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Executive summary: Rethinking police demand

Report authors: Harvey Redgrave, Savas Hadjipavlou, Callyane Desroches

Thursday 8 November 2018

REPORT (PDF): Rethinking Police Demand

Executive summary


Major shifts in externally driven demand have left the police facing unprecedented pressures. However, they lack a good understanding of the nature and shape of that demand to help them plan and deploy their resources to best effect, and how to tackle an increasingly complex caseload.

In this report we have adopted a whole system view to assess the trends and volumes of both crime and non-crime demands. We have assembled the evidence from a variety of sources and have identified that the following key trends and changes are pushing up demand on the police – even at a time when the overall volume of crime is falling:

  1. Since 2013 a significant increase in the volume of recorded crime (up by ~40% from 2013 to 2017), particularly from violence and sexual offences, which together represent the largest category of reported offences. These cases are, in general, more complex and take longer to resolve. The rise in reported violence and sexual crime is the single most important shift in demand that has occurred within policing over the last decade.

  2. Reduced budgets have resulted in overall police workforce numbers falling by 25% since 2010. The ratio of crime cases to number of officers and staff initially remained constant during the period 2011 to 2013 but has, since then, grown very substantially by some 43%, reflecting the growth in more serious crime since 2013, and quantifying the scale of pressure felt by police.

  3. New analysis undertaken for this report suggests that around a fifth (18%) of the incident volume tackled through command and control centres concerns what we have termed ‘vulnerability demand’ – cases that involve mental health, drugs, alcohol, domestic incidents or vulnerable persons. While this is lower than some previous estimates, our analysis suggests vulnerability demand uses up a disproportionately high quantity of police deployment resources.

  4. The number and complexity of cases involving people who are vulnerable in some way, are growing, with a rise in Section 136 mental health detentions, missing children, domestic incidents/abuse, and drugs interventions, all of which require effective cross-agency arrangements or services, supported by service improvements, in mental health in particular. Importantly, these type of cases frequently have significant time demands on the officers dealing with them.

  5. The volume of anti-social behaviour (which historically has made up the bulk of ‘non-crime demand’) has been falling over the past decade – down by 56% since 2011 and likely to continue. However, the ‘benefit’ from a reduction here is not enough to offset the pressure from rising crime (particularly violence) and vulnerability demand identified above.

These shifts in demand, alongside the shrinking of budgets, risk creating a crisis of legitimacy for policing. With more ‘demand’ than the police are capable of responding to, it is inevitable that Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners will need to make tough choices about how to allocate scarce resources. Inevitably some of these choices will be controversial and unpopular. Yet currently, the basis for these choices remains unclear and under-discussed. All the public see is a service that appears to be shrinking. This urgently needs to be addressed.

The pressures on public finances mean that extra resources for the police will not be easily won. In our view, the answer to the challenge posed by rising demand (particularly ‘non-crime demand’) is not to retrench to a narrow ‘crime-only’ view of the policing role. Not only are there practical problems to drawing such a boundary, we believe it is essential to recognise that cases involving safety, welfare and the protection of the vulnerable also represent a legitimate and worthy use of police time; they are not inferior in some way to crime-related demand. Indeed, it can be argued that these categories of non-crime demand are absolutely central to the police mission, a core tenet of which is the ability, indeed obligation, to respond to ‘emergencies’ at any time of the day or night, often necessitating the use of coercive force. New polling undertaken for this report illustrates that a narrowing of the police role is also not supported by the public.

Rather we think that the approach should be to maximise support and facilitate effective joint working practices that tackle those cases at source, recognising the responsibility and contribution that other local partners can bring. Our key recommendations are as follows:

  1. A high-level political statement, including also from the police leadership, affirming a scope and role of the police that extends beyond a pure ‘crime’ focus, to include public safety, welfare and the protection of the vulnerable. This should bring about needed certainty for the police and for local partner organisations, also spelling out what is expected from them.

  2. The evidence base for the external demand on the police needs to be improved with systematic cross-cutting studies being commissioned. A step towards understanding existing and future demands for the coming four years has commenced with forces completing Force Management Statements for submission to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). However, a better understanding of current and likely future demand is still required to facilitate better ways to deploy existing resources as well as strengthen the case for additional money or police. Such work can help drive more uniform classifications for data capture and analysis, leading progressively to more robust results.

  3. Encourage the police, local authorities, health and social services to establish multi-agency crisis teams to tackle complex cases that cut across service boundaries. This should be facilitated by pooled budgets and informed by the development of technological solutions which allow for much better analysis of data from statutory and non-statutory partners. Data can then be more effectively interrogated to understand both known demand but also ‘hidden’ demand from issues such as modern slavery, honour-based violence and grooming of vulnerable victims including children, that are not readily obvious to any one agency.

  4. PCCs should use their democratic authority and mandate to open up discussion with other agencies, to establish local service agreements. The forthcoming spending review should empower the police and local partners to find effective operating models, facilitating the creation of pooled budgets where such an approach would help.

  5. Better information for the public about accessing emergency services provided by other organisations as well as the police. The aim would be to inform and encourage the public to contact the right service rather than default to routing cases to the police.


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