Tag Archives: demand

The time is NOW

I have spent nearly 25yrs in the police. Nearer to 28 if you include my time as a special. Over that time the primary objective of the police has been;

  1. The preservation of life and the protection of property
  2. The prevention and detection of crime
  3. The maintenance of public order

This hasn’t changed. It’s the bedrock of the service the police provide. It’s the parameters within which we operate and the basis of the expectation the public have of us.

Working in the control room I see nearly every job that comes in for the area I cover. Burglary, robbery, missing persons, drugs, domestic violence, hate crime, anti social behaviour, neighbour disputes, parking problems, mental health incidents, concerns for welfare, death messages, road traffic accidents and more. The work we have done over my 25yrs experience hasn’t really reduced. With the exception of basic parking offences and noisy parties, there isn’t much I can point toward and say “we don’t do that anymore”.

Nearly every week there is another new piece of legislation that either adds new powers or creates new offences that the police are just expected to pick up.

The only thing I’ve seen reduce is our physical numbers. Boots on the ground.

Earlier this week I had 64 incidents on my screen. 11 of them were deployed to. Emergencies are deployed to immediately but those that can have a slower response can start to back up quite quickly. As far as resources were concerned my cupboard was bare. An Inspector approached me, concerned by the number of unresourced jobs and asked me to “get rid of what I could”. I had already worked through them but did so again. There was nothing I could pass to another agency or resolve by phone or other means. They all needed a police officer to attend and deal. We got through the day but the list didn’t really get any smaller.

Yet this isn’t new. In the mid 90’s I was a reserve in the divisional control room. If they were short staffed I would be called in to cover. Even then I can remember looking at the list of jobs balanced against resources in the same way.

We know that the number of police officers since the 90’s has increased (until recently) but the demand never seemed to change. When I was a young cop we were busy and struggled to meet demand. As an older cop, I see our current response officers in exactly the same place.

Did demand increase in such a way that increases in resources had little to no effect? Did increased resources allow us to put more staff into specialist roles (child abuse, sexual offences, high tech crime) leaving response policing with the same demands? Probably both to be fair.

As numbers of officers nationally reduce we find ourselves in a difficult place. We can make efficiencies, work smarter and think differently but eventually, notwithstanding our best efforts, we will not be able to meet demand. Many Chief Constables are now speaking out about the cuts and how detrimental it will be to service delivery.

The Home Secretary has been relentless in her pursuit of reform and we appear to be able to do nothing to convince her otherwise. So the only thing left for us to do is to reduce demand.

Yet here lies the rub. We provide a service. A service the public have come to expect. A service we have grown accustomed to giving over decades. We have also picked up work from other agencies, who when facing difficulties, have left shouldered work in our direction. Work they now come to expect. In some cases, we are now passing this work back to them but it is causing friction and great consternation by those we are refusing. The 4.55pm call on a Friday from social services or a care team. Children’s homes that report a child missing but when found at 1am 30 miles away by another force say they cannot collect as they are on their own or policy says they cannot do it. So who does it? We regularly pick up responsibility for matters because it falls within those three points above and comes with a “What might happen if we don’t” caveat.

As we struggle to service demand, saying “No” is going to become more common. I hate saying no. It goes completely against the grain. 25 years of helping and saying.. “Yes. I don’t know how but we will sort something” makes it very difficult to take a firm line but we are going to have to get used to it. The hard ground lies between public expectation and our tradition of response.

Two very simple examples. A cow in the road on a country lane near a bend. As it stands now we go and we go on an emergency response. Why? Well a cow makes a bit of a mess of a car if you hit one and there is a risk of injury to the driver/passengers. Yet swap the cow for a tractor pulling out of a field and we get no call. Even if we did we wouldn’t go. Ultimately the driver has the responsibility to avoid any road hazards whether vehicular or bovine but we have become accustomed to servicing such jobs. I can see why the cow is not a job for us but I can also see what out attendance may prevent. Do we sort the cow or deal with the accident later? Many in the service will say we have to go because of the risk to life using a “what if” scenario. There are also those in the job who say we should attend because if we have been told about something, do nothing and something awful happens then we will be hauled over the coals by command and the media. There is an increasing voice saying this is not a police matter.

A person has collapsed in the street. Someone is with them. They are breathing but not responding. No reason for the collapse is known. An ambulance job or the police? Well without any evidence to the contrary it appears to be a medical episode and one for ambulance. Yet we go? Why? We go because we always have and we use theories such as “We don’t know what happened. They may have been assaulted”. We also apply the protection of life principle. Despite those who believe we should attend there is an increasing voice saying this is not a police matter.

Police incident managers find themselves, everyday, making decisions about attendance or not. Should we go because we always have and divert precious resources (safe) or do we refuse and face the wrath if the situation goes wrong (risky)? 

There are too many variables, in relation to the incidents we may not attend to list them all. However, the safe option means we maintain the service we provide but run the risk of resource depletion. This may create an inability to resource an emergency incidents as it presents. The risk option means we alienate partners, the public and sometimes ourselves. We also run the risk of criticism from within and also the media. Many times I have heard, and said myself, “Imagine this on the front page of the Daily Mail”.

The incidents we attend, or don’t, when things go wrong are investigated quite often by the IPCC. Their funding has increased considerably during the same period that police forces have faced huge cuts. Increased resources means more capacity to investigate cops. Whilst wrong doing and poor service needs to be investigated I am concerned that we could fall into a trap of reducing demand whilst being judged by those who expect us to deliver the service we always did. Those two will never meet and that could leave officers open to dismissal, court appearances and potentially…prison.

If we are seriously going to reduce demand and adandon the work we should not be doing then there needs to be a proper grownup conversation about it. What the public want and what we the police can realistically deliver. A realignment of what the police service is here to do. The Home Seceratary says we are crime fighters. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a simplistic and dangerous view that fails to appreciate the role we are currently mandated to provide.

If our role is not formalised officially to meet 21st century policing needs then the changes we make in order to cope could leave officers and forces wide open.

The PFEW have been asking for years. Now is the time for the government to listen and do it. Let’s face it, if reforms are working then a Royal Commision into policing will endorse all their policies and reforms. What are they are afraid of?

The time for a Royal Commision on policing is now.

 

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Pushing the Buttons

What does the image below mean to you?

men-women-on-off-switch

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.

homer-angry-phone

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.