Policing: under pressure

Policing is under “significant stress” and will need to show resilience, adaptability and commitment or fail to cope with the pressures it is coming under. That is the stark message from the third annual efficiency reports by HMICFRS, published earlier today. Other notable findings are that most forces have an “adequate” understanding of their current demand yet their ability to meet it in the future is less clear. Few forces have taken steps to understand the skills they have currently in their workforce or those they will need in the future. Those which fail to be more “ambitious and innovative” when planning ahead risk being “overwhelmed” by the complexity of the crimes they deal with and the environment they operate in.

What’s also clear, however, is that demand, is only half of the problem: ensuring supply, with the resources forces have, will be equally challenging. HMICFRS is now placing increasing emphasis on the importance of forces asking themselves what they need to do now in order to avoid problems three or four years down the line. Their ability to do so clearly depends on good information not just about the demand they face but about resources they can call on to respond with. In practice, this means the performance, capability, capacity and, very importantly, the well-being of their workforce.

HMICFRS is currently consulting on plans to make chief constables produce “force management statements” – rolling four year assessments of the demand the force is likely to face and “the state of their assets”. As a Deputy Chief Constable, I was always very clear that the assets which mattered the most were our people which is why I introduced an employee engagement programme during my time at Hertfordshire. It is welcome that HMICFRS has included the “serviceability” of staff or “what it takes to look after them” in force management statements. As a result, I sincerely hope forces see statements and the consultation on them as an opportunity to look beyond the obvious management data and get a deeper understanding of overall well-being – the “corporate health” of their force.

Given the strain officers and staff are now under and the prospect of even faster, deeper change, the importance of addressing key corporate health questions cannot be overstated. How well does a force listen and respond to staff ideas, concerns and suggestions? How easy does it make it for staff to admit they’re not coping? How well is it supporting the increasing number of officers suffering from mental-health related illnesses? How visible, responsive and inclusive are the forces’ leaders and managers? How good is the force at identifying ethical risks?

Change can unsettle any workforce at the best of times. The scale HMICFRS now insists is needed to ensure policing meets future demand is very significant and will be hugely challenging to those facing redundancy, changing terms and conditions or transfer from current roles. Highly effective two-way communication with workforces and staff associations will be absolutely critical to a successful outcome. Where personnel can be actively involved in contributing to change and owning the outcomes, then success will follow.  It is often very easy for senior leaders to determine how strategic change will be implemented in isolation of their personnel.

Maintaining corporate health through the type of change HMICFRS are advocating will require positive leadership from those with a strong thread of emotional intelligence. It will need leaders who understand the need to listen and act upon the concerns of their personnel and who accept that sometimes we all get it wrong but show determination to tackle difficult issues.

Change and modernisation is inevitable but now more than ever policing needs to ensure its people are supported and equipped to make that change happen. If you can ensure the wellbeing and engagement of your personnel, you can maintain productivity, discretionary effort and the resilience, adaptability and commitment today’s report’s rightly identify as critical to the future success of policing.

Heather Baily is Crest Advisory’s Associate Director of Corporate Performance and Former  Deputy Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Police


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Heather Baily

Heather Baily

Associate Director of Corporate Performance

Heather Baily is Crest Advisory’s Associate Director of Corporate Performance and Former  Deputy Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Police

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