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Thames Valley Police to launch behavioural science unit

The unit will comprise a team of three and be headed up by Superintendent Felicity Parker.

Thames Valley Police is to implement a new behavioural science unit within the force aimed at helping officers, as well as other staff members, improve performance by making small changes to practice. 

The force hopes to have the unit in place by November, while recruitment for the team will begin in the next few weeks. 

Supt Felicity Parker told Police Oracle that the unit could help make simple changes to improve the work environment: “It might be clearing up the parade room or the operations room to make sure that people can think clearly, or that on nights we are able to support people to make better decisions when they’re on that period of work in the middle of the night,” she said. 

To date, the force has already begun trialling some behavioural science techniques - including for victim contact, an area Supt  Parker told Police Oracle was one of the force’s priorities.

As a result of conversations with officers and with private company Ogilvy a dedicated victim contact time was created to give officers the space they needed to update victims on case progression, or to simply check in with them. 

Other practices that have been looked at so far include the use of Body Worn Video, to have the control room remind officers to wear it once they arrive at an incident, as well as having sticker reminders on car doors. 

“The plates are spinning for those frontline cops but we’re using behavioural science to nudge them [at the right time] to make sure they remember to do those positive behaviours to do the best job they possibly can,” Supt Parker explained. 

She explained that this isn’t necessarily designed to tackle some of the larger issues in policing and public confidence.

“This is more about easing that pathway to make sure that we're doing things in the best possible way. In policing, we can either performance manage, and we do have professional standards [but] this is about saying, ‘Actually, let's encourage positive behaviours,’ rather than saying, ‘you shouldn't have done that, that's all gone wrong.’"

Supt Parker said that the response from officers so far has been positive. 

“Victim contact time has been really well received,” she said. 

“The frontline officers on shift feel that we've done something to help them do their job more effectively.” 

Those recruited for the team will ideally have a social science background. Supt Parker said they are looking for academics and also those with some experience in policing.  

“We're not looking to solve massive, entrenched problems, this is about that 2% - 5% increase in what we're trying to achieve," she added.

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