Time and tactics wait for no-one Date published: 18th October 2016 12am
The commentary about modern UK policing is relentless.
Austerity, coupled with the impact of more intrusive regulation has forced the service to face many policing shibboleths; leaner headquarters, smaller neighbourhood policing teams and so on.
We also talk more often about a shift from crime fighting to public protection and preventing vulnerability.
We know too that the nature of crime is ever changing. We seem to have an epidemic of cyber-related ills. Yet it is easy to forget too many people still fall victim to traditional crime like street robbery, burglary and violence.
A new ‘managerial lexicon’ has filled the space once occupied by targets and performance management. Some Forces increasingly talk of ‘managing demand’ as their mission, to some a move away from Peelian notions of crime prevention.
In our rush to efficiency some colleagues have questioned the worth of the cornerstone of British policing, street patrol and the effectiveness of the British bobby on the beat.
Others experiment with new ways to curb the effect of managing day to day pressures, such as only visiting alternate victims of crime.
Taken in the round, some of the alternate pictures of our day-to-day operations may mean that a pessimist could conclude that policing is becoming increasingly opaque, that everything is important, perhaps, leading to a sense of helplessness, especially on the most precious of commodities – the much vaunted front line.
But perhaps we should just accept that policing is complicated. Worry less about what we can’t do because of shrinking of resources and a growing mission and concentrate on what we can directly influence.
So perhaps a simpler paradigm, in a world of sterile risk assessments and burgeoning bureaucracy.
Time – even in a complex world, we can choose when we mobilise our resources or commission initiatives to combat an emerging issue.
Place – we can either watch events drive the tempo of 999 calls and shape our destiny, or choose more deliberately where sometimes scarce resources are posted. The widely reported predictive policing experiments gave a clue to the potential of a smarter patrol and more deliberate plan of our choosing.
Tactics – in a world of constraints, efficiency and standardisation, we can still chose the best fit tactics for a given situation. Therefore the emergence of evidence based policing and recognition that sharing knowledge and an emphasis on co-productive problem sharing has huge potential. Get the balance right and this can enable a crackdown/consolidation regime to flourish.
But is this enough? To some this is a sterile to do list. It is easy to forget the power and influence of leadership. In our endeavour to manage complexity, we forget the power of leadership to define what‘s important and what is not; to help others make sense of ambiguity and to set the tone and momentum of day to day effort. Leadership can influence others at all levels but a key role in this mix must be valuing the crucial role Sergeants and front line supervisors play.
We can have all the strategies and policies in the world, but these are the people who set the tone first and reinforce standards. They do it by the questions they ask, where they go out to and what they show interest in. What they challenge, what they condone. In our strive for real neighbourhood policing, as some commentators have observed, we ignore them and a simpler operational imperative at our peril.