Policing: more than PR spin ad hoc operations and technology

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Since joining the police service over thirty years ago there have been massive changes in the process and methods employed by managers to ‘modernise’ the service. Let me start by saying I’m not against change per se but many, including me would ask, “to what end” that change? 

Updates to processes and procedures will always be needed to meet new challenges and any organisation that can’t move with the times, the police service is no different, is setting itself up to fail. That said, so much of the change in the police has actually taken place for all the wrong reasons. Knee-jerk reactions, politics or the personal whim of individuals trying to make a name for themself, have all had a profoundly negative impact upon the service. Let’s examine some of the issues…

Tens of thousands of pounds of public money has been wasted expended on branding exercises and the creation of pointless mission statement tag lines such as…

Delivering modern policing in a traditional way

That tag line alone produces a Google return of some 271,000 results but has it helped the community of North Yorkshire get a better service from their police force? I would have to say in all honesty, no. There may have originaly been a desire to ‘sell’ the ‘values’ of policing to the general public but, like most areas throughout the UK it has failed.

Police told to drop ‘pointless’ brand slogans: The police should stop wasting money by coming up with “pointless” business slogans designed to advertise their service, according to The Plain English Campaign… (walletpop.co.uk)

It has simply been an elaborate and expensive PR marketing exercise that, for all intents and purpose has cost the public a lot of money and failed to produce the outcome expected.

Public sector mottos: the weird and the meaningless – Bureaucrats at hundreds of public sector organisations have spent thousands of pounds of tax payers money creating new mottos, derided by critics as “drivel”. (telegraph.co.uk)

The basic policing function, continually called for by the public, and still required by our society but rarely delivered these days, is broadly similar to how it has always been.

Another aspect of police public relations and marketing gimmickry today is one-off ‘initiatives’. Over recent years there has been a propensity for police forces to run short-term one-off or ad hoc operations. It’s a methodology designed to provide a quick fix for a more long-term issue. Often where a local force has lost the ‘high ground’ and needs to restore public confidence in their ability to control the situation. Unfortunately, the only genuine and tangible outcome is an enhanced CV for the person in charge of the operation.

Police mount Saturday night drug purge: On Saturday 5 February local police mounted an anti-drugs operation, the aim being, “to send a clear message that drug crime will not be tolerated” and the results…

“We are pleased to say only one person was found in possession of cocaine and was issued with a caution. Another was arrested for a public order offence. The dogs detected seven other people but none were found in possession of any drugs.”

During the course of the operation, extra officers will have been drafted in (at the expense of other areas). They will have been tied exclusively to the operation for a specified time period and, due in no small way to the reduced availability of resources on the day, the needs of other members of the community will have been placed on hold, or totally ignored. And what effect on those being ‘targeted’? They will have quickly dispersed to areas outside the perimeter of the operation, regrouped and prepared for ‘business as normal’ as soon as the police departed. The subsequent deluge of “didn’t we do well” articles in all the local media outlets will also have done little to placate the suffering occupants of the area.

For some time now, despite the much hailed reduction in crime year on year, ably assisted by the manipulation of crime statistics, it’s all about trying to alleviate public concern and “reduce the fear of crime“. Words that were used in a previous force ‘branding’ exercise but changed when a new Chief Constable was appointed. Effective policing requires more than words alone, Ad hoc operations don’t equal long-term effective policing. But what about the technology available within policing today?

With the introduction of tools such as CCTV and Automatic Number Plate recognition (ANPR) systems, the public actually have a more hightened expectation of police capability than ever before.

BBC Report: An inquiry into the monitoring of a sex offender who murdered a girl he met on Facebook has highlighted “serious flaws” in the polices automatic number plate recognition ANPR system… (Read more)

When that public expectation actually fails to match the reality and circumstances of a particular incident, public confidence and the overall support for policing takes another painful nose dive. Technology, without the training, personnel and processes in place to operate and support its function, is also often worthless. Despite all the previous ‘best thing since sliced bread’ press releases.

The ANPR technology is a case in point. When originally introduced government grants were available for police forces to introduce and implement the system, once the grant funding ceased, did Chief Officers continue the financial commitment required? In many respects I suspect not… The same situation goes for urban CCTV systems, many of which remain un maned for long periods of time, due to reduced local authority funding issues.

It has long been identified that; the predominant expenditure in policing is that of salary payments… You need people to do the job… The question that presents itself to government and the public today is; how prepared are we to pay for what we actually need? And probably more importantly, how long are we prepared to let senior officers and politicians squander and waste our money?