Building policing’s future
Jan 20, 2020 @ 16:20

Policing has been adapting to extraordinary levels of change in the past decade, but the next decade could see more seismic shifts, say Richard Hobbs and Tom Gash.

Richard Hobbs and Tom Gash

The advent of a new government committed to recruiting 20,000 additional officers and open to revisiting all parts of the Theresa May policing settlement represents an exciting opportunity for policing in England and Wales. For some forces, new resources and approaches offer a route to recovery after funding cuts have significantly reduced service standards. But for most policing organisations the question now is how investment can transform services for public, building on the discipline and increased efficiency developed through austerity.

The challenge, however, is that there are just so many areas of policing that could benefit from investment, and there remain huge uncertainties in the politics and society.

Priorities, funding and big policy decisions are in flux.

Neither national nor local political priorities for policing are yet fully articulated at present. Locally, a third or more of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will be standing down in 2020 and we could easily see half of PCCs new in post in 2020. Nationally, the Conservative manifesto gives a flavour of priorities, with a strong emphasis on serious violence and investigation and enforcement activities. How far these will be translated into clear directions, or even targets, remains to be seen, however – and there will be big tensions between national and local priority setters, for example on the question of whether to focus on visibility or harm, serious violence or broader quality of life issues.

National investment in terms of officer numbers for next year has been decided and officers allocated to forces, but longer-term officer allocations and the additional resources to support these officers are not yet clear. Debates on precept levels, meanwhile, rage locally and major home office technology and forensics programmes are still – inexplicably – operating on an annual budgeting cycle with no certainty over longer-term investment levels.

Big policy issues have been reopened by government and police leaders. This month, Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, called for policing structures to be revisited as part of a broader Royal Commission on criminal justice included in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech.

Shifts in crime and society meanwhile progress apace, though we actually do know a fair amount about the major trends that will shape policing demand in coming decades.

Common reactions to uncertainty and complexity are either paralysis or a shift into a purely reactive approach. The central challenge for policing leaders in 2020 is therefore to act under uncertainty, leading improvements that are within their power while also actively influencing the big national shifts on priorities, funding, and the policing model.

In Policing 4.0: How 20,000 officers can transform UK policing, we set out some approaches that can help, making nine recommendations for local and national shifts in approach. Five of these are for national decision-makers.

We particularly emphasise the need for a new national crime prevention capability to reduce demand locally, investing in non-warranted staff, training and technology in addition to officer uplift, and putting national programmes on a much more stable footing.

Locally, we call for a parallel set of changes, however. Many forces will benefit from a fresh look at priorities, policing philosophy and the capabilities they need for today and for the future. It will be hard to recruit the right types of people in terms of skills and diversity – and to structure the right career paths and development trajectories – without this.

Once priorities are clear, ‘digital twin’ methods can help to decide where to invest new officers and staff to maximum effect. These methods map demand and flows of work through organisations and can reveal resource bottlenecks in areas such as custody.

Examining practices in leading policing organisations and other industries, meanwhile, will provide clues for how operations, workforce approaches, technology and new structures and collaborations could evolve to improve services and public safety.

We believe that effective forces will increasingly think not in terms of ‘public contact’, which can often treat each encounter with a victim or suspect afresh, towards thinking about citizen relationship management capabilities. They will think in terms of workforce relationship management rather than cruder resource deployment models, which ignore officer and staff differences, preferences and wellbeing. They will augment traditional investigative capabilities with both broad and deep digital investigation capabilities. And they will be investing in the data and analytic capabilities that will supplement experience-based and evidence-based decision-making.

If local leaders are clear on their agenda and the capabilities they need for the future, then policing can achieve great things in the coming period. Fifty thousand new recruits will enter policing in the next three years to achieve the 20,000-officer uplift and, if Government is genuinely committed to strengthening policing, there will be proportional staff recruitment and technology investments. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Richard Hobbs is Partner and UK Policing Lead at Deloitte.

Tom Gash is a strategic adviser to Deloitte and Managing Director of Leapwise, a decision consultancy.

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