The challenges of the police reform process

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As we (once again) run headlong into the abyss of police reform (aka cost cutting) and the government prepares to issue forth with its missives and instructions I am worried…

It concerns me that (yet again) there will be masses of piecemeal knee jerk reactions and unworkable proposals. Changes that are based almost solely upon financial considerations or worse, are formulated around self-interest and self-importance, be those ‘interests’ be organisational or individual ones. It is also worrying that if police service executives (ACPO) don’t like what they hear, they will simply ignore the guidance and shuffle off along their path of pompous insolence and indifference, as was the case with the Home Secretary’s instructions about ‘performance targets’ recently.

For several months now I (like many others) have been doing my upmost to influence that change process and, probably thanks to the power of the internet and various networking forums,  there is a slight chance that this time, the government may actually have received a more rounded and balanced view of the issues. That said I don’t feel too inclined to make an attempt on breaking the Guinness world record for breath holding!

Back in May this year and in view of the government white paper ‘Policing in the 21st century – reconnecting police and the people’, Alex Higgins asked the Linkedin Police Network; what are the five biggest challenges facing Police Forces at present?

I have purposefully held back on offering my ‘five points’ to the melting pot, for two reasons. (1) Although there is a pressing need for people to contribute to the (hopefully) educated and informed debate, shooting from the hip in the initial stages of a gunfight is not always the best and most accurate methodology. (2) As many involved in the debate appear to hold greater eloquent ability than I to argue a point (and be listened to), perhaps I could find words from them that better illustrate my beliefs.

Thankfully for once, the British (and service) propensity towards apathy has been in descent. There has been healthy and vociferous response to the issues; the above forum, along with others such as, the Linkedin Police Debate, policing blogs like The Thin Blue Line and Inspector Gadget et al and finally the official government review of remuneration and service conditions website, have all been awash with comment and concerns. Some of the most useful comments and/or suggestions I have found (so far) include…

Phil Davies (GMP Supt) suggested his five important ‘challenges’ are; (1) Balancing the books, (2) Value for money, (3) Service Delivery, (4) Keeping up with technology and (5) Globalisation. I would agree with the ethos and sentiments in general however, as with many middle to senior managers (I use the term loosely) in the service, once again the priorities (assuming they were offered in order of importance) are slightly skewed. Far too many in the service loose sight of the fact, policing is about ‘delivery’ and everything else is to an extent, ancillary to that factor. The current financial climate may have increased the (long overdue) importance of ‘balancing the books’ and providing ‘value for money’ services however, knee jerk cost cutting will have far reaching and long term affects. The question is, will these long term affects be beneficial?

Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera (Ex Centrex) makes an excellent observation when he says – Is the service ‘fit for purpose’ in the twenty-first century? Who knows for there has not been any meaningful research undertaken for decades.” Successive governments (and the public) have been hoodwinked by the ‘ACPO vision of policing’ in many ways; they have simply accepted the ACPO ‘expert’ comments and recommendations with blind ignorance. This is nonsensical as Ruwan continues; “Expecting ACPO to undertake this research is like asking lions about their views on becoming vegetarian.”

Theft Protect from Nice 1 Ltd quiet rightly says; “The challenges represent the best opportunity for years for policing to change for the better. The challenges and potential changes are symbiotically linked.” The five ‘challenges’ offered were; (1) Sort out the Governance of policing once and for all, (2) Rationalisation of forces and procurement processes, (3) More effective application of human resource functions, (4) Reducing crime and increasing detections (without cooking the books or creative accounting) and finally but probably most importantly (5) Refocus the priorities of policing back to the ‘Peelian principles’, the main emphasis should always be the protection of life and property, the prevention and detection of crime. Anything else is a distraction.

Alastair Luff (Managing Director ABM) points out: “Moving to a regionalised set of shared service models is an ideal way in driving cost savings, efficiencies and in actual fact, increasing effectiveness of operations”. Alastair highlights the two main stumbling blocks as being (1) the lack of ‘shared and reliable infrastructure’ and (2) a requirement for ‘standardisation and agreement around core processes’. I would add to this the inherent parochialism within the service’s senior management. I would also say, we have reached the point where those managers really need to adopt a ‘will do’ as opposed to ‘what if’ methodology. Always assuming they have genuine interest in empowering the process.

Duncan Croll (Retired Commander Metropolitan Police) highlights this when he says;  “Stop talking about mergers and collaboration – do something – you are wasting public money. If you are a member of the public apart from your neighbourhood unit, who you want to know, you just want a police officer to sort out your or the presenting problem. Except for very local, localism is dead!”

The ‘challenges’ being faced by the service will impact upon the ultimate success of any reform. If we genuinely want them to be achievable and we really want to ‘deliver’ services in a more ‘cost effective’ manner, the only barrier to a successful outcome (as ever) is the service hierarchy… “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” (Albert Einstein).

John Harvey, an organisational development practitioner with 20 years experience across the public services and commercial world argues that; ‘successful collaboration is founded upon believing & trusting in its value’. In his piece ‘Police Collaboration: Creating the conditions for success’ he points out; “For collaboration to work there has to be a default belief that a joined up & collaborative service is probably going to be cheaper and better for all concerned. Without this belief, the endless iterations of business plans will be just that, endless. No matter how well researched, a business case is still just a possible future and not a certainty.” John also highlights radical reform is clearly an issue of leadership here for chief officers, senior managers and police authority members.”

So I suppose it’s about time I nailed my colours to the ‘challenge’ wall…

  1. Enforcing understanding in police management that; the main purpose of policing is primarily “the protection of life and property and the prevention and detection of crime.” Anything else is simply a distraction.
  2. Development of a ‘will do’ as opposed to ‘what if’ methodology in police management, which is fundamental to support change in the workforce.
  3. Provision and development of supportive (as opposed critical) methodology in police management to empower service delivery in the workforce.
  4. A departure from parochialism in police management to facilitate and allow collaborative partnership working.
  5. Development of an acceptance in police management that; your own force doesn’t actually have to be good at everything. This misguided belief may create the misconception that you are a ‘jack of all (policing) trades’ however it only results in you actually being ‘a master of none’.

3 thoughts on “The challenges of the police reform process

  1. This all seems like good sense MrG and I wouldn’t detract from it. I agree in principle. My issue is simply that other problems underlie all that is being said and are not being surfaced. These ‘theories-in-action’ will screw any reform and tend to across organisational re-design issues. I only jibe a little in my posts, but see no sign of the relevant knowledge.
    I suspect many have missed the ‘job creation’ that went on under Nulabour and that this was an extension of the benefits system and its own fealty system. Department after department was created or bloated to respond to ‘targets’ and devolved budgets and to cover up reality. The idea was to dig holes and have people fill them in. This isn’t as stupid as it seems when only government is creating jobs. The cultural problems it creates are massive, though the economics is probably sounder than slash and burn until the private sector cavalry bugle is heard. People have got used to being paid for nothing, sometimes being paid quite massive amounts. The managers who climb this greasy pole are very poor specimens. I would liken the situation to ‘transition economics’ where we expect the apparatchiks to become the entrepreneurchiks.
    This is only the first problem of many.


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