera Baird PCC (Labour - Northumbria)
  • Ron Ball PCC (Independent - Warwickshire)
  • Simon Hayes PCC (Independent - Hampshire)
  • Cllr Simon Duckworth (Chair of Police Committee - City of London)
I wish them well - along with the secretariat (Mark Castle OBE: Chief Executive, Joel Charles: Communications Officer and Tania Eagle: Programme Manager) on their journey to support PCCs having due influence over the future of policing and action to tackle crime in England & Wales.

As regular readers know, I was part of a small group of people who made a parallel offer to PCCs to support them on this journey. (See details of CoPaCC here.) As the offspring of the Association of Police Authority, the APCC always had the cards stacked in their favour of course. Us 'CoPaCCers' knew this. Nonetheless, it is my hope that, perhaps, we influenced the debate around the formation and establishment of the APCC.

It is also my hope that being on the 'other side' as it were, will not mean that either the APCC or PCCs in general see us people they would not want to do business with. I became involved in CoPaCC because I want to help PCCs to do all that they can do to improve police and crime services around the country. We remain on that same page.

Also CoPaCC has not gone away. Please keep an eye on the website and watch out for services as they develop. We remain a confederation of associates who will continue to offer help and support to Police and Crime governance in England and Wales.

Friday, 22 March 2013

How will the police service enable the ‘frontline professional’ to fight crime and protect the public?

On Wednesday 13 March between 10am and 12 midday there was a live debate on Twitter using the hashtag #futurecop (from gavthecop)

So I thought I would add my two pennyworth as I was travelling for much of this time. Here are some ideas:
  • The office of constable is possibly one of the most legally empowered frontline roles in the country but the impression I get is that not many PCs feel this way. How come? Perhaps a start to answering the overall question would be found in understanding why...
  • I have already blogged about the value to be found from not only empowering / enabling the frontline officers (PCs, PCSOs and other staff) but also empowering / enabling citizens and communities to take (evidence based) action to prevent and tackle crime & disorder. (Blog is here) Our aim should be to create 'barefoot crime preventers'
  • Speaking as a socialist of course, I cannot help but notice that socio-economic class features highly in the analysis of where crime happens, which communities are most at risk etc. So perhaps a good dose of sociology and/or socialism as part of police training would be a good thing... While all frontline officers are well versed in addressing racism, sexism, ageism etc... what about a little more about tackling classism?
  • Also as I have blogged beforepolicing resources should be deployed into areas where there is most risk of harm / actual harm. This might mean that there is sufficient resource to take a long term view of crime and disorder in those areas and engage in some solid prevention. This would be an alternative to constant 'fire fighting' and reactive policing which often arises in places where resources are severely stretched.
  • Perhaps every Neighbourhood Action Group or Community Safety Committee should be required to have a random five members of the ordinary public present each time they meet. These people may give a greater voice to their concerns and help frontline officers know more about what they should be tackling. Equally if any of these five people fall asleep during the course of the meetings, the meeting would have to stop!
  • have also blogged before about the role of the PCC in crime prevention with a strong focus on the work of Paul Ekblom and his conjunction of criminal opportunity model. Much of this is applicable to frontline officers also.
  • Section 17 of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act imposes "…. a general duty on each local authority to take account of the community safety dimension in all of its work. All policies, strategies, plans and budgets will need to be considered from the standpoint of their potential contribution to the reduction of crime and disorder". (Source here) Has this law ever been fully enacted? Could frontline officers, perhaps with the back up of the PCC, now be using this more?
What are your ideas?