A service capable of changing
Police forces in the UK and overseas are already demonstrating their ability to respond to policing’s shifting circumstances. Levels and types of change have varied across the UK and our research shows that funding pressure and a new, more local accountability model have led to a significant increase in the diversity of approaches in UK policing. Despite some success in coping with austerity, our research shows that UK policing leaders feel they are at risk of falling behind in some of the areas.
Developing new operating models
Forces have taken different approaches to developing aspects of their operating models:
- Internal structures
Many forces have taken the view that as headcount fell it would be better to reorganise forces so that teams covered bigger geographic areas. The Metropolitan Police Service has merged several borough command units. Smaller forces have organised their entire force primarily along functional (rather than geographic) lines.
There have been myriad of efforts to develop cross-force collaborations, and to build collaborations with other government agencies. The range of collaborative arrangements is considerable and has created a complex patchwork of partnerships across the country.
Regional structures for dealing with issues such as organised crime have been developing, with most of the 10 Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) now having taken on 13 specialist capabilities that the National Police Chiefs’ Council recommended they manage. National programmes have been established to improve police use of technology and ‘specialist capabilities’, policing functions which forces need but cannot easily afford to have in force.
- Prioritising demand
The past five years has seen a number of police forces changing how they respond to public calls for service (999 and 101 calls) and how they prioritise investigative effort. Dialogue with those reporting less serious crimes allows operators to determine whether they want an immediate physical police response crimes such as driving off without paying for petrol – or whether they are happy to have the case dealt remotely. In this case, that might mean a business sending in CCTV footage and police following up on car number plates to secure case resolution.
- Policing approaches
There have been significant shifts in core policing approaches in recent years. Neighbourhood policing has recently been subject to a thorough study by the Police Foundation. This work revealed that neighbourhood officers who were not part of dedicated, ring-fenced teams were often being pulled into response work, leading to “a marked decline in traditional neighbourhood outputs and outcomes including: community engagement, visibility, intelligence gathering, local knowledge and preventative problem solving.”
Some forces have focused on ensuring response officers are well equipped to carry out early stage investigations, while others see response as a surgical intervention and ensure response officers hand over cases to specialist investigative functions as quickly as possible. Within investigative functions, levels of specialisation varied, driven partly – but not entirely – by differences in demand profiles and force size.
- Technology adoption
There have been major differences in levels of technology adoption across forces. A majority of forces we surveyed were already investing in drones, cyber-security, cloud computing, data analytics and biometrics. But there were policing organisations using less popular technologies too, with one force using augmented and virtual reality in scenes of crime training, for example, and several forces trialling artificial intelligence.
There were several forces who had not invested significantly in new technologies – usually smaller and medium size forces. Forces also varied in the maturity of their core ICT operation, and in which providers and software they used. There were different levels of maturity in cyber operations too, a concern given recent exposures relating to vulnerabilities across the public and private sector.
Underprepared in key areas
Our research found leaders do not feel well prepared to tackle technology enabled crime, a concern given its increasing prevalence. They were more confident about tackling other crime types, although terrorism, domestic violence and ‘traditional’ street crime (such as robberies, assaults etc.) were still seen as significant challenges for the future.
Leaders expressed concern about policing capability – including in the areas that are most important for the future. Many private and public sector organisations struggle with digital transformation and adoption of new technologies, and our survey shows police is no exception – with the biggest area of concern being about policing’s ability to harness technology.
There were also anxieties about policing’s capacity to deliver a co ordinated response across local, regional and national entities – a worry given the growing mobility of offenders and the existence of complex global supply chains for illegal markets, including in drugs, human trafficking and firearms. Our interviews suggest that these issues are in fact linked, both being underpinned by the lack of data sharing and technology interoperability that is frequently highlighted by HMICFRS as a major weakness.