What does the image below mean to you?
If it’s not entirely obvious….
It’s about the difference between turning on a man and turning on a woman. Blokes are apparently relatively straightforward. [one click]. The ladies on the other hand need a combination of a number of factors all in sync before the magic happens. Switch A on, knob B at position 2 but only if dial 4 is at 50% and so on….
Before I get into territory that will have people yelling at me.. hit the pause button. That’s not what this blog is about. It’s about obtaining a reaction.
It was once very easy to obtain a reaction from the police. You simply called us up and we came. In other words the police were like the ‘man switch’ on the image above. We might not have attended straight away but we would come.. eventually. Even when I joined 20+ years ago we didn’t always come straight away. Many times I found myself apologising to someone for how long it had taken us to get to them. Over the years things have changed.
House alarms. We always went. Just a quick check over to ensure all was secure, contact the key holder if we had one and sympathise with the neighbours facing the noise. These days we don’t go. We only attend if there are additional factors reported. e.g The alarm is ringing and the door is wide open, or a strange man is in the back garden. Unless of course you have lots of money and have a monitored alarm.. then we come. (The contradiction of the latter annoys me and may form another blog about equality of service.)
If your shed has been broken into, your lawnmower stolen and nothing seen we are unlikely to come. We may send the forensic team if we think an opportunity to recover evidence is there. Otherwise we may not come at all. I won’t go into a long list of incidents that we will not ordinarily attend. Suffice to say that times have changed. It’s not totally black and white. A particularly vulnerable or upset victim may well get a visit over someone who just wants a crime number. It becomes clear that we have moved from the man switch to the multitudinous buttons, knobs and dials of the woman model.
So the police have changed how we react to incidents. You could say we have streamlined in order to maximise our resources. You could say we have made it more difficult for the public to get to see us? Either way and whichever take you agree with there is, as our numbers reduce, a need to be more efficient with our resources.
The public used to expect us to simply attend.. and we did. We have changed our reaction but my experience is that in many cases the public haven’t really changed their expectation. The amount of calls we get where the public are insistent or demand to see an officer hasn’t changed.
I have been in the control room now since the end of January and I am thoroughly enjoying my new role. It has given me the opportunity to monitor an awful lot of incoming incidents. What has become apparent is that the public are adept at ‘twiddling our knobs and pushing our buttons’. This is not something new but as we have changed the public have adapted. Members of the public who want a police patrol to attend but know we won’t come have become savvy. For a house alarm they will say ‘there is a suspicious person on the corner’ or ‘I think I saw someone on the flat roof’ or ‘I know they are on holiday and I can hear banging’. To be fair sometimes this is perfectly genuine and we should respond. Other times though it can be a manufactured response. A report of youths being a nuisance at a play area in the park will engender a response but not immediately. If the caller also says ‘One of them is waving something around. I can’t be sure but it might be a knife’ then suddenly the risk increases and we pull out all the stops to get there.
The difficulty is how to sort the wheat from the chaff. How do we differentiate between the genuine call and the manufactured call? Local intelligence and repeat callers helps but in reality our buttons have been pushed and we are coming. The net result is that the demand on the resources is not reduced.
Yet there is another factor now coming into play that I hadn’t noticed before. We have become smarter about how we respond to incidents and when dealing with partners we often throw questions back at them such as ‘What have you done to resolve this?’ We now try to deal with it from a ‘how can we support you’ position rather than ‘what do you want us to do for you?’
Mental health is a good example. The demand on resources for mental health, concerns for welfare/safety and missing from homes is not reducing. We regularly challenge partners on what they plan to do. They cannot simply report it to us, sit back and wait for us to solve for them. They have ownership too. With the help of Insp Michael Brown (aka @mentalhealthcop) we have become much wiser on mental health law and protocols. Where we once would have simply just responded to a request to accompany an AMHP to see a patient for a possible section we now challenge it. Where we would simply have attended at a hospital to help the staff administer medication we now question the need. We consider our powers more carefully, demand cooperation and teamwork and challenge their approach (e.g. informal attendance at an address to section someone over a s135 warrant).
This has had some positive outcomes but in between the successes are some incidents where our partners are starting to demonstrate the same behaviour as some of the public. They are pushing our buttons and presenting the right ‘key’ words in order to engender a response. We recently refused to assist with a mental health case without a warrant. All the RAVE factors were present, the known risks were obvious and a warrant was the best option to ensure the safety of all and we acted within our powers. The MH team decided they did not like this, attended at the address on their own and then called us saying the patient was aggressive and they needed back up. Irresponsible? I would say so.
The traditional 5 o’clock call on Friday afternoon about a concern for welfare of a vulnerable person is proliferated with all the key words that mean we cannot simply ignore it. As those staff head for home we are left to find the vulnerable alcoholic person with suicidal thoughts, mental health problems, cannot be trusted anywhere near children, has not taken their meds and as such can lead to highly unpredictable behaviour. All the issues that person had at 8am that morning when the staff came on duty.
The police are adjusting how we respond to demand. In many cases this will work. The vast bulk of the public understand we are under pressure and accept, maybe begrudgingly, that times have changed. Others however are ready to manipulate the circumstances just enough to get the outcome they want. To exacerbate our problems I now see this filtering into the behaviour of some of our partners. This is not about avoiding jobs. It’s about working efficiently and cutting out waste.
Unless the expectation the public and our partners have of the police changes then the demand on our resources will not reduce. We can present them with a myriad of buttons, dials, switches and knobs to obtain a reaction and they will simply push every one until they get it.