Cross-border champions

The extension of the already considerable collaboration between forces in the North East was limited by failing to learn the lessons of previous projects. One study has sought to quantify what helps and hinders success in this area.

Nov 15, 2017

Mounting efficiency requirements and an expectation from the Home Office have led to English and Welsh forces increasingly entering into collaborations on areas from specialist operations to procurement. These have ranged from the relatively simple to more complex proposals like the potential merger of Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police, and the ‘gold standard’ often held up as the pinnacle of what can be achieved through joint working – the seven-force collaboration. The benefits of such collaboration are potentially significant; by working together, forces stand to gain enhanced public service, effectiveness and value for money while realising major savings. However, even smaller collaborations will likely prove challenging to implement due to the many cultural and operational barriers that have emerged over time. Understanding the inhibitors – and any potential facilitators – is therefore crucial to the success of fledgling collaborative arrangements. The seven forces covering Yorkshire, Humberside, Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria have frequently encountered these barriers. A complex network of sub-regional collaborations has built up across the North East over more than ten years, to the point that, by last December, there were more than 70 joint projects in place. In 2015, they even began testing the possibility of a seven-force programme to collaborate on low-volume, high-risk areas such as CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) response and disaster victim identification. Despite these extensive efforts, the seven forces had only a limited collective view of the work that had been done, meaning there was little learning in place to inform any potential expansion of the seven-force project. “Because we were working in a complex and varied environment we were very keen to make sure we learnt the lessons from the things we had already done as a group,” explained Charlie French, programme manager for North Yorkshire Police, at last month’s Excellence in Policing conference. As many officers and members of staff had been involved in collaborations over the past ten years, particularly in designing and running collaborative units, the forces commissioned a study by the N8 Policing Research Partnership to: examine what had been done before; understand the inhibitors and enablers to effective collaboration; and make sure future projects were designed to make the best of what had already been learnt. Inhibitors of collaboration As part of the study, researchers spoke to 17 people from the seven forces who had previously been involved in collaborations in the North East. Respondents included police staff and officers ranked from sergeant to assistant chief constable, who spoke about their experiences of what historically had and had not worked. One of the most common barriers to success raised by participants was the different cultures that have developed between forces. Each of the seven forces in the region had created its own methods of working, and these often clashed when they tried to come together. This became particularly apparent in the reluctance among individual officers to change their habits to meet the new shared requirements, especially those in middle leadership positions. According to Ms French, this may be because superintendents and chief superintendents in the region receive fewer opportunities to interact with each other, while chief officers regularly share ideas in meetings, and the front line interacts through mutual aid. The respondents claimed superintending ranks become the most entrenched in their ways of working. “That can be incredibly difficult to overcome when you have a collaborative team,” said Dr Xavier L’Hoiry, lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy at the University of Sheffield and a member of the N8 Policing Research Partnership. “These things might seem like minor quibbles to an outsider looking in, but what the participants said to me was that they add up and cumulatively they become very difficult to overcome – t

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