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Emergency service collab initiative helps people “previously unreached”

A collaboration initiative in Scotland has had a “potentially ground-breaking impact”.

A collaboration initiative which saw a police and fire officer based full time in a “community hub” shows potential for helping those previously unreached by services, a study has said.

Led by the Scottish Centre for Policing and Public Health at Edinburgh Napier University – the study has said the initiative has had a potentially “ground-breaking” impact.

It saw Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service establish a “team around the community” model of cross-service response.

An operational PC, an operational fire officer and a police inspector from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit had been stationed together in a primary school office acting as a “community hub”.

For the PC and fire officer, they had to work “hand in glove” and build up relationships with people in the community and partner agencies.

The partnership was chaired by a senior manager from the local authority.

Police Oracle understands that the officers responded to incidents but their location in the community helped them to pro-actively build relationships. 

An example was with mental health crises/incidents where the local first response officers would attend as well as the community hub police officer - a familiar face which made interventions and de-escalation were made easier. 

The two officers would also recognise if, for example, people stopped appearing at the food bank. 

Police Oracle understands that a theme of the joint response was to tackle loneliness and isolation. The two operational officers were able to identify an aim of improving public spaces. Reportedly the fact they could "get things done" reinforced their credibility and improved community resilience. 

The evaluation took place between March and June 2022, but the approach had been in place for about a year prior.

The aim of the study was to look at how cross-service collaboration could improve community safety and wellbeing and help reduce social and health inequalities.

The team was found to have a “more connective form of professionalism” – they worked together on a daily basis to identify people in crisis and then to “get things done”.

The study added: “When unable to address issues between them, they resorted to a more traditional multi-agency approach, drawing on the resources of other partner agencies.

“Being based full-time within the Hub was viewed as imperative to the successes achieved so far. Being based there has enabled them to be completely focused on developing trusting relationships, through ‘serial encounters’ with hard-to-reach people in need within the community.”

The two officers engaged with community members in a variety of settings, including the local food bank and knocking on every door in the case study area.

Frontline officers who were interviewed said that by working together and with other services, they could develop solutions with “longer-term individual resilience”.

However, the study caveats that any conclusions have been dependent on the personal commitment of the few officers involved. Further, no quantifiable evidence has yet been collated.

There were also challenging perceptions around whether it was the responsibility of either service to meet community needs including painting community benches or accompanying people to medical appointments.

Recommendations have been made including to develop a “robust evidence base” of the initiative but also that operational officers should continue to be “ring fenced” to develop trusting relationships with hard to reach people.

Professor Nadine Dougall of Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Health and Social Care said: “This research could act as a model for providing crucial public services in disadvantaged communities across the country.

“Issues which are common in disadvantaged communities, like drug supply, anti-social behaviour, and personal safety, appear to be much better addressed by this public health and trauma-informed approach to reduce inequalities and enhance community resilience.”

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