• Common sense from Ch Supt Irene Curtis

    It is a pleasure to see the media sit up and take notice of some common sense in relation to the current and future state of policing. Today Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis took over as the President of the Superintendents Association and fronted the TV, radio and newspapers to talk about performance regimes and target based assessments.

    A voice of solitude in the wilderness? I don’t think so. Over the last three years I have met a number of ACPO officers who are seeking to change the reliance on targets and performance indicators and value quality service. One of the reasons for this is the recognition that systems based on target attainment is not compatible with the style of policing that is expected from our police officers and PCSOs. Let’s be honest, chasing targets does involve deviance. There are stories of calls for service being downgraded, crimes being re-classified and pensioners being put through knife arches in order to be able to tick boxes.

    Does this have an impact on confidence? Legitimacy? Social contract? Of course it does and it is something that we have known about for a long time.

    During the introduction of the ‘quality service’ initiative in the 1990s there were a host of commentators who warned of the impact of a reliance on quantitative indicators. Savage and Leishman (1996) argued that the fundamental pursuit of quantitative performance measures may detract from the service dimension of policing, and encourage an over-emphasis on the crime fighting side of policing.

    Following the eponymous Home Office circular Manpower, Efficiency and Effectiveness in the Police Service’ (better known as cicular114/83), police forces were directed to put in place systems that would enable them to assess whether objectives had been achieved. A subsequent circular detailed how increases in Force establishments were made conditional on Forces being able to demonstrate ‘where possible [by] quantifiable output and performance measures’ (Weatheritt, 1993: 26) that objectives were being met (Home Office, 1988: Weatheritt, 1993).

    In other words there was to be an increased focus on accountability with an emphasis on the quantitative measurement of issues such as crime figures and detections thereby coercing the police into valuing enforcement related quantitative strategies that supported ‘real’ or enforcement styles of policing rather than qualitative strategies that valued ‘quality service.’

    The political imperative of the Conservative government was fully revealed in the White Paper Police Reform: A Police Service for the Twenty-First Century (Home Office, 1993). This fully exposed the police service to a regime of performance management, one that the police determined to fight against through the introduction of its ‘quality service’ intitiative.

    The stage was set for a conflict. The government had a political imperative based on quantitative measurement and value for money, and the police had an imperative based upon ‘quality service’. The emphasis on ‘quality service’ was gaining ground within policing as the police sought to re-establish their legitimisation in the wake of falling confidence and poor performance (Reiner, 2000).

    The threat of a quantitative indicator driven police force was identified by a Joint Consultative Committee report that stated:

    “The philosophy of economy, efficiency and effectiveness is forcing police managers to concentrate their resources upon the quantifiable aspects of police work to the exclusion of the traditional service role of British Policing”

    (Joint Consultative Committee, 1990: 27)

    Ultimately, for a variety of reasons, the ‘quality of service’ initiative drifted and systems of performance measurement such as the Police Performance Assessment Framework (PPAF), the Assessment of Policing and Community Safety ( APACS) and comparisons between Most Similar Family of Forces (MSF) and Most Similar Family of BCUs took over. Police leaders began to be led by the system as they strove to achieve targets rather than address the wishes of the community.

    So to hear Irene say “policing should not be a competition. It should be collaborative and in the best interests of the public we serve” and that chasing targets created a “generation of people who are great at chasing targets but do not always recognise that doing the right thing is the best thing for the public” is a blessing to those of us who believe that some elements of the police may have forgotten that they are a public service.

    Well done Irene and good luck to you and those of your colleagues who are enlightened enough to know that delivering a ‘quality service’ is a key expectation of citizens.

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