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Are we about to get a new national police improvement agency?

When the Police Productivity Review lands on Suella Braverman’s desk at the end of September what will be in it?

How can policing be better, more productive and more consistent across the whole of the UK? Alan Pughsley has 40 years' service and left his post in Kent last year having served nine years as chief there to join the Home Secretary-commissioned Police Productivity Review. The former NPCC lead for the review, former deputy commissioner of the Met Sir Stephen House, had to step down so the Kent chief took over the reigns..

He says the review team have been allowed to do something he wasn’t ever able to do in his own policing career. “We have been allowed to step off the boat for once, haul it up and look underneath. That is a luxury.”   

In the relatively short time he has been leading the review a number of things have become clear: One is “if we want to get the continued support and continued funding [from the Home Office] we have to be as strong as other agencies  - health is a very good example  - at convincing the Treasury and Government that if you give us the money we will absolutely deliver.” He said policing “needed to get much better at that.”

The productivity report is due on the Home Secretary’s desk by the end of this month after a 12-month commission. He told delegates at the recent Police Digital Summit in Brighton that in such a short of space of time there could be no ‘silver bullet’ but central to the work has been the role of data and technology in improving police productivity. So the Police Digital Service (PDS) which helps procure and deliver IT projects across policing has been involved in the discussions..

The review focused on an number of key areas – which included building a model process, the skillset of police officers and staff including the 20,000 officer uplift, technology and innovation. It also focused on barriers to productivity with one or two obvious areas  -  mental health call outs is one, Home Office counting rules and criminal justice in terms of disclosure and redaction requirements were the other two.

Flawed data

But the quality of police data relating to these issues is crucial because policing can have a fantastic technology system but if forces are using data that is flawed it will be less than useless. Dealing with mental health issues is one example of this. The review team did a 24-hour snapshot across 43 forces of MH calls into control rooms. Some forces had 30 per cent of all their calls relating to mental health one force had less than one per cent.

“If you think that is a true record of policing across the UK then we are all in a different space,” he said. “Policing and chiefs need to make sure that we get our data as strong and accurate as possible so that we can trust it when we try to innovate.”

It was also obvious that a policing endowment or best practice is missing from the current picture. “Other sectors have got it,” he said. Health and education have but policing hasn’t and he said this is at the root of “some of the frustration about how you get something done across 43 forces.”

Sausage factory?

The review team have stayed away from rigid definitions of what police productivity actually means but Mr Pughsley said that the question really was one of “tangibly when investment comes in at the front end what is the outcome going to be at the end .” The Home Office has defined this as more arrests and more charges.

The review also needed to take in the shift in policing’s landscape. “Everybody talks about fraud and cyber crime quite rightly as the new challenges but we mustn’t miss in our humble view some of the more traditional, historic crimes that technology will help us deliver in a much more succesful way.”

He said burglary is one of those.  He said he “still yearns for the day” when officers have a hand held device which would “ping every bit of intelligence” about a crime and location directly to that officer while they were in the vicinity. This would include “who lives there, who has been knocking on the door, who needs to be safeguarded.”

He said officers are still having to instigate those sort of inquiries using multiple systems instead of being fed them as day to day business. 

Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) are working with the review team and the PDS on building a model process so that policing can attempt to compare like with like.

Cost benefit anaysis 

He says: “In policing you must have the following – something that automatically compares and analyses two sets of data for every force. Performance delivery and how much it costs.”

Burglary dwelling, domestic abuse focusing on coercive control, sexual offences, ASB, and violence with injury are all areas to be tested. In policing terms these measurements haven’t really existed, he said. “You can find the performance data and you can find the cost data in maybe 10 different areas but the marriage of the two and testing just isn’t there,” he added.

This will form the first part of a digital decision making tool so you can compare and contrast one force against another. Take burglary dwelling as an example. He said: “Alan Pughsley’s force may be delivering the worst out of the six and another force the best so very simply the chief and his team could start to consider a list of things that forces are doing times six,” he explained. So you will be able to see what individual forces are doing and how it affects their performance. Chiefs can then understand why their own performance is not as good and make decisions.

Staying with burglary as an example the tool will provide chiefs with a ‘process map’ from start to finish that will look at the whole series of responses which would include how the report is dealt with in the control room and so on. That data would then be provided in quick time to the response car to get to the incident very quickly. “This could give them a better opportunity for arrest or forensics and evidential capture,” said Mr Pughsley “This leads to more charges if that is the right outcome and with burglary dwelling that normally is.”

This tool is still at the ‘concept’ stage and its design is ongoing but it will probably be ready for proper testing in about 18 months. But the former Kent chief said the Policing Minister is a big fan of it and it has been put to police chiefs council as well. “Of course there are challenges with a product that is saying you are not as good as maybe you thought you were. That can be a difficult message to accept,” he warns.

The review has thrown up a number of key questions according to Mr Pughsley, which need an answer. One of these is does the current 43-force structure allow policing to properly trial, evaluate and implement something new? “We have found some really good practice when we’ve gone out there. But if there is something good going on in Thames Valley why is it not happening across 42 other forces.”

Central mandates

This has raised the issue of “central mandates” whereby chiefs are told to adopt some things across the board. But the ‘I know best’ issue is not easily dealt with and he said there was a fine balance to be struck between “encouragement from the centre” and mandating for example an IT system that was in the best interests of the whole service. One example he used in his talk was big RMS systems doing case, custody  and intelligence work. There are three main systems in the poliicng market Niche, Athena and Connect.

But if you had gone back to the beginning and told people you were going to do it that way he said "I think people would think we had gone mad."

He added: "Surely there must be a time and a space where police talk to one another on one system."

Workforce productivity and the expected impact of the 20,000 Uplift on ‘policing results’ is inevitably a major issue. Again there are complexities here. Mr Pughsley told delegates: “Forces face a challenge over the funding envelope. If you have to make savings and keep police officer numbers at ‘X’ sometimes police staff will feel the brunt of that and you can lose a huge amount of skills and experience. We will be making sure we talk about that.”

But questions will be asked how forces are deploying their resources and how good they are at understanding that. The best way that policing has of currently understanding its “activity based work” is a completely manual process via the Home Office, the review has discovered. So a big piece of work is needed to automate that.

Uneven sickness rates 

He said changes in the counting rules which have already been agreed by the Home Office will give the service back 450,000 officer hours but there were other areas where quick improvements can be made. One area is missing people and children where the use of good technology can make a big difference and the other is custody. “There is far too much time being spent when suspects are brought into custody and there must be a far more efficient way of doing that,” he said. Officer and staff sickness rates are another issue.

“if every force was able to get people returning to work to the average of forces [in terms of time off] we would save something like 1.3 million officer hours. There are obviously forces doing it better than others but again we need the data to do something with that.”

Interestingly Mr Pughsley was asked by a delegate whether his review will lead to a “national policing target operating model?” His reply was quite revealing. “What I do see and I hope this happens, whether it’s called an improvement unit or something similar, I hope there is a unit that over a number of years is able to do what we have done in 12 months.”

Policing seems to go around in cycles. Does anyone out there remember the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA)?

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