This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Policing & Crime Plans and frontline discretion

We are nearing the time when all 41 PCCs will have published their Police and Crime Plans. In the months running up to the election of the PCCs, many people expressed concerns that their introduction would lead to political control of what the police services and police officers do. Despite clear statements in the legislation that operational leadership would still rest with the Chief Constable, many people were and probably still remain concerned. 

The worry, I assume in part, comes from a belief that the objectives framed by the PCCs for their areas in these forthcoming plans will inevitably affect what police officers and staff do on the ground. There will be many of course, who will believe that such lofty strategic plans are a long way from the 'sharp end' and will make little difference.

With all this in mind, I dug out an extract from a proposal I submitted over a year ago to a police service which wanted to commission some research into how their officers and staff perceived their operational discretion and independence when balanced against their relationship with constabulary  policy, procedures and performance management regime. It looked to be a fascinating piece of work and I was fed up that I did not win it! But such is life!

As part of my submission, I devised a set of questions that could be asked of front line officers to get inside how much their felt their professional discretion and responsibility was compromised and/or supported and/or unaffected by wider policies, objectives and plans etc. Here are those questions:
  1. How much individual responsibility do you consider you currently have on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “I only do what I am instructed to do” and 10 means “I am 100% in control of what decisions I take at work”?
  2. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  3. How much accountability do you consider you currently have on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “I am not held to account for anything that I do or achieve” and 10 means “I am held to account for everything that I do or achieve”?
  4. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  5. In your view, how is the fit between what you are responsible for and what you are held to account for? For this the scale is 1 “no fit at all, I am often held to account for that which I am not responsible” through to 10 “I am only held to account for that which I am responsible for”?
  6. Using the same scale, where do you think you ought to be (and it may be the same)?
  7. Given all of these questions above, what would you say that would add depth and colour to your answers? What evidence, examples or stories do you have to illustrate your views?
  8. One summary interpretation of the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ is that you have (within its scope) total independence to do all that you consider necessary to support and maintain the Queen’s Peace. If you think the reality is somewhat different, please tell me how it is different? 
  9. Do you have any examples of where you acted in accord with the Oath but independently of force policy and procedures? What are those examples?
  10. Are there other examples where you acted dependently upon force procedures but in your view, not in accord with the Oath? What are those examples?
  11. What is the difference that makes the difference between those two extremes? How do you determine how much independence (of policy and procedures) you can exercise?
  12. On the basis that it is the job of everyone working for the Police to make effective and efficient decisions, what helps you make those kind of decisions?
  13. And what gets in the way of making decisions that serve greater effectiveness and efficiency?
  14. In your view, what needs to happen so that you can be more confident in your own decision making – and that of your colleagues as well?
So if anyone wants to some more research now - especially into how the new Police and Crime Plans may impact frontline decision making - you are welcome to use these questions as a starter for ten (although an attribution would be lovely).

And if you are a frontline officer / member of staff - and you would like to answer these questions anonymously - please do get in touch. ( I would be interested in your answers!

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